Native New Year
December 29, 2009
It’s hard to believe that the holidays are already winding to a close, with the New Year just around the corner! There is still time to catch a Pueblo dance, however, and I recommend this experience highly. I have been attending dances for years, and there is always something new to discover. No pictures, of course, since photography is a big taboo at the Pueblos, so let’s see if my description is enough to pique some interest.
Tesuque, my favorite Pueblo – an enjoyment also influenced by proximity, I admit – had several Christmas dances from which to choose. I always intend to see more than one dance, but it never seems to work out that way. As close as Tesuque Pueblo is, it’s still north of Santa Fe, I live 17 miles south already, and somehow, the holidays hold a great capacity for hanging around doing nothing. This year’s dance roster offered much to enjoy. Christmas Eve dances were held right before Midnight Mass (well, 11pm, that is), and I learned from my Tesuque pals, that instead of dancing inside the church, the dancers were outside in the Plaza, BRRRR! Christmas Day was a Standing Deer Dance, always a memorable dance with the pine boughs and antlers on the men’s heads, but after making a big Christmas Eve feast, I just couldn’t budge from home. I also missed Saturday, December 26, which was a Snowbird Dance, something I have never seen but will keep in mind for the future.
I did manage to get out to Tesuque finally on Sunday the 27th, and I am glad I did. This was also a dance I hadn’t seen, a Bull Dance, comprised of men only (52 of them, we counted), each with faces painted black on top, white on the bottom and with a red horizontal stripe across the nose, for some of them. It was no surprise to see that they wore cattle horns. In their left hands, they held a gourd rattle, in the right hand, I regret to say, I don’t remember, pine boughs, maybe? (pine boughs seems to be a winter thing). The dancers wore percussive anklets, there was a single drummer wrapped in a deer-hide, and one lead dance captain with two other dance captains. The dancers also did the singing, which is not as common as a separate group of singers with several drums. The dancers spread out in a line, and moved in a U-shape from one side of the Plaza to the other, and when they moved, in between dances, they bellowed (you can’t say they moo-ed, since they’re men, but the sound was definitely moo-ish). It reminded me of the Christmas Carol that sings, “the cattle are lowing…” We stood on the sunny side of the Plaza, all bundled up and when we turned around, we realized yet again, that Tesuque and indeed all of the New Mexico Pueblos simply possess some of the best views in the state. This is as it should be.
If the two weeks of Christmas have passed you by, there is still time to visit the Pueblos for one of these timeless experiences. Many Pueblos also hold January dances, more for King’s Day, January 6, when new governors are sworn in, than for the New Year, and at the end of the month, there is even an individual feast day at San Ildefonso (with fantastic Black Mesa in the distance) on January 23. Dances generally take place at intervals throughout the day; if you want an earlier start to your day, arriving around 11 a.m. is a good time. After lunch, the dancers will come out of the kiva again, and there will be one more dance before the day ends and the sun sets. As always, check to be sure that dances are open to the public, that you are aware of proper etiquette and that you are dressed for January weather.