The revelry- La Jarana

Dancers share the wonder of "La Jarana" in Merida's Centro

La Jarana (the revelry) is a dance and musical form unique to the Yucatan Peninsula.  La Jarana means many things- fun, bustling, and noisy are the most common synonyms.  This dance is a combination of Spanish and Mayan rhythm and movements developed during the centuries of European rule here.  The name comes from Mayans who associated the music played with the Spanish words they typically said before dancing started.  The name associated with the music then became the name of the dance itself.

The dance was typically performed on ranches while cattle were being branded and was incorporated into many traditional gatherings in Yucatecan towns.  The dance has become a representation of local culture used in anthropological studies in the region as well as a tourist draw.  It is not unusual to see this dance performed publicly during street parties, public events, and every Sunday in front of the “Olympio” in Centro as part of “Merida en Domingo” festivities.

The dance is done in pairs but does not require a man-woman paring.  Dancers stomp their feet and move their arms in right angles to the rhythm of the music while keeping the core of their body upright.  This allows for dancers with experience to place items on their heads while dancing that do not fall.  Experts can spin around and kick their feet without items like water-filled glasses atop trays falling to the ground.  It is quite a sight to see.

The music associated with this dance is similar to a waltz in either 6-8 or 3-4 rhythms.  Bands that play La Jarana music are typically composed of two clarinets, two trumpets, two trombones, timpani and a guiro (a hollow instrument with ridges that makes a rhythmic noise when a stick is dragged across it).

A good performance includes a pause where a “bomba” or praising phrase is yelled out by dancers.  These phrases are typically a fun play on words and can be quite humorous.  It is not unusual for these phrases to get the dancers, musicians, and onlookers alike into fits of laughter.  A complete dance typically takes between 20 minutes to an hour, though shortened dances are common if they are part of an organized dance performance highlighting other dances from the region and Mexico.

If you see a performance of La Jarana you will likely see dancers wearing traditional clothing.  This means white guayabera shirts and pants, simple sandals, and a straw hat for men and huipils combined with flowers and ribbons in the hair of the women.

Have you experienced this form of dance exclusive to the Yucatan?  Where do you recommend visitors got to see the best representation of La Jarana?  Do you know how to perform it yourself?  Share your thoughts!

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