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The program of delegations for Guelaguetza 2016 is out and, according to all reports, the show will go on!  And, at long last, this year the Danzantes de Promesa from Teotitlán del Valle have been invited to perform.  It was the talk of the village this past weekend; the pride in their history and traditions and in this new group of dancers was palpable.

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As you can see above, they will be performing on Monday evening, July 25.  Though I won’t be there in person, I will be rushing home from the Guelaguetza celebration in Reyes Etla to watch the live TV broadcast.  Hopefully, as in past years, both the morning and evening performances on both Mondays will be live-streamed.  I will post the link, once I know.

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To whet your appetite, here is my short video of the Guelaguetza 2014 performance I attended at the Guelaguetza Auditorium on Cerro del Fortín.

If this tempts you to come, please do!  Hotels have experienced a 32% cancellation rate, so you should have no trouble reserving a room.  And, the restaurants and artisans could really use your support.  While there are only a few reserved seats available through Ticketmaster at the performances up on Cerro del Fortín, local communities in the valley host their own Guelaguezas that are small, free, and provide an up-close and personal view.  In addition, the delegations dance their way through the streets of Oaxaca on the two Saturdays prior the performances, there are artisan ferias and food festivals in the city and surrounding villages to experience and enjoy.

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One of the much anticipated features of this year’s Fiesta Titlular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in Teotitlán del Valle was the debut of the new Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa.

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Danzantes

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Danzantes

Unlike in many of the other villages, where the Danza de la Pluma is danced by folkloric dance troupes, in Teotitlán del Valle nineteen young men and two little girls make a promise to their god and, thus, their community to learn and perform the dance at each of the four annual major religious festivals in the village for three years.

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Moctezuma with Malinche and Doña Marina

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Danzantes woven wool leggings

This is not a commitment to be taken lightly, as there are 40+ dances that comprise this Zapotec retelling of the story of Moctezuma and the Aztecs battle with Cortes and the Conquistadors.  The entire telling of the story takes almost eight hours to perform in the church plaza — in conditions that can vary from brilliant sun with sweltering temperatures to gusty winds to drizzling rain.

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Subalterno offering water

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Subalterno imitating the danzantes

It’s been almost six months since we first saw the new group at one of their early practice sessions.  In jeans, t-shirts, and gym shoes, the guys were at the beginning stages of learning the steps.

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Moctezuma, a danzante, and Doña Marina

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Moctezuma and the danzantes

They have learned well and it’s going to be an outstanding three years!

 

 

 

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Late yesterday afternoon, under a dark and threatening sky, we gathered in front of Teotitlán del Valle’s church for the first *convite of the Fiesta Titular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, the village’s patron saint festival.

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Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo

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Peeking out from the canastas

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Danzante and daughter

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Subalterno entertaining the crowd

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Kids in the ‘hood patiently waiting and posing

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Leaving the church

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Through the streets with one of several marmotas

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Hundreds of unmarried girls and women parade through the streets

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Balancing canastas with dignity and pride

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The debut of the new Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa (2016-18)

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The rain held off, as the procession returned to the church

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And, the banda played on…

Major festivities of the Fiesta Titular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo continue through Sunday.  We shall return!

* Convite:  According to Harrap’s Spanish and English Pocket Dictionary, convite means reception.  However, if I drag my weighty Larousse Standard Diccionario down from the shelf, convite translates to “invitation” or “banquet.”  And, if one turns to Google or Bing translation programs, a convite is a “treat.”  To me, it is all of the above!

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As with all of life, there are changes going on in Teotitlán del Valle.  A large new Cultural Center is nearing completion.  It’s courtesy of the federal government and, according to the sign at the construction site, not a peso is coming from the state or village.  From what I’ve been told, it will house the museum, a library, and a performance space.

And, with their final Danza de la Pluma performance on Día de Guadalupe (Dec. 12), the three-year commitment of the last Danzantes de Promesa group was at close.  The new group has already begun the demanding work of learning the steps of the 40+ dances that make up the Danza de la Pluma.

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Under the watchful eye of El Picacho, Moctezuma, Malinche, Doña Marina, Teotitles, Capitánes, Reyes, and Vasallos practice from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM, Saturday through Monday to be ready for their debut the first Wednesday in July 2016 during the festival of the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo.  A major and meaningful commitment, it is.

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Changes by David Bowie (descansa en paz)

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Saturday, like all Mexico, Teotitlán del Valle honored the Virgen de Guadalupe.  As they do every December 12, the Danzantes de Promesa danced the Danza de la Pluma.  However, this was the last performance by this group; their three-year commitment to their god, church, and community was at an end.  And, as is their tradition, the dancers and their families offered the village food, drink, and a party to celebrate.

Dancers and their wives, parents, grandparents, godparents, sisters, brothers, and children came bearing fruits, candy, mezcal, and beer.

The children learn at an early age that it isn’t all about them — they are part of a community and have roles to play and contributions to make.

All ages and genders have a role.  The men, more often than not, get the glory but look at these women!  They radiate the strength and pride of 2000 years of Teotitlán del Valle, Zapotec history and culture.

As darkness fell and after dancing for several hours, 9-year olds, Juana Lizbeth Contreras (Malinche) and Ailani Ruiz Ruiz (Doña Marina) made the rounds of the thousands gathered on the church plaza to distribute their gifts to their community.  It was then that emotion overwhelmed me.

A profound muchisimas gracias to the people of Teotitlán del Valle for being so welcoming over the years to a couple of gringo bloggers.  Chris and I are so grateful for your generosity of spirit.  Definitely, more to come…

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After being rained out on Sunday, we picked ourselves and our rain gear up and returned to Teotitlán del Valle on Monday for the abbreviated version (4 hours instead of 8 hours) of the Danza de la Pluma — more of the multi-day fiesta honoring La Santísima Virgen María de la Natividad (the Sainted Virgin Mary of the Nativity).

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Danza de la Pluma is a ritual re-enactment of the Spanish conquest.  The full version is told in 41 bailes (dances) and lasts from early afternoon into the night.  It is danced by folkloric groups throughout the valley of Oaxaca.  However, in Teotitlán, Moctezuma, Danzantes, Subalternos, Malinche, and Doña Marina are selected years in advance and make a promise to the church and community to perform their roles for 3 years.  It is a great honor.

Malinche and Doña Marina

La Malinche (Juana Lizbeth Contreras Vicente), Doña Marina (Ailani Ruíz Ruíz), and Danzantes.

Moctezuma and the Danzantes.

Moctezuma (José Isaac Vasquez de Los Angeles) poised to dance the dance.

Moctezuma coming...

Moctezuma approaching… dancing the dance.

Moctezuma departing...

Moctezuma departing… dancing the dance.

Malinche (Juana Lizbeth Contreras Vicente) dancing the dance.

Malinche dancing the dance.

Doña Marina dancing the dance.

Doña Marina dancing the dance.

The Danzantes in action.

The Danzantes dancing the dance.

The rains came again and we missed the fireworks and castillo.  However, we are already plotting our return at the beginning of October for the Rosario de la Virgen María festival.

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When last I posted, much-needed rains had come to Teotitlán del Valle, sending La Santísima Virgen María de la Natividad (the Sainted Virgin Mary of the Nativity) convite participants, spectators, and photographers dashing for cover and yours truly, home.  However, prior to the deluge, little boys patiently waited.P1130813 P1130772

The band led the Danzantes into the plaza in front of the Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Jesucristo, where they, too, waited.P1130801 (1) P1130804 P1130815P1130819The unmarried women and girls, wearing their traditional red woolen faldas (skirts) and elaborately embroidered blusas (blouses), posed for friends, family, and strangers while waiting for the procession to begin.P1130825 P1130786 P1130791

And, Beatriz got her shot!

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Yesterday, we returned to Teotitlán del Valle for the convite in honor of La Santísima Virgen María de la Natividad (the Sainted Virgin Mary of the Nativity).  Alas, from our point of view, the gods were not cooperating and it threatened to rain on the parade.  The sky surrounding the Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Jesucristo was getting grayer and darker by the minute and professional and amateur photographers alike were challenged to some up with good shots.

Bell towerThe lovely and accomplished photographer, Luvia Lazo was going to march in the procession this time, but couldn’t resist pulling out her cell phone for a shot or two.  By the way, I recently learned that the earrings she is wearing are traditional and unique to Oaxaca and the design is known as, gusano (worm)!Luvia LazoSome of the Danzantes also whipped out their phones for some photos.  Their 3-year commitment ends in December and I suspect most want to savor these last performances.

P1130823And, then there was the daughter of friends and budding photographer, 12-year old Beatriz Ruiz.  Here she is setting up a shot.

P1130788Doesn’t she look professional?  She’s been traveling from Teoti into the city to take classes at the Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo for almost two years.  A photograph she took of her two kittens is currently part of a student exhibition at the museum and is included in the slideshow of photos on their website.  Blogger buddy Chris, who has known her since she was very young, has a very sweet blog post about Beatriz and her interest in photography.

Plastic covered canastasGiven the state of the corn crop, due to lack of rain during this rainy season, there have probably been many offerings and much praying to the gods Cocijo (lightning and rain) and Pitao Cozobi (maiz).  They won the day and the rains did come.  And we, being fair-weather fans, departed.  However, according to one of the Teotitlán del Valle Facebook sites, the show did go on!  We are returning today for the Danza de la Pluma and tonight’s fuegos artificiales (fireworks) and castillo.  Needless to say, we are keeping our fingers crossed!

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Storm clouds were gathering on Tuesday afternoon, as we drove out to Teotitlán del Valle for this year’s first performance of the Danza de la Pluma.  However, the clouds were chased away and the plaza in front of Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Jesucristo was bathed and blessed with the light and shadows of the golden hour.

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(ps)  For a Moctezuma eye view of the dance, check out Chris’s Moctezuma Cam post.

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Defining the terms…

According to Harrap’s Spanish and English Pocket Dictionary, convite means reception.  However, if I drag my weighty Larousse Standard Diccionario down from the shelf, convite translates to “invitation” or “banquet.”  And, if one turns to Google or Bing translation programs, a convite is a “treat.”

All pretty much agree, the English translation for cochinilla is cochineal.  As Wikipedia explains, “Cochineal is probably from French cochenille, Spanish cochinilla, Latin coccinus, meaning ‘scarlet-colored,’ and Latin coccum, meaning ‘berry (actually an insect) yielding scarlet dye.'”  It has been called, A Perfect Red and was much sought after by Europeans.  Home to said insect is the nopal cactus and guess who and where it was probably first cultivated?  In the valley of Oaxaca by her indigenous people, long before the Spanish set foot on the continent.

Which brings us to last Saturday (September 6) in Teotitlán del Valle, under the watchful eye of el Picacho, the sacred brother/sister mountain, for the convite that precedes the Virgen de la Natividad (Nativity of Mary) festival day, held annually on September 8…

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It is the custom in this Zapotec village for the unmarried women of the village to process through the streets two days before this (and a couple of other) important religious festivals, elegantly balancing handmade canastas (baskets), decorated with Catholic and Zapotec imagery, on their heads.  They wear brightly embroidered blusas (blouses) and, in this village known worldwide for its weaving, enredos, hand-woven red wool wrap skirts — the yarn dyed red with cochinilla.  They are accompanied by bands, men carrying enormous (and heavy!) marmotas (cloth globes), little boys carrying poles topped with miniature marmotas, sheep, and airplanes (the significance of the latter is a mystery to me), fearless pirotécnicas announcing the convite’s progress by shooting thunderous rockets into the air, and the dancers who will be performing the Danza de la Pluma in the church courtyard during the following two days’ of festivities.

Borrowing from the definitions above of convite, I would like to think of these processions as a lovely treat, an invitation to the impending fiestas/feast (banquet) days for the saints venerated by the village.  The beauty of the welcoming faces of the young, old, male, and female in the convite provide a warm reception to villagers, visitors, Catholic saints, and Zapotec ancestors, alike.

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Last Monday, L and I had a leisurely hike up the hill from my apartment to the Guelaguetza Auditorium, sat in stadium seats almost 20 rows up, looking down on the enormous circular concrete stage with the city and mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.

Yesterday, I hopped on a bus, heading for another Guelaguetza performance, this time in Villa de Etla.  However, a bloqueo (blockade) by Sección 22 of the teachers’ union had the bus turning around, doubling back, and taking a circuitous route that eventually wound its way through the narrow streets of Santa Rosa.  Once we got back on the main road, I transferred to a colectivo and arrived in Etla just as the dancing was about to begin — this time on a small temporary wood-plank stage, that seemed to shake with every dance step.  The setting wasn’t quite as spectacular, but, there I was, within an arm’s reach of the dancers!

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Danza de la Pluma

Danza de la Pluma

 

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Flor de Piña

With the exception of the Danza de la Pluma, these dancers are from a folkloric group that performs each of the traditional regional dances.   As you can see from their faces, they dance with as much joy and pride as the delegations from the villages at the big Guelaguetza.

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Returning home was its own adventure.  Last week, L and I only had to navigate sidewalks, pathways, and stairs along with the other 11,000 attendees.  Yesterday, Chris (see his Guelaguetza in Etla – 2014 post) gave me a ride to a bus stop where, after about 10 minutes, I caught the bus that would deposit me a half block from Casita Colibrí.  Alas, the best laid plans…  Just before the intersection up to Cerro Fortín, masked maestros (teachers) surrounded the bus, our driver shrugged, opened the doors, and off we passengers got.  It was hot, I was tired, but what else was there to do?  I hoofed it to halfway between the Museo del Ferrocarril (Railroad Museum) and Morelos Park, when another bus materialized, I climbed aboard, giving my feet a much-needed rest, and let the driver navigate the clogged streets that took me back to home sweet home.

It was a fun and frustrating AND exhilarating and exhausting kind of day.

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Do you remember the Danzantes in training from two weeks ago?  All that practice by folkloric dancers from eight villages in the valleys of Oaxaca, was for last night’s “monumental” opening of the Muestra Internacional de Danza Oaxaca.

The dance festival lasts through next Saturday (April 12, 2014), with events taking place at venues throughout the city, AND all are free!

By the way, I’d received an email notice of the dance festival, but it was the comment, “Hope to see us this coming Saturday” from “the danzante with the orange penacho and green shirt” seen in a photo from my blog post, Speaking of Danzantes, that had me making a special point to attend.  Muchisimas gracias a Abdiel for the tip.  I hope you see this post!

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Reason number 579 why I love Oaxaca…

Today was the first day of a way-too-short first time visit to Oaxaca by a couple of California gal pals — an orientation walk through El Centro was the order of the day.  And what did we stumble upon in front of the Government Palace?  Danzantes waiting to perform a couple of the dances from the Danza de la Pluma.

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They began dancing and I flashed on Saturdays’ blog post, Danzantes in training.  However, these guys definitely weren’t apprentices — they had the steps and jumps down WITH those heavy and seemingly unwieldy penachos on their heads — and the crowd cheered.

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The danzantes and most of their gathered audience were from San Bartolo Coyotepec, about 15 km south of the city.  It’s a village known for the artisans who make black pottery.  However, along with the band and dancers, there were banners and protestors.

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According to this article (in Spanish), “they arrived at the presidential palace in the main square of the city to demand the replacement of the elections because the process was considered seedy and does not represent the will of the community.”

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Culture and politics… I couldn’t have arranged a more quintessential Oaxaca experience, if I had tried.  And my friends, what did they think?   They loved it all!

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This morning, as I was getting ready to go to my local mercado, I heard the unmistakable sounds of the Danza de la Pluma (feather dance).  I’ve seen it often enough in Teotitlán del Valle to know the music.  While it is performed throughout the valley and is always one of the big hits during July’s Guelaguetza, Teotitlán del Valle is one of only two villages where it is performed as a religious ritual during their three major yearly festivals.

As I approached the Plaza de la Danza, the music got louder and louder.  Once there, I looked down to see 75 – 100 dancers in jeans and t-shirts practicing one of the (forty-one) dances of the Danza de la Pluma.  They were danzantes in training from various folkloric groups in the valley of Oaxaca.

As you can see from the video, the footwork is complex and the steps require a lot of stamina.  And, just wait until they put on the penachos (headdresses)!

I often wonder and worry that the traditional dances will eventually be lost.  Today’s encounter with these young dancers gave me hope.

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Yippee, I’m back in Oaxaca!  Last night’s flight was smooth, on-time, and mostly empty.  I have to admit to always getting a goofy grin as the little Embraer comes in over the lights of the city and the smile continues through immigration and baggage claim.  It usually falters and turns to a grimace when I have to hoist my 50 pound suitcase up onto the x-ray conveyor belt.  However, last night the grin returned when I pressed the “to search or not to search” button, got the green light, and was able to proceed directly to the booth to buy my colectivo ticket —  60 pesos for door-to-door service to the historic district ‘hood.  An easy return to home.

Unpacking done, late this morning I walked down to my local mercado to restock the larder with some basics:  2 perfect avocados, 1 pristine white onion, a bunch of unblemished small and sweet bananas, half kilo of quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), and 6 freshly made tamales (mole, rajas, and verde).  I’d actually asked for 4, but my regular tamale gal threw in 2 extras.  How often does that happen in el norte?   A welcoming return to home.

This afternoon, blogger buddy Chris and I drove out to Teotitlán del Valle for the performance of the Danza de la Pluma.  We stepped up onto the plaza of Templo de la Preciosa Sangre de Cristo and it was like emerging into the middle of a technicolor movie.  We’ve been there countless times, but today we were blown away by the scene.  Mother Nature had conspired to use her enhance wand on the sky, clouds, sun, and costumes.   A spectacular return to home!

The recent trip to California was to sign papers finalizing the sale of the house my grandparent’s built in 1957.  Prior to relocating to Oaxaca, it had been my home for 30 years, where I’d raised my kids and made many wonderful memories.  Needless to say, selling it was an emotionally challenging ordeal and it has engendered a lot of thinking about the notion of “home.”

However, these past 24 hours have reinforced my belief in bumper-sticker wisdom seen many years ago, “When you live in your heart, you are always home.”  It’s good to be home!

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