Danzas Indigenistas

I have been to a lot of pow-wows in my time and seen a lot of indigenous dances. It’s always a moving experience for me. Though I wasn’t raised in a tribal family, I am part Lipan Apache and a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. I was always reluctant to embrace that part of my heritage because I look ridiculously white, taking after the Irish and English parts of my family and was raised to feel shame about my mother’s Apache DNA. It wasn’t until I began regular shamanic practice that I understood that at the core we all have shamanism in our backgrounds, though for most of us it has been scrubbed out by various forms of organized religion, usually with violence and suppression of our and our ancestor’s true selves.

Shamanism is about connection to the natural world and to Spirit. In shamanism we see the sentience in all things: rocks, trees, water, plants, birds, air, mammals, reptiles, creepy crawlies, stars, fire, earth…. Everything has a spirit. Everything in the shamanic realms can work with us, help us, teach us, challenge us to grow, give us advice, and urge us to be in harmony with the universe.

This new filter of shamanic connection with and to all things gave me a new way to see the dances of indigenous peoples, appreciating the movements and expressions as the spiritual conversation that they are. A dancer in a jaguar costume, for instance, isn’t just a dancer. He or she has the opportunity to embody the Spirit of the archetype that is Jaguar, taking on those characteristics and giving Jaguar the ability to express its’ essence through the dance.

Mexico No Filters-Indigenous dancer who is way into the zone. Festival de San Miguel, 2018.

I once dressed as Durga, a pre-Hindi Indian goddess, for Halloween. I searched for a long time for the right sari, wrap, makeup, and accessories I needed to complete the costume. Halloween night I wrapped the sari and tied it in the customary fashion then applied the makeup to complete the look. I remember beginning to feel very different as I drew the big blue eye vertically between my own eyebrows – calmer, more present, more powerful. By the time I got to the Halloween party down the street I realized I was different. Conversation stopped when I walked in and the look on people’s faces was nothing short of awe. But it wasn’t the costume that held them in thrall for that moment. By allowing the Spirit of the Being I was dressing as to flow, not just through the costume of clothing and makeup, but also through my bodily offering, I did, for a time become that Being.

This is what indigenous dancers are doing by creating and wearing elaborate costumes and makeup when they dance: allowing Spirit to flow into this dimension and giving power and advice on how to heal this broken world.

Click the links below to see: 

  • More photos of the Indigenous Dancers
  • The Festival de San Miguel
    476th birthday of San Miguel and the feast day for our patron saint. Party!!
  • The Blessing of the Horses
    Caballeros and caballeras who flow into San Miguel to have their horses blessed in front of the Parrochia
  • Quema de Monitos (coming soon)
    The burning of the monkeys – not literal monkeys and not just fire. This is a fun display involving blowing stuff up in a show of the battle against evil

The Blessing of the Horses

by Cat Calhoun
San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico

The clanging of church bells in the square drowned out all but the most boisterous of conversations, yet the clop of horse hooves on the cobblestone streets was audible above them. Hundreds of horses, 4 deep across in some places, rang clearly in the streets. Ridden by a cavalry of caballeros and caballeras, many bearing standards and banners like an army of medieval crusaders, the sleek shining horses replaced, if only for a few hours, the throngs of selfie-taking tourists that generally clog the streets of San Miguel on holidays and weekends.

Mexico No Filters - Horses and tourists during the Blessing of the Horses in San Miguel de Allende

And actually, it was both. The holiday was the Festival of San Miguel, the feast and celebration day for St. Michael the Archangel and the patron saint of San Miguel de Allende. But no one seemed to want a hoof in the face nor a tiptoe through the road apples, so the horses and riders had the streets to themselves while the tourists and festival go-ers packed the roadside to watch the cowboys from surrounding towns as far as an hour away from San Miguel roll through in what seemed to be an unending parade reaching as far up and down the road as we could see.

A priest walked up and down the edge of the square with a sprig of cedar and a bucket, dipping the branch into the water and dispensing it with a holy fling it on the horses. While the caballeros might choose to attend Catholic masses, it was clear the horses had other belief systems and customs. Most of them looked as highly offended as a cat, jerking away and neighing in protest when the priest “baptized” them. But this is what the local people had come for and the parade of horses and riders continued, making their away around the town to the Parrochia, the largest church in San Miguel.

Though the space in front of the local parish church is ample, there was not enough room for the whole contingent. An altar was erected in front of the church and a mass was held for horses and riders. Patient people and patient beasts waited calmly for the completion of the service. Many riders calmed their horses with gentle touches and words whispered in ears.

Only one horse reared in the crowd, ridden by a big man with striped pants, large silver spurs, and a heavy handed demeanor. The display was impressive, frightening, and sad, yet the other horses were hardly bothered. The big rider was one of the few I saw wearing spurs or using a quirt. I noticed that the other riders seemed to work to stay away from him. I doubt this guy’s horse will be converting to Christianity anytime soon.

See my Flickr page for tons more photographs. 

Click here to see: 

Festival de San Miguel

San Miguel de Allende is named after two ‘people.’ One is Ignacio Allende, a hero of the Mexican Revolution. The other is San Miguel or St. Michael, who is also one of God’s archangels. In the Mexican Catholic tradition, each saint has their own special feast day.  When a saint’s feast day coincides with your personal name or with the name of your town, it’s cause for a party, ergo, when Michaelmas (the feast day for San Miguel) rolls around, it’s time for a massive party.

Quema de Monitos - burning of the 'monkeys,' or the lower baser self.

Michaelmas is officially September 29th, but San Miguel de Allende makes a weekend long event of it. The party starts on Friday night with fireworks in the sky, church bells ringing, and loud booms that shake the floor. Each neighborhood has it’s own celebration, as do surrounding towns, but the main events take place in the center of town, the Jardín (garden) and the Parrochia (the main parish church).

The festivities include mariachi bands, a parade of stars (piñatas), voladores (flying dancers), the blessing of the horses, the Quema de Monitos, parades that are both Christian and pagan, xuchile offerings, indigenous dancers in rather terrifying regalia, and a fireworks extravaganza that involves shooting fireworks into the crowd in a mock battle between good and evil.

Some of it I captured, some I didn’t. . . because it happened in the middle of the night and I’m just not going to do that to my body anymore!

Read on to see: 

  • Danza de los Voladores
    Flying dancers who leap backwards off of a 100ft tall pole and dance in the wind as they fall. 
  • The Blessing of the Horses
    Caballeros and caballeras who flow into San Miguel to have their horses blessed in front of the Parrochia
  • Danzas Indigenistas 
    Amazing indigenous dancing up close and personal, featuring costumes that would scare the crap out of you if you were one of the conquering Spanish. Seriously. After looking at the pics would you want to meet one in the forest on a dark night?!
  • La Quema de Monitos (coming soon)
    The burning of the monkeys – not literal monkeys and not just fire. This is a fun display involving blowing stuff up in a show of the battle against evil