La Danza de la Pluma Project is a project in collaboration with the Museo Comunitario "Balaa Xtee Guech Gulal" of Teotitlán del Valle and the Metamorfosis Documentation Project.
La Danza de la Pluma Project is 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 Dance Exhibit in the Community Museum. Metamorfosis Documentation Project donated the rights to the reproduction of the documentary to the Community Museum for their sole benefit.
This project’s mission was clear. We wanted to document the Dance and benefit the community by aiding in the preservation of this very significant public ritual, collaborating in the creation of a permanent exhibit featuring the Dance in the Community Museum. We would also donate the rights of reproduction of the resulting documentary to the Community Museum, so they could sell the documentary to museum visitors, with all the proceeds designated for the improvement of the Museum.
We worked on the documentation phase of the project from 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 atrium 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 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 Premiere Screening of the documentary, "La Danza de la Pluma. Faith, Sacrifice and Tradition."
Back in Santa Fe we lectured and participated in a group exhibit at the Santa Fe Art Institute and later on 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.
La Danza de la Pluma (The Feather Dance) is a cross-cultural conquest dance, part of the cycle of Conquest Dances, and closely related to the Matachín dances.
Before the Spanish presence in America, in the mid XIV 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 performed a dance for the celebration of the birth of his twin sons. A skirmish was enacted representing Cortez and Montezuma, in which Martín himself played the part of his father.
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. The 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, Teotitlán del Valle is one of only two communities that still practice the dance as a religious ritual.