Photo of dancers of -Danza de la Pluma-

LA Danza de la Pluma Project

La Danza de la Pluma Project was a collaboration with the Museo Comunitario "Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal" of Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico and Metamorfosis Documentation Project. It was a multifaceted endeavor that, in cooperation with the local authorities and the dance group (Grupo de Promesa 2007 - 2009), documented the dance itself, produced a video documentary, and established a permanent Danza de la Pluma Exhibit in the Community Museum. Metamorfosis Documentation Project donated rights of reproduction and sale of the documentary to the Community Museum, with all the proceeds designated for the improvement of the Museum.
In mid-November to mid-December of 2007 we conducted interviews with current and past dancers, elders, and other members of the community. On December 12th, the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we documented the Dance in the church courtyard as part of the celebrations for the Virgin's feast day. We were assisted in the filming of the Dance by our good friend and filmmaker Rubén Abruña, who generously donated his time and expertise to the project. We returned to Santa Fe and worked on the editing of the documentary, also aided by Rubén.

After completing the documentary, we returned to Teotitlán del Valle for the second phase of the project, from mid-May through mid-June of 2008. In collaboration with the Museum Committee, and with the involvement of other community members, we created a permanent "Sala de La Danza de la Pluma" Exhibit in the Community Museum. On June 8th, we sponsored a community event on the Civic Plaza, with the official dedication of the Danza Exhibit, a performance by the Promise Group 2007 - 2009 of La Danza de la Pluma, and the world premiere of the documentary, "La Danza de la Pluma. Faith, Sacrifice and Tradition."

Back in Santa Fe we participated in the Santa Fe Art Institute’s annual lecture series, presenting the results of this documentation and community interaction, and participated in a group exhibit at the Art Institute. Later, in collaboration with the Mexican Consulate in Albuquerque, we brought the dancers to present this Dance in four venues in New Mexico. To be able to have the music for the dancers to dance in the United States, we produced a CD of the music of the dance for the local band in Teotitlán del Valle who would usually accompany the dancers.

-Something unexpected happened when we arrived in Teotitlán del Valle with plans to film the dance on December 12, the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe! We found out, contrary to what we had understood earlier, that the Dance Group only presented the dance on the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe during the third (and last) year of the Group’s commitment, … and this was only their first year. The dancers conferred and decided to offer the dance to the Virgin that year, and we were able to film it. Since then, every Dance Group (Grupo de Promesa) has danced every year for the Virgin of Guadalupe’s Feast Day. This happenstance proved to be the rescuing of an old tradition – presenting the Dance for the Virgen of Guadalupe (in addition to the other important Feast Days) used to be an annual event for each Dance Group, and a few decades ago the Dance Groups had decided to present the Dance on that date only in the last year of their commitment.-

La Danza de la Pluma

La Danza de la Pluma (The Feather Dance) is a cross-cultural conquest dance, part of the cycle of Conquest Dances, and is closely related to the Matachín dances. Before the Spanish presence in America, in the mid-14th century, the Mixtecs from the north conquered the Oaxacan valleys. Although the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs were fierce enemies, they formed an alliance to defend themselves from a common enemy, the Aztec Empire. Around that time the Mixtecs paid homage to the God of Dance (Yya Yaasitasaha). Its effigy was represented with a blue helmet with a gold crown topped with long feathers arranged in the form of a fan; in one hand was held a rattle, in the other flowers.

The first mention in the chronicles of the Spanish Conquistadors of a cross-cultural dance in Oaxaca (and predecessor of the modern Danza de la Pluma) took place at Cuilapan.

At his palace, the Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, Martín Cortez, the legitimate son of Hernán Cortez, performed a dance for the celebration of the birth of his twin sons.

A skirmish was enacted representing Hernán Cortez and Montezuma, in which Martín himself played the part of his father. With political undertones, this first dance was an adaptation of ancient traditional indigenous dances and the Conquest Dances that developed in central Mexico that in turn were adaptations of similar ancient dances and the Moors and Christian dances the Spanish brought to America.

The modern Danza de la Pluma evolved in this way from Zapotec and Mixtec dance rituals in Oaxaca under the influence of the Spanish colonizers.

It incorporates the struggle between Moctezuma and Cortez, Christianity and paganism, with several variations as to the ultimate victor. It has deep cultural significance and importance, with dancers committing themselves for a three-year period, and involves much ritual preparation and community involvement.
This essential element of reciprocity, of "paying your dues" for the benefit of the community, is evidenced by the dancers' commitment.

While the Danza de la Pluma is performed throughout Oaxaca, in 2009 Teotitlán del Valle was one of only two communities that practiced the dance as a religious ritual. Since we made this documentary, other communities in the Central Valleys have created dance groups motivated by spiritual commitment, and now there are a few more communities that perform it as a religious ritual.

-Dance was very different to the Spanish than it was to the native people. The Spanish had public dances. These dances were theater, propaganda; they were entertainment devoid of mysticism. On the other hand, for the native people dance was a ritual, a magic formula that had the power to personify nature’s forces and cycles, the power to transform the viewer, the power to please the spirits. Although the intended theatrical reading of the dance was the battle and triumph of Christianity over paganism, native dancers kept paying homage through the spirituality of the dance to the natural deities they had always revered. These hidden meanings, these native readings, allowed native communities to survive, to appropriate and transform all the new influences into concepts they could understand and appreciate.- © Armando Espinosa Prieto 2009.