Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Glimpse of the Aztec Fire Dance

Old Town Artisans is a group of six shops and restaurants located on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson, the fort built by the Spanish in 1775 to stake claim to the northern frontier of New Spain.

One of the shops in the 150-year-old adobe building is Tolteca Tlacuilo, which means "a balance between crafts and nature," and that's what this store has accomplished.

Each Oaxacan folk art wood carving begins as a branch of fragrant green copal wood, whose twists and curves often suggest the final form of the carving.

Other colorful animals represent examples of Navajo folk art.

The shops of Old Town Artisans cover the block which had been the stables area in the Presidio.

We exited through the shop's back door into a courtyard past some of the signs of the people who live or work in the shops on the block.

I just liked the color of this bike parked behind one of the restaurants on the block.

The Spanish-style courtyard and patio have a half dozen small tables, assorted chairs, and some colorful benches that provide a relaxing place to enjoy food, music, or the other shoppers and diners passing through.

We had come to the shops of the Old Town Artisans on this particular day to see the Salinas Family (Nahui Ollin Aztec Dancers). I don't know if these decorations were part of the welcome extended to the dancers or part of the everyday courtyard scenery, but they fit the program.

A table of jewelry was set up next to the performance area.

About 40 people were seated around the courtyard when the program began.

When the dancers began to display the materials used in the dances, the table by the performance area took on the appearance of an altar.

With incense burning, the special ceremonial dance in honor of ATEMOZTLE (The Descent of Water) began. An important deity in the Aztec religion (a god of rain, fertility, and water), he gives life and sustenance to the year ahead.

The dancers were adorned in brightly-colored, traditional Aztec outfits with shells tied around their ankles.

The sound of the conch shell, related to fertility, life, and creation, marked the beginning of the dance.

When I spoke with Luis Salinas after the performance, he explained that the ceremonial clothing fit his birth date. Unlike American Indians who associate themselves with a clan, e.g., Bear or Eagle, the Aztecs identify themselves with their birth sign.

The dancers also performed an abbreviated Fire Dance, a fire ceremony that takes place every 52 years. The dancers concluded the dance by placing their feet in the fire, and one put out the fire with his foot.

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