Subject: The Turtle Dance

Date: 04 Feb 1999 00:00:00 GMT

From: "König Preuße, GmbH" <>

Organization: Lou Minotti & the Clamsauce Enema Band






Those who study autochthonous Mexican dance say that there are

themes which reappear all over the country. The turtle is one such

theme with higher incidence in coastal areas. In Oaxaca there are

two different versions of the "turtle dance" one from the coast and

one from the Tehuantepec Isthmus. One of the most original ways

of performing it can be seen in Santa Maria Huazolotitlán, in the

municipality of José Maria Morelos to the Southeast of Santiago

Pinotepa Nacional. The town has 4,700 inhabitants, most of whom

are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. The majority of

them either grow or sell lemons, farm corn, sesame seeds and

peanuts. They also raise cattle, sell meat and dairy produce.

Mixtec, the regions main language is not spoken he re as 98% of

the population is of African descent.


The "turtle dance", as danced on the coast, ridicules Spanish

rule and remembers how black slaves were exploited during the

Colonial Period. A whip carried by Don Pancho symbolizes the

harsh treatment the slaves suffered. In this dance, Pancho is a

black foreman who is well-trusted by his master and who ill-treats

his fellow slaves.


La Minga, his wife, is a light-hearted and coquettish woman

who is constantly paid flirtatious compliments by the other men on

the hacienda. This drives her husband mad with anger and he beats

both his wife and anyone who dares kiss or cuddle her.


During the dance, Minga offers her "daughter" to people in the

audience and asks them to hold her. If the person chosen refuses to

take the doll, Minga screams for Pancho to punish the person who

dared slight her daughter. If the doll is accepted Pancho arrives

immediately, accusing the man of being involved with his wife and

he is also punished. The punishment consists in having to dance

with Minga. If he doesn't want to dance he has to give the dancers

a personal object or pay a fine to avoid punishment. These "fines"

are used at the end of the dance to buy alcohol for the dancers

after the dance.


The turtle dances around the other characters and at the end

pretends to lay eggs. Having put the eggs on the floor and Pancho

picks them up and gives them to an important guest at the dance.


The costumes are as follows. The men cover their heads with

two cotton squares and a mask and a hat over them. They wear old

shirts and trousers covered in patches and huaraches, handmade

sandals. The women also cover their heads with two scarves and a

mask, but wear a shawl over them instead. They also wear long

flowery skirts covered in black lace, tights and huaraches. Pancho

wears cowboy style leather trousers, boots and spurs. He carries a

rope, a "binza" ( a cowhide whip), and a cows horn over his

shoulder. Minga wears a wig, a long dress, a shawl crossed over

her chest, tights and high heels and carries a doll (her daughter) in

her arms. The dancer who plays the turtle carries a shell made

from a wooden frame covered in cloth.


Fourteen men dance, seven of them dressed up as women. The

dance is made up of seven "sones" which have a variety of steps

even though the music remains quite similar. At times the steps are

improvised and then the dancers return to the original

choreography. The music is played on wind instruments.