RIDGWAY – This Sunday afternoon, the Ridgway Town Park will come alive with Native American dancing and drumming, as part of the inaugural Ridgway Heritage Days and Ranch Rodeo event.
Dancers will include a drum group from the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation south of Cortez, as well as the Azteca dance group from Montrose. Both groups will be dressed in full colorful regalia, although their styles of dance and dress are quite different.
Roland McCook, an elder from the Northern Ute tribe in Utah and descendant of Chief Ouray and Chipeta, will join in the Ute dancing, with its familiar swirl of colorful regalia, jingle dresses, fancy shawls and thumping drums.
The Azteca dancers, led by Manuel Torres of Montrose, are part of a larger movement among the diaspora of Mexico’s pre-colonial inhabitants, many of whom can trace their roots to the Aztec and Mayan cultures.
Dressed in exotic garb including spectacular feathered headdresses called Copilliquetzalli that evoke the huge temples and beautiful open plazas of the ancient city of Tenochtitlán, the dancers consider their twirling, high-stepping performances to be a kind of prayer in movement, allowing them to connect with nature’s gods. Each individual dance group is called a Mesa or Callpulli.
The Montrose-based Azteca group made a big impression when they performed at the Montrose Indian Nations Powwow last fall. The dancers, all of whom are members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Montrose, started performing together as a way to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe every Dec. 12. “It is very common in Mexico to have these kinds of dances at the celebration, even at the church,” Torres said.
Across the country, larger urban Azteca dance groups have come to symbolize the highly politicized vanguard of the leftist protest circuit, showing up at rallies to support gay rights and oppose police brutality, protesting Christopher Columbus, and even dancing and beating drums at pro-Palestinian events.
Although the Azteca dance movement dates all the way back to the fall of the Aztec empire in 1521, it was reinvigorated in the 1930s, when cultural leaders Manuel Pinda, Gabriel Osorio and Natividad Reyna took back the use of traditional Aztec percussion instruments like the huéhuetl y teponaztle, abandoned their Conchero clothing (named for a style of guitar they made with the shell of an armadillo following Spanish colonization) and donned the ancient Aztec regalia once again.
“We like to share with the people what we have – the Mexican culture, the Aztec culture,” said Torres. “We try to explain to people the origin of the dances, the names, and the regalia.”
Torres plans to bring up to 20 dancers from the Montrose area to perform in Ridgway on Sunday, while about eight dancers and drummers from the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation are expected.
Altogether, it should make for quite a mini powwow, and perhaps the largest gathering of Native dancers that Ridgway has ever seen.
Dancing happens from 3:30-5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, June 16, on and near the new stage at Ridgway Town Park. It is just one element of a whole day’s worth of activities and events celebrating Ridgway’s heritage that day, including a pancake breakfast hosted by the Ridgway Volunteer Fire Department, a special farmers market featuring local cheese, wine, herbs and produce, games and face painting for the kids, blacksmithing, cowboy poetry and music in the park, and lectures on the history of the area at the Town Hall.
Saturday’s activities center around a Ranch Rodeo at the Ouray County Fairgrounds.
For more information, visit ridgwaycolorado.com, 970/626-5181, or on Facebook
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