In the village of Zaachilla outside of Oaxaca City, Mexico is one of the strangest dance troupes this monkey has seen for a very long time. That’s the famous stilt dancers of Zaachilla that perform Danza de los Zancudos, or Dance of the Stilts.
Over 100 years ago, the story goes, St. Peter appeared to an old man in the village. Eventually the apparition was captured but it escaped and appeared again to the old man and told him that he wanted a church built in his name. He also wanted the people to dance on stilts on the the Day of the Feast of St. Peter, which was only a few days away. The men of the village then made stilts and danced while the women gathered around with candles and flowers and sang songs. At the end of the dance they found an image of St. Peter and took it into the village and built a church.
Anyway, they’ve been doing this dance in Zaachilla ever since on feast days and other special events.
Young boys and men pledge themselves to St. Peter and undergo months of training to learn how to balance themselves atop the stilts. The poles are made of ocote wood and the footing for the most advanced dancers is over six feet off the ground. Younger dancers, as young as five, have varying heights as they gain experience.
Only men and boys are allowed to dance but some are dressed as women so the dancers can have a couples theme. The dancers Kongo met have been doing this for generations within the same family and they told stories of their grandfathers and great grandfathers performing the dances.
When their costume is ready, the young men climb up a ladder and strap the stilts to their feet and legs. Then, they’re off — hopping, swirling, and swaying.
Kong was able to view these dancers in a private residence in Zaachilla where they practice for events.
The dancers perform for hours at a time and are accompanied by bands that play traditional music. They toss candies and small gifts to the crowds, but one dancer told me that he always gives his gifts to cute girls that interest him. Since his face is covered, it creates an aura of mystery…who was that masked stilt dancer???
Interestingly, they’ve been doing stilt dancing in this part of Mexico for a long, long time. The image above is a Mayan hieroglyph that shows a stilt dancer.
Travel safe. Have fun!