The Zocalo (the town square) is a fantastic place to visit any day of the week. Enclaved by cafes, restaurants and ice creameries the square itself is where the action takes place. People perched on flower beds, shoe shiners scattered around, teenagers hanging out, couples kissing up a storm, protesters broadcasting, artisanal market stalls, young men selling candy and gum, children running around with oversized balloons blowing bubbles in the air, a few beautifully shady trees and a grand church (of course). Take a seat on a bench in the gazebo and you have a perfect vantage point for this smorgasbord of people watching. For some Oaxacan`s however, Wednesdays in the Zocalo hold a special meaning – Miércoles de Danzón.
Danzón is a form of music and dance originating from Cuba. Now considered a national dance, modern Danzón emerged in the late 1800s. Originally the moves were considered scandalous because of the slow tempo and close proximity of partners. Eventually, the style experienced widespread acceptance as people of all ages and social standings took to it. Danzón is performed to a brass instrument band and does not feature lyrics. The music features an introduction of 4 bars followed by a paseo (promenade) of 4 bars and then a 16 bar melody (theme). During the introduction couples make their way onto the dance floor, greet each other and make small talk. They all start dancing as one as the theme begins. The introduction is repeated midway through the piece and this is treated as a rest. The dancers pause, and again walk around, greet and chat with fellow participants.
The popularity of Danzón spread internationally, and is quite popular in certain regions of Mexico; specifically, in the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, and as well as in Mexico City. It had a revival in the 1990s, here in Mexico, particularly amongst senior citizens, of which the enthusiasm has carried forward till today. There are annual festivals, competitions between dance schools and gatherings in local plazas. Every week people gather in the Zocalo of Oaxaca city to dance and celebrate Danzón.
There seems to be a real sense of community at these gatherings. The people who dance all greet each other like old friends, and judging by their skill, they have been gathering for a while. Although everyone appeared to dance with designated partners it is very social event with the permission of chat between movements. Miércoles de Danzón seems to have become a bit of an institution. It’s not just the dancers, who turn out, but also a brass band, the organisers and many spectators. The other day, as I was watching, one attendant recited a poem about Danzón. One line she recited stuck with me, ‘music that makes the heart happy, played by instruments of love.’
It’s a lot of fun just watching. All the dancers turn out in their best clothes, and although it is mainly an older generation, there are a few young couples as well. It’s fairly slow (as in comparison to salsa) and while there are some conventions, such as the pause midway through the song, the moves did not appear too set. I would encourage everyone to give it a go. I was invited to dance by one gentleman and it was easy enough to follow the lead. If you’d like to join in or experience some prime people-watching in Oaxaca, head to the Zocalo on Wednesday evenings at 6.30 p.m. The gathering is located between the church and gazebo – the brass band and big pink banner are easy to spot. For more information regarding Miércoles de Danzón, have a look at the organisation’s facebook page.