Have you ever tried walking on stilts? The closest I’ve come is walking on those little bucket things you get as kids, with the string attached. That was hard enough for me. But these guys… not only are their stilts about three foot higher, they’re shaped like pins. And they dance in them. Down a steep hill. A steep, narrow, cobbled hill… spinning. Playing castanets. Take a look.
This stilt dancing has been going on in the village of Anguiano, in the Rioja region of Spain, since the 17th century. It’s a traditional festival that takes place every 22nd July to celebrate Mary Magdalene, although it happens a few times a year to celebrate other religious days as well. Quite why Mary Magdalene is celebrated like this, no one knows. It’s possible it’s a Pagan tradition that’s since become Catholic.
The stilt dancers are eight men from the oldest families in the village. The Danza de los Zancos has been passed down from father to son for hundreds of years and it seems as though the outfits and stilts have kept the original design too. The danzadores wear white shirts, colourful frilly waistcoats and large yellow skirts. And pointy wooden stilts, of course.
The ritual starts at the top of the mountain village by the church. An icon of Mary Magdalene is carried out and the band strikes up. They play some very catchy tunes. Have a listen to the videos and try not to hum to yourself afterwards.
The dancers kick their legs up behind them then take it in turns to spin down seven steep steps and then down a street called Cuesta de los Danzadores (hill of dancers), which is named after them. The street is 190 feet (58 metres) long with a slope of 20%. I’d have named it The Hill of Terror.
On celebratory occasions like these, the street is lined with people. So if the danzadores spin out of control, the crowd can set them straight or break their fall. I can see this is really impressive and entertaining, but I would be scared one would crash into me. By the look of it, you could get pretty smashed up; they spin at quite a speed!
Imagine being one of those dancers doing it for the first time. I wonder how many get injured! How and when do they practice? It’s said the skirts they wear help them to balance and they fix their gaze in front of them and go into a trace-like state. You’d have to go into a trance-like state, I think, just to get through it. I imagine if you let even a little bit of fear in, it could all go wrong.