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Dances from the Oaxacan Coast

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|Presentation |The Oaxacan Coast |The Role Dance Plays on the Coast |The Petate Bull Dance |The Devil's Dance |The Turtle Dance
|The Tiger Dance |The Old Badgers Dance |The Badger's Dance |The Masked Dance |The Chareos Dance |The Chileans |The Sones |


The dances are part of religious and magic rituals that were used to placate and dominate the will of the mysterious powers.

--Fernando Ortiz.

Movement allows us to increase our awareness and to identify with infinite space. The metal spheres that come from China produce an inner sound which is a rhythmic impression of the equilibrium of the stars movement. When we dance we are seeking magical forces, the possibility of making our dreams come true, of communing with the powers of the dark, of interpreting our historical memory and even of changing the course of future events. People have also danced for "group therapy" at some of the most critical moments in the past. It has also been used that way to bring rain, a good hunt, victory at war, fertility, to welcome the newborn and to say goodbye to the dead.
A series of historical events led people to Mexico's Southern Pacific coast, creating a cultural melting pot drawing on indigenous, Spanish and African cultural roots. Countless tales and descriptions of these dances exist- some talk about their seductive nature while others of their ritualistic content. The climax of any village fiesta is marked by dancing as the essence of its people is transformed into movement.
We have been left a testimony of Mexico's dance heritage in the form of documents and objects, some over 3,000 years old. Dance images have been found all over the country. Some date back as far as 1400 B.C., such as those from Tlatilco, where small clay figures portraying masked dancers wearing leg-bells and holding rattle-like instruments were discovered. Other important pieces include the Borbonic and Tlaxiaco codexes and written testimonies from XVI century chroniclers such as Sahagún, Durán, Motolinia, Mendieta, Torquemada and Landa. The colonizers and conquistadors brought their own dances to New Spain, influencing local dances such as those about the Eagle and Tiger warriors- to the point of changing the protagonists to Moors and Christians. Thus, the three cultures that make up "the beautiful golden braid" of Mexican dance were woven together.
When looking at the history of Mexican dance one can see that academics, intellectuals and artists have played an important part in rescuing a wide variety of dances such as "sones" and "jarabes" from oblivion and deepening our knowledge of them.
Much the same thing has happened at a local level in Oaxaca. The village elders, the town councils, municipal authorities as well as important village figures have worked hard to keep traditions related to the dances, "sones" and "chilenas" alive. They argue that they keep their identity alive, identifying them with a place and a story reminding them of who they really are. We have organized the second Coastal Dance Festival with the aim of making some of the coasts dances known. We wouldn't have been able to do this without the joint efforts of the participating villages and their dance groups, civil associations, those in Puerto Escondido's tourist trade, municipal and federal authorities as well as the state governments of Oaxaca and Guerrero. I would like this document to act as a record and acknowledgment of everyone's participation. Margarita Dalton.

The Oaxacan Coast

On entering Oaxacan territory the overriding impression is that of a land dominated by mountains. But, the truth is somewhat different: Oaxaca is made up of 8 well defined geographical regions. These are the Central Valleys, the Northern Sierra, The Southern Sierra, the Isthmus, the Mixtec, the Cañada, the Papaloapan and coastal regions. All of these have unique characteristics in so far as ethnic makeup, economic activity and natural resources. Oaxacas coastal region is divided into three districts: Jamiltepec, Juquila, and Pochutla.
Oaxacas coast runs from the state boundary with Guerrero to a little before the Tehuantepec Isthmus. The coastal plains are extremely uneven due to the Southern Sierra Madre almost reaching the coast. The mountain ranges spurs divide the area into three small planes and one hilly zone. In Jamiltepec district the mountains to the North gradually change into hills before reaching the coast. In Juquila and Jamiltepec proper that is not the case and the mountains almost reach the sea.
The natural vegetation in the hills consists of forests and secondary deciduous vegetation. On the plains the vegetation is typical of coastal dunes- palm trees, mangroves and pastures can be found. The mountains are mainly covered by mesofilous woods, although pine and oak forests exist in the highest areas.
The damp climate and the abundance of water work together to make the earth extremely fertile in this region. Seasonal crops are sown here, the most common is corn, but peanut, watermelon, chili, beans and sesame seed are also grown. The mountain woods yield pine and, to a lesser degree, high and low grade tropical woods. Juquila and Pochutla are important coffee growing areas. In the lowlands lemon and coconut are produced for retail and mamey, nanche, mango and papaya for local consumption.
The Mixtecs are the largest ethnic group in the region and the majority live in Jamiltepec district, alongside large black and Tacuate communities. There is a large population of the Chatino group in Juquila district whilst Pochutla's largest ethnic group is Zapotec. However, the largest ethnic group is mestizo, of mixed race.
Over 20,000 people live in Pinotepa Nacional, a town considered to be Jamiltepec Districts economic heart. It has a budding industrial sector mainly in lemon oil production and sawmills and it is also the regional center for cattle trade.
Other important cities in the area are San Pedro Pochutla and the tourist destinations, Puerto Escondido and Santa Cruz Huatulco. 66% of the employed population work in agriculture, cattle ranching or fishing; 5.4% work in manufacturing; 3.4%in construction; 4.8% in trade; 1.9% in transport; 2.5% in local government and .9% in tourism. Less than 1% are involved in oil, electricity or water production, financial services or technical professional services.
The coast has an extremely rich and varied cultural profile in so far as dance, music and handmade textiles are concerned. The textile goods are most commonly huipiles (loose fitting tunics), enredos or pozahuancos (wrap around skirts), napkins and hammocks. Dances from indigenous, black and mestizo communities such as Pinotepas Chileans and the "sones" from Pochutla overflow with color and rhythm.
A wide variety of half-mystical, half-religious or profane artistic forms have come from this regions cultural patchwork. These are seen as an important part of cultural identity and are thus kept alive and practiced.

The Role Dance Plays on the Coast

Man has learned to transcend time and space through culture be it in society, politics, religion, economics or art.

Dance is an especially beautiful artistic medium and exists all over the world in different forms but nearly always accompanied by music and a theme. Music and dance are perhaps two of the most important ways that man has developed of portraying external cultural influences, religious beliefs and a given villages ethical and social characteristics.
Dance is a visible incarnation of rhythm and its origins stem from the realization that rhythm itself is the fundamental element of the universes movement. The cosmos is in a constant state of rhythmic movement: rhythm governs both movement and life be it that of the galaxies or planets or that of the human body. Life itself is underpinned by a rhythmic progression: from birth to youth, to maturity, old age and death.
When looking at Mexico's important dance tradition it is important to consider the four elements on which it is based the three ethnic groups from which it originated and the influence that other foreign cultures have had upon it. The most important factor is perhaps the survival of prehispanic cultural origins; secondly the Spanish influence from the time of the conquest on which was in turn influenced by cultural trends from the rest of Europe as well as being molded by African and Arab influences. Thirdly, further colonization saw the arrival of African slaves mainly taken to coastal areas and their subsequent shaping of the development of Mexican dance. Lastly one should take into account the indirect influence of countries such as the West Indies and South America, the American South and some European countries, such as France, England and Austria, which intervened directly or indirectly in Mexican history.
The intermingling of Christian and Indigenous tradition seen at Mexican fiestas gives us an insight into a way of looking at the world, a way of understanding it yet rebelling against both it and the society that we are part of. Dance is a means of giving form to this world and paying tribute to all that remains a mystery.
The passing of time in indigenous communities appears to be determined by Catholic festivals. In reality Catholicism has been left behind in favor of Indian cultural traditions which have survived unscathed both Christian evangelization and the social and cultural conquest the Spanish sought to impose. So it was that, rather than give up their own customs, the Mexican Indians incorporated them into newly held beliefs and created their own art forms. These kept their indigenous roots, yet were molded by the moral, philosophical and artistic concepts forced upon them by the Europeans.
The introduction of new elements is more obvious in some fields than in others. Music and dance were among those affected first. The guitar among other string and wind instruments were quickly adopted by the Indians thus becoming part of the change in mestizo dance and music. The evangelists saw dance as a great means of conversion and were quick to use it blending Christian doctrine with native cultural elements.
In one dance, they changed a battle between the Tiger and Eagle Warriors to a struggle between Moors and Christians with the saints stepping in to fight the catholic faiths enemies. With time Christian and pagan elements fused to produce a unique combination of moral and aesthetic values.
The Africans who were brought to the Americas coastal areas as slave labor also added their cultural heritage to the post-conquest synthesis. This latest influence, visible both in the vigor with which the dances are performed and their unmistakable African rhythm, made the coastal dances unique. Although the dances are mainly indigenous in origin, European and African influences are clear: at times Prehispanic music is played on European instruments to an African or Caribbean beat.
In spite of the aforementioned foreign influences and the inevitable changes to the dances structure brought by time and man, the majority have remained fundamentally the same. Dances and festivals in Mexico are not seen as mere leisure activities or fun, but work on a more spiritual level: proof of this lies in the way they involve peoples hard work, time and money. It takes a whole year for a village to prepare for its patron saints festival and during that time funds have to be collected to make it the best festival possible, to pay tribute to the saint under whose protection the villagers live and work.
The fiesta is organized either by an individual or a group of people. When the responsibility lies with the latter, special committees called "mayordomias" are formed. They decorate the streets and the square, make sure that there is enough food for everyone and any visitors who might come, as well as hiring musicians and dancers if there are none within the community. At other times only one person, the "mayordomo", is responsible for the successful outcome of the fiesta. If he (or she) measures up to the honor conferred, he will be regarded as a respected and prominent figure by the villagers.
Traditional dances mean more than a few hours of amusement to people from the Oaxacan coast. They are an important social event and moreover are attributed with profoundly magical and religious meaning. A dancer does not take part for his or the public's entertainment, but as a prayer to the powers above, to seek their approval, to show them devotion and respect.
Many of the regions traditional dances share aspects that set them apart reinforced by African influence, that only men can dance even when there are female characters. Another, is the recurrent appearance of two characters, a couple, Pancho and Minga. Even though their origins or characteristics may differ they always appear under the same guise, as a rich cattle farmer and his wife.

A third recurrent theme which the coastal dances share with many dances primeval traditional roots and gives the dancer the definitive key to his art. In the words of Tonatiúh Gutierrez and Elektra Momprade:
In the pre-Cortés era their use was part of a ritual closely linked to the cult of the dead. Masks often portrayed animals or old men with white hair and wrinkled faces. They are sometimes used to represent animals or Europeans with white faces and beards. Others look like the devil and symbolize the forces of evil. As the dancer puts the mask on and covers his face he strips himself of his everyday persona and his inhibitions and takes on the identity of the character he portrays living his life at a frenetic pace for a few hours.

The Petate Bull Dance

There are numerous bull dances from all over the country. The version that is performed in Santiago Collantes is a lively, vivacious dance that is inspired by local history. The town depends on the north western municipality of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional. There are approximately 3,000 inhabitants most of whom make a living sowing and carding cotton, growing corn and from trade. The townspeople are mostly of African origin and consequently do not speak an indigenous language.
The bull dance is one of the best known in the region and was performed in 1911 when president Francisco I Madero visited the village. As the villagers were keen to give him a warm welcome they decided to perform a typical local dance. Doña Chucha Añorve suggested they put on a locally inspired dance, Don Pancho's story. She says:

I don't know exactly when, but a long time ago the whole of Oaxacas costa chica (small coast) belonged to just one man- a Spaniard who lived in Oaxaca called Francisco Acho. They say he owned 24 cattle ranches and that a Spaniard "caporal" was in charge of each one. These men were known by the names of the ranches they took care of. One, for example, was known as the Rancho Alegre caporal (the Joyful Ranch's head man) the Santisimos "caporal", the Rio Grandes "caporal" etc. At that time there was fighting there between the native indians and the local mestizos. Don Pancho was losing cattle so he went to the Santisima ranch where his most trusted caporal was posted. Imagine his surprise when he discovered there wasn't a single cow left and that only one bull was left in his coral. He was a handsome, fierce stud who had already escaped the clutches of 10 different stock breeders each of whom had branded him in an effort to steal him. Don Pancho was furious and accused the local stock breeders who had worked for him in the past, of stealing his cattle. As proof he took the bull to the courthouse, but it was so fierce it took all 24 of his men to control it.
The dance that was put on for President Madero was based on this story. The president is said to have been so pleased that he left the podium and shook each of the dancers by the hand. He also urged them to carry on performing the dance and told them he would send them gifts. The dance is still performed to this day and although it was initially kept up in the hope of receiving the presidential regalia, with time it became a traditional part of the town fiesta.
The costume consists of Spanish-style knee length knickerbockers and a bright satin shirt with dazzling tinsel hanging from the back. The dancers also carry ropes that are used to try to lasso the bull and a fake machete hangs from their right shoulder. They wear a ribbon that crosses over their chest with a bow in the middle. Their hats are decorated with brightly colored cloth and four mirrors, imitating the Spaniards light blue eyes. The head caporal carries a "binza" (a cow-hide implement used much like a whip), leather trousers and a special hat to show his position of authority.
The dancer who plays the part of Don Pancho wears a mask that portrays a man with white skin, a haughty gaze, an aquiline nose and a long white beard. The male dancer who plays the part of his wife, Maria Dominguez known as La Minga - wears a mask which simulates white skin, blue eyes and reddish hair. She (he) wears a long brightly colored skirt and carries a doll that is supposed to be her daughter, wrapped in a shawl. The bull is made out of bamboo and covered with palm matting.
The "sones" (traditional music) are set to the verses which tell the story and are usually played by four wind instruments, two trumpets & two saxophones, and a drum that keeps time. When the caporales try to catch the bull, the drum is the only instrument played to add to the suspense and tension.
There are usually between 14 and 20 dancers in all, including those who play the part of the chief caporal, Minga and the bull. As the dance unfolds the chief caporal and Don Pancho dance in turn with Minga, while the other caporales dance either in a circle or in two lines and the bull dances in the middle. The dance continues until it is time to catch the bull. Then each of the caporales step into the middle of the circle they have formed and recites a lively rhyme about the festival or personalities who might be there. Then he attacks the bull, lunging at it furiously. The climax of the dance is a spectacular collision between the bull and the caporal and the ensuing crash of wooden swords against the bamboo bulls.

The Devil's Dance

Although Santiago Collantes is not the only place that the Devils Dance is performed, its version is the best known. The dance draws from many different sources - some of which can be traced to the Pacific Coast to the colonial era when Spanish Haciendas used black slave labor to work long hard days in a tropical climate. As the slaves were considerably stronger than indigenous workers many hacienda owners brought in black slaves. These either displaced the local population or integrated with it.
Although slavery was supposedly abolished when Mexico won its independence as the Oaxacan and Guerrero Coasts. Even after it had been eradicated, indigenous and black workers still suffered the same appalling living and working conditions as before.
The Africans who were torn away from their homeland and brought to New Spain managed to maintain their sense of religious, artistic and cultural identity, until the late 19th century.
When the Mexican Revolution broke out in the early 20th century a great many black "tenangos" (wanderers or drifters), escaped from their ill-paid jobs and made their way from all over the country to the Costa Chica in the hope of finding a way back to Africa. There were so many of them that it was difficult for them to find the means to get back. Time passed and they decided to take up Damas Gomez's offer of work on his hacienda. Their religious beliefs remained strong and they continued to worship Ruja with ceremonies that involved dance and music.
Soon after a boat load of people from Sonora arrived. They also settled in the area having left to escape the war in the North of the country. As time passed, an interesting cultural interchange took place between the Northerners and the Tenangos principally with regards to traditions and customs. An example of this enriching process is The Devils Dance.
The Devils Dance was originally a ritual dedicated to Ruja, to ask him to free the Africans from their terrible working conditions. Nowadays the dance still begins with Ruja being summoned with respect and reverence although the concept of worshipping him has gradually diminished and been replaced by paying homage to the dead - which is why the dance is only performed on November 1st and 2nd, the Catholic festival of All Saints Day. Originally, the dancers went to all the houses that had altars in honor of their dead family members and friends. They would dance at each house and eat food offered there. When they had finished they went through the village streets, down the main street, until they reached the hub of the community, the tree in front of the town hall.
Sixteen to twenty people take part in the dance, again, all of themincluding the female character Minga- are men. The Sonora influence is apparent both in the style of dancing and the costumes worn. The devils usually wear brown tasseled costumes that are worn and torn with red cotton squares round one hand, waist, neck or head. They also have a wooden mask with horns and a horsehair beard and the head devil wears leather trousers and carries a "binza". La Minga wears a hand woven blouse and a skirt that is decorated with lace and has a fringed waist. She always carries a doll which is supposed to be her daughter and wears a shawl over her shoulders.
During the dance the head devil and Minga dance back and forth between two rows of devils. The steps are quick and very energetic with the two dancers crouching down, springing up, spinning round and crouching down time and time again. At other times they spin round, stamping the floor faster and faster to the rhythm of the music.
The clothes worn, combined with the back dancers height and energy make this dance an amazing and frightening sight to behold. So much so, that in the area where the dance is still performed, mothers take extra care of their children as the devils go through the streets, lest they should take them.
The instruments used to accompany the dance are also worth mentioning, they are a harmonica, a cows jawbone and a "teconte"- a kind of drum that produces rhythmic sounds when a long stick is rubbed across the leather covering.

The Turtle Dance

Those who study autochthonous Mexican dance say that there are themes which reappear all over the country. The turtle is one such theme with higher incidence in coastal areas. In Oaxaca there are two different versions of the "turtle dance" one from the coast and one from the Tehuantepec Isthmus. One of the most original ways of performing it can be seen in Santa Maria Huazolotitlán, in the municipality of José Maria Morelos to the Southeast of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional. The town has 4,700 inhabitants, most of whom are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. The majority of them either grow or sell lemons, farm corn, sesame seeds and peanuts. They also raise cattle, sell meat and dairy produce. Mixtec, the regions main language is not spoken he re as 98% of the population is of African descent.
The "turtle dance", as danced on the coast, ridicules Spanish rule and remembers how black slaves were exploited during the Colonial Period. A whip carried by Don Pancho symbolizes the harsh treatment the slaves suffered. In this dance, Pancho is a black foreman who is well-trusted by his master and who ill-treats his fellow slaves.
La Minga, his wife, is a light-hearted and coquettish woman who is constantly paid flirtatious compliments by the other men on the hacienda. This drives her husband mad with anger and he beats both his wife and anyone who dares kiss or cuddle her.
During the dance, Minga offers her "daughter" to people in the audience and asks them to hold her. If the person chosen refuses to take the doll, Minga screams for Pancho to punish the person who dared slight her daughter. If the doll is accepted Pancho arrives immediately, accusing the man of being involved with his wife and he is also punished. The punishment consists in having to dance with Minga. If he doesn't want to dance he has to give the dancers a personal object or pay a fine to avoid punishment. These "fines" are used at the end of the dance to buy alcohol for the dancers after the dance.
The turtle dances around the other characters and at the end pretends to lay eggs. Having put the eggs on the floor and Pancho picks them up and gives them to an important guest at the dance.
The costumes are as follows. The men cover their heads with two cotton squares and a mask and a hat over them. They wear old shirts and trousers covered in patches and huaraches, handmade sandals. The women also cover their heads with two scarves and a mask, but wear a shawl over them instead. They also wear long flowery skirts covered in black lace, tights and huaraches. Pancho wears cowboy style leather trousers, boots and spurs. He carries a rope, a "binza" ( a cowhide whip), and a cows horn over his shoulder. Minga wears a wig, a long dress, a shawl crossed over her chest, tights and high heels and carries a doll (her daughter) in her arms. The dancer who plays the turtle carries a shell made from a wooden frame covered in cloth.
Fourteen men dance, seven of them dressed up as women. The dance is made up of seven "sones" which have a variety of steps even though the music remains quite similar. At times the steps are improvised and then the dancers return to the original choreography. The music is played on wind instruments.

The Tiger Dance

Tigers have been the source of inspiration for dances all over the country. One of the most spectacular versions is performed in San Juan Colorado, to the North of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional in Jamiltepec district. Most of the towns 7,000 inhabitants are farmers, manufacturers, tradesmen or miners. Over 4,000 inhabitants above the age of 5 speak Mixtec so the language is very much alive both in ceremonies and day to day use.
The dance is based on the story of Don Manuel Peña and Don José Cortés, two of the regions rich cattle ranchers. Their livestock was being stolen by a magic tiger, so Don Manuel tries to buy a hunting dog from a local called José Ovejon. José refuses to sell the dog as it belongs to his wife, Doña Catalina. On top of that the dog, reluctant to leave his owners side can only hunt when he is with Doña Catalina. So, Don Manuel hires the couple and the dog to hunt the tiger.
They look for the tiger until finally the dog tracks it down and the hunt begins. Doña Catalina shows José where the tiger is hiding, José shoots at it and the dog barks around the bottom of the tree.
Twelve dancers accompany the hunters and dance around the tigers hiding place. As the tiger is magic the bullets that José fires cant harm it, so Doña Catalina gives her husband some garlic to break the spell his gun is under.
The dancers who play the tiger and the dog do some incredible steps verging on acrobatics, in a last fight before the tiger is killed by José, who then skins it and throws the animal in a ditch.
The dance is performed to the following "sones": the drunkard, which is danced while drinking alcohol from a bottle; the iguana, in which the dancers imitate the way an iguana drags itself along; the parrot, in which the dancers huddle together; and Don Manuel Peña and Doña Catalina.
This dance is performed by 14 men who dance in two rows, plus the tiger and the dog. The men wear white cotton trousers under brightly colored knickerbockers decorated with lace from the waist to the knee, hunters shirts and two cotton squares, - one on their heads and the other held in their hand. They also wear caps decorated with sequins. Doña Catalina wears a frilly skirt with lace edging, an embroidered blouse with tassels around her shoulders and waist, a shawl and a hat. The tiger wears a yellow speckled suit and a wooden tiger mask with mirror eyes. The hunter wears leather trousers, a suede waistcoat and hat.
The tiger dance is performed at any festivity at the "mayordomo" or organizers request.

The Old Badgers Dance

The version performed in San Juan Colorado, Jamiltepec is one of the most beautiful and mystical of its kind.
This dance was first performed soon after the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. There are nine dancers in all and it is one of the few regional dances in which women take part. They are accompanied by two people, carrying a tattered red flag and a third carrying a black one. The music is played by two violinists, a guitarist and two drummers.
The dance represents Christ's Passion and the characters include Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, some Pharases and some Jews. It begins with two women leading the dancers in. The women wear huipiles (traditional tunics), go barefoot and are carrying incense burners. A dancer portraying Jesus Christ carrying a cross that is approximately a meter and a half long is among those who follow the women.
One of the dancers carries a stick, decorated with a blue ribbon at the tip, in his right hand. This is a symbol of authority. In the past, the areas mayor performed this role and he also carried the cross. After the dance he was locked up in the local prison on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and only set free at three o'clock on the day of the Carnival.
The male dancers use ornate gourd rattles and wooden machetes during their dance. They wear trousers and a multicolored shirt, jackets, shoes, flesh colored socks, a neckerchief and a coned shaped headdress decorated with feathers. The women wear a huipil (a loose, brightly embroidered, sleeveless regional dress) on their top half and a pozahuanco (a piece of material that is wrapped around the hips into a skirt), and a woolen hat.
The dance is performed for four days before Lent, beginning on the Sunday before Lent and finishing on Ash Wednesday.

The Badger's Dance

The Badgers Dance is performed up and down the coast. The versions performed vary in costume, music, choreography, and the dances name. Certain aspects of the version performed in Pinotepa de Don Luis make it one of the most interesting to see. Pinotepa de Don Luis is the municipality adjacent to Santiago Pinotepa Nacional. It is 51 km square and the majority of its 6,000 inhabitants are farmers, manufacturers, tradesmen and builders and Mixtec is the indigenous language spoken by most people. Pinotepa means "pinole" castle in nahuatl (pinole is ground toasted sweetened corn) and "Don Luis" was added because the municipality lies in part of what was Luis de Castillas land. He was one of Hernán Cortés protégées and, thanks to his success as a miner, became the richest man in New Spain.
The Badgers dance is usually performed during Easter Carnival. The dancers wear masks and dresses decorated with tinsel, wear worn out clothes and a cone covered in cockerel feathers on their heads. Some of them play "types" which set them up against the other dancers, for example the tiger, the cow, the dog and Maria Candelaria (the badgers woman). The badgers mask has either black or white human facial features depending on where the dance is performed.
When the dance is performed during carnival the dancers make their way to the center of town one after another. Meanwhile, members of the public form a circle around them. They are all slightly nervous about how the "badgers" will react. The children get close enough to pester them and then run away and the badgers attack the onlookers any way they can think of: they insult them; they poke fun at them; they grab men and women, leaving all sexual taboos aside. Local authorities and even the village elders, have to put up with their jibes and satirical caricatures without losing their composure. This dance, like all carnival dances, breaks all barriers, upsets the status quo and lets sexual instincts loose.
The badgers carry a rattle, a rifle, a machete, a cudgel, and a lasso.
The tiger who is at the center of the group is always fighting the badgers. He represents all that is evil and forbidden, as well as power. His main feature is his tail which he uses constantly. He masturbates and tries to rape the cow, or male and female badgers, imitating homosexual or heterosexual sex, he jumps all over the place, plays with his tail and clashes violently with the cow, until one of them is raped by the other.
During the tiger "son" or melody the tiger steals a cow from a farmer. When the farmer realizes what has happened he, his compadre and his dog hunt the tiger down. Finally, all the badgers catch the tiger and castrate it. This section, although much shorter, is very similar to the Tigers Dance. The main difference is that in the Badgers Dance livestock thieves who are at large in the area unpunished by the authorities are publicly denounced.
Traces of indigenous theatrical influences can still be seen in the badgers dance. The pantomime aspect and themes which seem naive to us but are very meaningful to indigenous people still exist, such as satires on locals (the unfaithful wife, the tiger etc.) or didactic exploration of a traditional indigenous tale.
The married woman's pantomime allows the badgers to uncover secret romances going on in the town. Anyone having an affair runs the risk of being confronted and "married" to their "bit on the side". Any other underhand goings on are also exposed, as are the people involved.
The badgers do everything that is unacceptable to society. They reveal a society which lives by laws that go against their own and of a countersociety that has its moment of glory, then dies. Their verses are first rebellious and then, when faced with an unknown future and death, tearful. In between drinking and crying the badgers sing, "maybe next year well be dead and we won't be able to dance".

The Masked Dance

This dance is from the Mixtec region and was devised after the French invasion in the 19th century. Although it is performed throughout the region, the version from Santa Maria Huazolotitlán gives us the clearest idea of its historical origins.
This is a small municipality on the Pacific Coast to the South East of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional. Most of its inhabitants are farmers, manufacturers, trade and builders. More than 3,000 people over the age of 5 speak Mixtec.
Locals say that when the French invaded the region in the 19th century groups of native Indians ran to the hills. They only occasionally returned to their villages - initially to spy on the invaders and later out of sheer curiosity. They watched as the French danced. As word of this European farce got around the numbers of onlookers grew by the day and they watched with amazement, hate and admiration.
When the French left, the Mixtecs left their hide-outs and they then celebrated their liberation by staging a grotesque caricature of French dances, going out of their way to ridicule the invaders. This was how they expressed feelings of hostility and since the animosity lasted the parody was repeated so frequently that it became a regional tradition.
The Mixtecs natural disposition for satire and the physical differences between their race and the invaders gave them ample possibilities for ridiculing the French. They then created outrageous costumes, combining their taste for bright colors and tinsel with the French soldiers ostentatiously arrogant uniforms. As a finishing touch they covered their faces with white handkerchiefs painted with European facial factions. Later the handkerchiefs were substituted by the wooden masks that lend their name to the dance.
A military march opens and closes the dance. There are seven "sones" in between: the windmill; the alleys; the pomegranate; the flag; the chain; the shell and the snake. The music, though based on a French "quadrille", has a very indigenous feel. It is very cheerful, lively, and original in that each tune is played only once.
Men perform both male and female roles in this dance. The men wear white trousers that are tied in at the ankle by tapes, then wound around the leg up to the knee as if they were gaiters. They also wear brightly colored traditional cut shirts and a rectangular cloth over their trousers which is tied in at the waist by a sash. The cloth is usually red and is supposed to be a parody of the Foreign Legions uniform. They wear huaraches (hand made sandals) on their feet and a brightly colored embroidered cape which is decorated with beads hangs from their shoulders kept in place by ribbons that cross over the chest. The costume also includes a hat with a round crown, a small brim, topped off with a multicolored paper feather. The mask or white painted handkerchief covers the face from under the hat.
The woman's costume is simpler. It consists of a frilly skirt and blouse with bright deep red pleats on the side in parody of French dress, a palm hat, a mask or painted handkerchief. The features painted are much more delicate than the men's - they have curled eyelashes, rosy cheeks and a heart-shaped mouth. They wear huaraches, brightly-colored tights, sometimes they wear their hair in braids. Seven couples usually take part in this dance and the leading couples costumes vary slightly. The man wears a jacket and carries a machete and the woman wears a shawl. The leading pair dances around the other couples.
This dance is usually performed during carnival in February or March or on Santa Maria Huazolotitláns patron saints day. The dance is known by different names in the region. In San Juan Colorado it is called "Danza de la Quijada" (The jawbone dance), in Pinotepa de Don Luis it is known as "Danza de las Mascaritas Catrinas) (the toffs masked dance), the "Danza de los Plumudos" (the feathered dance) in Huazolotitlán and "la Danza de las Mascaritas Yacollantes" in Jamiltepec.

The Chareos Dance

The Chareos Dance is a regional variation of the better known "Christians and Moors". It is performed in many coastal towns but the Jamiltepec version is arguably the most striking and colorful. Santiago Jamiltepec is a municipal and district capital on the Pacific Coast and lies to the Southeast of Santiago Pinotepa Nacional. There are a little over 15,000 inhabitants in the area, mostly farmers, manufacturers, builders and tradesmen. A third of the population speaks Mixtec. Every 18th of October since 1983 inhabitants have held a Chilena Festival, the only one of its kind in Mexico. Here, they perform verses, songs and dance that Chilean immigrants brought when they arrived at Puerto Minizo in the XVIII century.
The Chareos Dance represents a battle between Moors, led by Pilates, and Christians, led by James, the apostle. Sixteen male dancers take part and the dancer who plays the part of James appears as a horse rider and wears a costume that incorporates a white horse.
The dancers wear ostrich feathers on their heads, a peacock feather at the front, white cotton square over their shoulders, velvet trousers decorated with gold brocade over white cotton pants and carry a machete. In addition the leader has a hat with a small mirror and a white feather headdress. Two men at the front carry two red flags and two white flags, red symbolizing the blood spilt by James soldiers and white symbolizing the peace that reigned after the Christians victory.
The dance portrays the battle fought against the Moors and how James helped the Christian troops and is also known as a variant of the Santiagos (St. James). Drums and flutes are the only instruments that accompany the dancers.

The Chileans

A dance known as a "chilena" or Chilean comes from the Costa Chica (small coast) which covers both the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. These dances differ from the others in that even though they are inevitably influenced by black and indigenous culture they are essentially mestizo (a blend of Spanish and indigenous).
Although Chileans are danced in other villages, they are performed so often in Santiago Pinotepa that the two are inexorably linked. Santiago Pinotepa Nacional in Jamiltepec district is mainly an agricultural area, although its capital is an important commercial center.
Word has it that the Chileans name originates in the elegant and lively dances from Chile. If this is true - and constant trade with South America during the colonial period and the XIX century makes it feasible- the original dance must be Chile's national dance, the "cueca" or "zamueca". The dance consists of two couples dancing, while musicians sing songs full of jokes and puns, accompanied only by harps and guitars.
The "cueca" or "zamueca" is very popular throughout South America - notably in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Columbia, Peru and Ecuador. Although local variations exist, the core is the same as in the Mexican version. The dance, a lively charade of courtship and of women being wooed, is usually performed by two couples who wave handkerchiefs above their heads as they dance to music and songs.
In Pinotepa Nacional, where the Chileans are most popular it is said that the dance was brought to the coast by a boatload of Chilean sailors who ran aground. They settled in the area and left a legacy of songs and dances to the locals. It is impossible to say whether or not this is true, but, during the gold rush, many ships on their way to California did stop over in Huatulco and Acapulco. Over time, there followed a cultural exchange which eventually led to the birth of the Mexican Chilean, a hybrid version combining the original dance with local influence, essentially the music and bawdy sense of humor. The steps have also changed: initially showing a courtship ending in the couple doing a zapateado (rhythmic stamping to music) to show they are dancing with joy. Indigenous and mestizo dancers wear different costumes, so, clothes change depending on where the dance is performed.
Indigenous women wear a huipil (a long, loose fitting tunic) and a pozahuanco (a wrap or skirt). The huipil is decorated with embroidered figures such as spiders, scorpions, turtles, horses and crabs and has a square neck. The corners are decorated with more embroidery as well as appliqué red and blue ribbons. The pozahuanco is woven on a hand loom in red, purple and blue stripes. The red dye comes from the zamaxtle tree, the purple from a sea shell and the blue from the indigo bush. The skirt, worn quite tight, is held in place by a "sollate" a woven palm band with cotton ties. The women do wear their hair in a "tlacoyal"- a knot worn at the front of the head and pinned at the back with "malacates" hair pins with red, blue and yellow silk tassels at the back. They also wear hoop earrings and necklaces decorated with gold charms, coral and silver figures.
The men dress in a cotton shirt with a square neck, decorated back and front with a red tassel and three quarter length sleeves, long trousers with hems decorated with "cambalache" embroidery. A sash is wrapped all the way around the waist with the colored fringed ends hanging in the back.
Black people in the area perform dances considered to be Chileans. One of these is the "Son de la Artesa". An "artesa" is a large tree trunk, similar to an upturned canoe, kept a few centimeters above the ground by small legs. While the female dancers wait their turn standing to one side, couples take turns to dance on the log.
"Chilena" music is played on a violin, guitar, a big box and sometimes a harp accompany the "zapateado". The music and dance combine and become a whole as the dancers bare feet resonate on the log in time to music.
The mestizo women wear blouses decorated with sequins in the shape of flowers and animals; wide, brightly colored satin or cotton skirts decorated with lace and ribbons; their hair is worn in braids and decorated with ribbons; a neckerchief, gold earrings and necklace finish off the outfit. The men wear trousers, a wide shirt tied at the waist, a palm hat and a red neckerchief.

The Sones

"Sones", "jarabes", and "chilenas" are all dances from the Oaxacan Coast and among the most popular sones are those from Pochutla.
San Pedro Pochutla's inhabitants are mainly farmers, tradesmen, manufacturers and builders. There are iron, copper and magnesium deposits in the municipality and Puerto Angel harbor is within its district. In the past the village was noteworthy as an embarkation point for the regions coffee and nowadays it is a popular tourist destination.
The sones are accompanied by typically mestizo music which is lively and boisterous conveying playful flirtation between men and women. Apart from a few moves the dancers do not touch each other as they dance. The sones are partly instrumental and partly sung, played to a 6/8 rhythm. During the instrumental sections the dancers stamp vigorously to the music whilst they promenade or rest during songs.
The songs are usually made up of 7 to 10 verses of varying length and the rhythm tends to slow down towards the end. Their lyrics -generally risqué and about love- are accompanied by shouts and whoops of joy. The sones are often about animals and many of the dances imitate a given animals movements. The music is played by a wind section but guitars, violins, big boxes, jugs and a coffee leaf (which sounds like a saxophone) are also used.
Women traditionally wear a skirt, petticoat, and a mestizo shirt. The men wear trousers, a loose shirt, a palm hat and a neckerchief. Both men and women wear hand-made sandals.

The above article is quoted from OaxacaNews.

Javier Santiago Arenas, Red Manager

Antequera Red S.A. de C.V.
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CP 68050 Oaxaca Oax. MEXICO
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