Cotacachi / Ecuador Culture / Living in Ecuador / Places in Ecuador

Cotacachi Dance of San Juan–Sunday

After a couple of quiet days, the famous Dance of San Juan started up again on Sunday, and continues today. We knew it was going to be big when I went out looking at some property with a couple staying here for a month.

First we looked at some property west of the city, the development of Colonia El Batan. When we came back, our taxi progress was halted by about 75 men in various stages of inebriation marching to a cadence into town.

Thankfully, they made room for us to pass, but it was a little bit disconcerting seeing so many men in their “witches” hats, some with faces painted,carrying long cable whips.

From there, we went North of town about 2 miles to look at another property. The same story, only this time about 50 men, all chanting, singing, hollaring and really acting up. I tell you, the adrenalin started pumping!

The Cotacachi crowd

I commented, “it looks like the town is going to be full today.” I certainly was not mistaken. I got back to town and went for a walk around the city square. To say it was packed would be an understatement. There were more people in the city, participants and spectators, than I have seen in nearly two years here.

The dancers move in a kind of staccato rhythm around the square, stopping at each street corner to move in a circular fashion, first one way, then reverse and move the other, never releasing the rhythm.

At the same time they sound a specific kind of whistle, a short brief burst, almost like calling a dog. With the entire square filled with these whistles, and all the dancers maintaining the same rhythmic movement, it is almost hypnotizing in an eerie sort of way.

A burst of tear gas forms a white cloud.

As I stood north of the Church, all of a sudden the crowd started to surge, away from the square. I surged with it, only to look back after running a few meters, and saw the reason–a big white cloud of tear gas. Something was happening that the police didn’t like. With that many people, it seemed to me that to throw a tear gas bomb into the crowd was an invitation for disaster. But everyone was seemed pretty cool about it.

Tilapia from the lakes surrounding Cotacachi was the food of choice

Shortly, the gas dispursed, and all the people went back to the square. I walked in the area away from the square and towards the bus station. Lots of food booths were set up, many selling Tilapia, fish from the surrounding lakes. I had a small piece for $.30. It was deep fried, and delicious. There is obviously something symbolic about eating fish, because no other celebration features it so prominently.

Che Guavara is an always popular symbol in Ecuador

Every now and then, a drunk dancer would be carried away, too drunk to walk, carried by two others who could barely walk themselves. One thing for certain, whatever aggression was locked away was certainly released in this four days of seeming madness. I would think that it would take most of them several weeks just to recover.

Some of the faces look very violent. Others look almost innocent. One thing I noticed this year is that the dancers representing the black forces far out numbered the white forces. I don’t know what the symbol is, and I almost hesitate to ask. Actually, the few white marchers were virtually overwhelmed and swamped by a sea of black, almost as if they were inconsequential. I wonder what kind of year it will be.

Tomorrow is the day of the woman. Peace will return to Cotacachi and the Andes as the women take to the streets in their colorful native costumes to heal the wounds their men received in previous days.

This is what I love about living in a different culture. I never get tired of the surprises.

Postscript: I just went out on the street again (4 p.m. Monday) and finally got it. The crowds love the tear gas! It’s kind of like going to a stock car race and hoping for a crash. At the slightest hint that something is going to happen, the crowd surges down a side street, running, laughing, kids shouting in delight. As soon as the “danger” is past, they hurry back for more. We are a strange breed!



  1. Pingback: Tear Gassed Again! The Dance of San Juan in Cotacachi | Living in Ecuador Blog

  2. Linda,

    I find your account of this cultural event fascinating. It is as though a collective consciousness has taken over this very large group of people who are acting out some classic mythical story without any ego getting involved. The fact that tear gas doesn’t insult them is interesting! I would love to hear about what happens on the day the women dance. Please do share more!

    Niko in Hawaii