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Myan women at a market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Totonicapan Dance Festival Traditional Dances in Guatemala

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Since 1993, this two day festival in August celebrates the Mayan traditions and cultural heritage. Celebrations go all day long with traditional food and dance.
Danza de los Venados (Dance of the Deer)
This dance is of prehispanic origin and refers to the ancient ritual of the Deer Hunt, carried out in order to provide food and material sustenance for the community. Currently, this ritual remains in the context of a dance and for that reason it is presented by figures such as the tiger and the lion who struggle to hunt the deer. Dogs help the young men chase after the deer, the old man and woman in charge of hunting ritual, and together with the monkeys -- make the whole scene humorous. This dance may be interpreted as a struggle between hunters and wild animals, fighting among themselves over the meat of the deer. In the end it is a feast in which there is enough meat for everyone. A month before the presentation of the dance, the groups rent a special house in order to isolate themselves and purify the body and soul of the dancers, especially those who will represent the tigers, lions and monkeys. In addition, they are not allowed to have relations with their wives. A Maya priest directs this tradition. Twenty-six people perform this dance. Musical accompaniment is provided by a simple marimba with one musician.
Danza de los monos (Dance of the Monkeys)
This is a dance of prehispanic origin with a mythical theme that recalls the ancient myth recorded in the Popol Vuh (Pop Wuj), the Holy Book of the Maya K'iche. It refers to the natural equlibrium of twin brother monkeys in the branches of the trees. These brothers were converted into monkeys by their older brothers for wanting to possess the same abilities as they had. The performance of the dance involves the use of a pole 35 meters high, placed in front of the Catholic church. A monkey balances himself on a rope tied between the pole and the front of the church at a height of about 30 meters, accompanied by the other elements of the dance below. Twenty-three people perform this dance, in honor of San Antonio. Musical accompaniment is provided by a simple marimba with one musician and a special flute called Ah Xul.

Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest)
This is a dance of Hispanic Colonial origin with a warrior theme. It refers to the events of the bloody struggle of March 3, 1524, in Pacaha, where Tecun Uman, the K'iche King, died heroically in fighting for American liberty. This dramatic work consists of natives representing Tecun Uman, Huitzitzil Tzunun, the Malinches and the Ajitz. This last character is an important figure who acts as a sorcerer who counsels the Mayas. He uses a red mask and costume for protection, and carries a read doll and a red ax, which symbolize his nahual (his protective spirit). He is accompanied by a small Ajitz who from childhood learns the art of the dance. The other party consists of the Spaniards, commanded by Pedro de Alvarado, conqueror of Guatemala, Pedro Portocarrero and other soldier. The dance ends with the death of Tecun Uman and the conversion to Christianity by the Maya, which represents the consummation of the Spanish conquest. In the final part everyone dances together, in spite of the battles, arguments and insults that have been acted out among them. A duo of the chirimia (a flute of Arabia origin that arrives in America with the Spanish conquest), and the tambor (drum) provide the musical background of special songs. Twenty-two persons perform this dance in honor of the Christ of Esquipulas.

Danza de los Pascarines (Dance of the Pascarines)
This is a dance of Hispanic colonial origin, with a pastoral theme, that refers to adultery between two families of shepherds who fight over a woman. It has the peculiarity of being very aggressive, since the dancers use leather whips in the fight over the woman. As a result, the dances have to rest in bed for several days after the dance, especially the person who plays the adulterer, given that he is severely punished by the other shepherds for his crime. Twenty-five people take part in this dance, which is traditionally celebrated in April.

Danze de los Vaqueros (Dance of the Cowboy)
A choreographic work of Hispanic Colonial origin, its theme is cattle breeding. It illustrates the ancient bullfights held during feast days on the haciendas and in the villages of the country. In this dance the Spanish bullfight is satirized. It is a very complicated dance, which in addition to its plot, drama and content, make it one of the traditional Guatemalan dances most deeply-rooted in popular culture. This dance originates in the early Colonial Period, from the beginning of the seventeenth century, in which the marimba appears as an instrument belonging to the cultural mixing of African slaves, mestizos and Mayas, in the frame of the social economic development produced on the haciendas and cattle farms of Guatemala, which were the property of the Spaniards and Creoles. It must be remembered that bovine cattle were introduced in Guatemala in the second half of the sixteenth century and that bullfighting was the exclusive privilege of the Spaniards of that time. For this reason the dance is a satire, although its origins being evangelization, as is demonstrated by the texts and the traditional religious rituals that have mixed with Christianity over time. This characters are: the owner of the hacienda, young women, bosses, cowboys, shepherds and bulls. Thirty-two people take part in this dance.

Danze de los Mexicanos (Dance of the Mexicans)
This dance has its origins in cattle breeding and was introduced in Guatemala at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was performed in Chiapas, Mexico, in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and was extended to the towns of the southern coast and the western highlands of Guatemala. In the second half of the nineteenth century it was expanded as it was performed in honor of the Virgin of the Conception. After the Mexican Revolution the dance took on new characteristics, for example the presence of the women called "margaritas," mariachis costumes with wide-brimmed Mexican hats, pistols in the belts of the dancers, and cartridge belts crossed over their chests. This dance satirizes the life of the plantations and the bullfights in which bosses, cowboys, and bulls participate. The musicial accompaniment to this dance is a simple marimba with one musician and two wind instruments (saxophone and trumpet). It is a very popular dance in Totonicapan due to the fact that many residents go down to work on the harvests of the plantations of the southern coast, its texts are easy to learn, because the dance is not very complicated.

Danza de los Xacalcojes (Dance of the Xacalcojes)
This is a dance of Hispanic Colonial origin, with a pastoral and Christian theme that exalts the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Xacalcojes are by tradition a community of believers, and they have been performing this dance year after year since very ancient times. The word "xacalcoj" means change of expression of attitude. The dance begins on Holy Saturday, when the dancers cry because of their sadness over the death of Christ. The next day, Easter Sunday, the xacalcojes shout in happiness because the Savior of the world has arisen, enjoying the triumph because there is now forgiveness of their sins. Therefore they dance happily, performing different games, one of which is a bullfight in which the bull is killed in order to have a communal lunch. In the place where the dance is held a traditional arch is constructed and adorned with fruits and stuffed animals. The dance ends with the xacalcjoes climbing the arch to cut down the fruits and distribute them to the crowd below. Fourteen people participate in this dance, accompanied by a small drum.

Danza de Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians)
Of Hispanic Colonial origin, this dance recalls the history of the reconquest of Spain by the Iberians. It begins in the eighth century and ended in the fifteenth century after almost eight centuries of continuous struggle the Arab conquerors and Muslin domination. The dance was brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries in the sixteenth century as a means of Christianization. It was assimilated and folklorized by the Mayas during the colonial period. Ten people present this dance traditionally on June 30th. They are accompanied by a drum and a flute.

Among the traditions of Holy Week is a procession of centurions. A battalion of Roman soldiers, lead by Cornelio on his shining horse, parade through the main streets of Totonicapan. Dressed in white, faces covered with purple vales, the soldiers carry lances and don military caps. The soldiers, eyes covered, flail their swords as if blind. A young boy dressed as an angel and bearing a sword is another element of the procession. Accompanying the angel are a traditional drummer and a traditional flautist. This procession recalls the biblical passage in which the Roman soldier Longinos plunged his lance into the already dead and bleeding Christ. From the wound sprung water, which blinded the solder upon his face. Twelve performers are accompanied by a drum and whistle.

Society of Jews
Each year on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, this group presents theatrical acts open air theatres depicting certain parts of the life of Jesus Christ. During the Festival of Dances they will be presenting one of the most important acts, that of the battles between Roman Soldiers and the Centurions.

Cofradia de Sanint Simon
At the Festival will be a presentation of Saint Simon. In 1988 Saint Simon the Miracubus began to appear, speaking spiritually in seven sacred places known as: 1) Cerro Quernado llamado Juan No'j; 2) San Juan Sacbachol; 3) B'e'ejeb' Silla; 4) Encanto Nimajay; 5) Encanto Caballo mundo; 6) Encanto Xol Ch'arniya; 7)Encanto Cancel o Minas. Finally, in 1991 Saint Simon spoke forcefully at the sacred places where he had appeared, asking that an image be established to receive reverence. Once the image was established, the miracles began. All types of problems were resolved after burning copal, candies and incense. Later, in his last appearance Saint Simon spoke again in spritual form and ordered that his name be made public. The Maya priest Julian Victoriano Tzoc, decided that it was necessary to publicize Saint Simon. On October 28, 1994 the first annual celebration of Saint Simon was hied. The Maya priest Julian Victoriano Tzoc currently teaches the system of priesthood. He is also available to resolve any kind of problem, asking protection and well-being in the life of people, with the intervention of San Simon the Miracubus of the Seven Crosses. Julian Victoriano offers attention without discrimination to people on a national and an international level. Text is compliments of the Department of Tourism in the Casa de la Cultura

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