Danza del Venado (the deer dance)

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Mexcian

Age: 31

Occupation: Lawyer

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish

(Notes-The informant will be referred to DA as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: DA was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was 15. He would go back to Mexico to visit family, and while there saw the deer dance performed by various members of his community. While telling me about the dance, he would occasionally perform small parts of it.

K: So what’s the dance called, and what’s the context of the performance? Like when or under, uh what circumstances was it performed.

DA: Its called Danza del Venado, or the deer dance in English. There’s a few different reasons why it would be performed. After Catholicism mixed with Mexico, it was performed around Lent or Easter. When my people still hunted, it was performed before hunting to ensure success, or as a welcome to spring.

K: Ok, so whenever you’re uh…ready to tell me about it go ahead

DA: I already mentioned when it’s performed but I forget to say that it’s now, along with the easter practices, a means to communicate with the spirit world, in which deers’ spirit resides. The dance is simple; it consists of a few men who are dressed in a cloth wrapped around them like a skirt, held up with a belt made of deer hooves. He has more hooves tied to his ankles and holds dried uh…calabaza (gourds) filled with beans or rice to make large rattling sounds. They would also have deer skulls attached to their heads with red uh…Cintas (ribbon) tied around the horns. All of this is meant to sort of thank the deer and celebrate how hard it fought and ran not to be hunted. All the noise from the hooves and calabaza is like it running and us chasing, while the cinta is meant to represent flowers actually, like rebirth and growth from spring. The entire dance is a thank you to earth.

This was the first folklore I had collected specifically on a dance and it was so interesting to read about. The change in the dance from how it originally was, it being dedicated to the hunt and directly to spring, to the version it became after Catholicism was introduced, with the dance now being dedicated to easter, was so interesting to hear. DA also showed me a video he had taken of his family performing the dance, so I got to see it actually be performed. It’s a beautiful dance full of color and culture. What DA did not mention is how much audience participation there is. In the video I was shown, the entire audience was chanting and singing along with the dancers, and young children were even at the front of the room dancing alongside them. People in the audience were also dressed in ribbons and a few even have a hoove or two with them.