The Maya maintain a strong link to the past through rituals, folklore and family. Fiestas, dancing and traditional music remain important as several festivals and celebrations occur throughout the year. On these special occasions, masks and elaborate costumes are worn by dancers, singers, and musicians.
The Feast of San Luis is celebrated during Easter. Traditional dances such as the Cortes Dance and the Deer Dance are held. The Cortes Dance uses drums, flutes, and rattles to dramatize the combined forces of the church and army during the European conquest. The Deer Dance is accompanied by the marimbas and symbolizes the important relationship between humanity and nature.
Ancient Maya dance is characterized by transformations of human beings into supernatural beings by means of visionary trance. Some think that hallucinogenic drugs or entheogenic medicines were used to put the performer into an altered state of mind. Once in this state of mind the participants were transformed into their wayob or soul companions. These soul companions were depicted through the masks and the costumes people wore in the dance. Some scenes are painted on pottery such as that from the myriad ritual meals of Classic festivals. These vessels depict humans, both kings and nobles, dressed in costumes. Their human faces are shown in cutaway view inside the costumes of the fantastic creatures they have become through the transformation of the dance. Some of these wayob are recognizable as animals like jaguars and birds of prey, but others just look like strange monsters.
For the Maya, dance was a very public affair. It induced visionary trances where either individuals or groups went into an altered state of mind that allowed them to communicate with the other world. Those who were strong enough to travel there, told stories about how the land had things like rivers and trees in this world. Some of the great Maya lords even depicted themselves dancing out over the abyss that leads into the otherworld.
One of the problems researchers have encountered is that the boundaries between humans dancing as supernatural beings and supernatural beings materializing in human rituals. The distinction between the two was never sharply made. Through dance, people became gods and gods became people even if it were only for a moment. It is important to note that these were more than just acts of civic pride or piety. They were considered to be direct connections to the otherworld.
Produced by Jeff Zavala.
This is a ZGraphix Production.