Cotacachi / Cotacachi / Cotacachi Indigenous / Ecuador News

Dance of San Juan in Cotacachi:The Day of the Women

Women’s Day during the dance of San Juan is very different from the dancing of the men.  On this final day of the festival, also known as the Feast Day of Santa Lucia*, the women who dance carry no whips, clubs or guns.  There is no fighting or competition.

After being tear-gassed on Friday during the police response to indigenous fighting in the main square, I was reluctant to do anything more on Sunday, July 1, than stay far away from the dance of San Juan festivities.  But after buying our weekly allotment of fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers at the Sunday market, I was enticed by two things.

The first was the tantalizing aroma of frying tilapia at the outdoor stalls serving the revelers.

The second was recognizing Page, a Peace Corp volunteer, among a group of Caucasian young women who had joined the female dancers from the village of Morochos.  Page and the Western girls are all blonde and paled-skinned, so they stood out even though they wore their hair in braids and sported the long skirts, white blouses and black shoes of local indigenous women.

They were quite a hit.  The women moved rhythmically in a circle through Cotacachi, accompanied by men playing flutes.

As Gary and I stood watching Page and the other women dance,  a young uniformed policeman asked us who Page was.  Gary explained and the policeman’s eyes lit up.


When we asked if he approved of the gringitas joining in a traditional ceremony in this way, he nodded enthusiastically and replied, “Yes, I think it is very beautiful.”

The policeman from Esmeraldas and his buddy.

He also told us that there were 350 policemen in town to keep the peace, which today wasn’t really necessary. He is from Esmeraldas on the coast.  He also confirmed that the tally so far during the dance of San Juan was 3 dead and 23 wounded.

Most of the policemen were watching the parades of women, taking pictures or eating at the many food stands.  They seemed relaxed and I detected none of the tension I felt  from them two days earlier.

A young entrepreneur selling candy apples.

Plenty of adorable young girls were enjoying the dancing, including this little lady all in pink and white, who was dancing with her mother.

Crowds of onlookers were again in attendance on the cathedral steps and in the main park.  All in all, the women’s dancing brought a serene ending to a chaotic, highly-charged and sometimes violent week of celebration.

We welcome comments from our readers who wish to share their views, understandings, historical or cultural perspectives and eye-witness reports on the complex, often puzzling Dance of San Juan.

And one final puzzle.  Is this masked dancer a woman or a man?

I am of the opinion that the dancer is a man, based on the flat chest and masculine hand.  Plus I think I’ve seen this mask with cigarette at the annual Atuntaqui New Year’s Parade where the men all dance in drag.  What do you think?  Give us your feedback by commenting at the end of this blog.

If you have your own story about an Ecuador festival or celebration, please share it on this page.

For a blog about a past Women’s Day during the dance of San Juan, click here.

2007 Atuntaqui New Year’s Parade.

2008 Atuntaqui New Year’s Parade. Quite risque!

2011 Atuntaqui New Year’s Parade video and more pictures.

* The Feast of Santa Lucia is an example of cultural syncretism, in which ancient indigenous rites and pagan ceremonies or traditions are co-opted by conquering tribes, nations or organizations such as the Catholic Church.  In the same way that Inti Rymi, a festival that honors the sun, was incorporated with the Catholic feast days of St. John, St. Paul and St. Peter.  The last day of the traditional celebration known as Inti Rymi is now known as the feast day of Santa Lucia.


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One Comment

  1. Brad Taylor says:

    Alli puncha, Linda. I’m with you — definitely a man. See how relatively tall the person is.