Guelaguetza festival

I’ve got a confession to make. Before we started researching our trip to Oaxaca, I had never heard of the Guelaguetza festival. And the dancing couplesfirst time I did read about the presentation of various traditional regional dances; it sounded interesting but still didn’t register all that high on my “must see” scale.

But after attending the morning performance on 24 July 2017, I am here to sing another song. This was an extravaganza on scale with any we’ve ever seen anywhere.

In addition to a full orchestra playing and several other musical acts prior to the first dance presentation, we witnessed 3 non-stop hours of different traditional dances performed by 14 community groups from throughout the region. Some dances were simple and sweet while others were on a level you would expect from a professional dance troupe Tall Tiara Troupecomplete with beautiful costumes and their own musical accompaniment playing along with the orchestra. It was obvious even to us neophytes that each and every one of the groups felt tremendous pride in their community and the chance to participate in the event.

The event dance performances are scheduled in a morning and an afternoon session on each of the last two Mondays of July but the entire city of Oaxaca is alive with activity for the 2-weeks of Guelaguetza. There were multiple top flight musical performances all over the city virtually every night of the 5-nights we were in Oaxaca; many of them free of charge to the general public.

cowboy couple 2The Zócalo was packed with all types of vendors and (mostly Mexican) tourists day and night and at any given time during the day; parades led by giant puppets, marching bands and beautiful ladies dancing down the street with fruit baskets on their heads seemed to spontaneously generate in all parts the historical central area.

On the morning of our show we set out from our hotel in a taxi about 90 minutes before the start of the show. As we got within about a mile and a half of the 11,000 seat amphitheater hosting the show we saw the beginning of a line of people that extended the rest of the way there.

A portion of the seats are free to the public and we guessed those in line were waiting for a chance to get one of those seats but when we arrived at the venue, all of the free upper level seats were already filled for the 10:00 AM show meaning that the line of people were actually hoping for a chance to see the afternoon performance at 5:00 PM or close to 10-hours from the time we passed the que.smiling couple

We enjoyed all of the performances but the Flor de Piña (Pineapple) dance performed by villagers from San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec was the highlight of Guelaguetza 2017 (as we suspect it is each year.) The beautiful all female troupe; each in a stunning individual dress and a pineapple on their shoulder began their dance with a slow entrance procession but soon were displaying remarkable speed and skillful precision. Each pass of their high-step line pass across the stage brought cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.

One of the charming aspects of Guelaguetza is that at the completion of each performance, the dancers throw gifts representing their village and dance to the audience. We were fortunate to be close enough to the stage to catch breads, tortillas of different shapes and colors, candied fruit, packets of smoked chili powder and an orange. We didn’t catch any of the small fired clay cups thrown by dancers from a village famous for pottery. We had been forewarned to be alert after the Flor de Piña because pineapples were thrown but none got close enough to us to do any damage.

parade entryAnother delightful side to the event was just how enthusiastic the audience was for the dancers and the performances. Everyone was in a good mood and shared any gift caught from the dancers with those around them. Upon entry, everyone was given a straw hat and those were gleefully waved and thrown during the show. Dancers from each village cheered for dancers from other villages.

All in all it was a great event and I would suggest that anyone planning a trip to Oaxaca during summer months should consider timing it for late July so they can attend Guelaguetza