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World Celebrations: On Stilts And Near Death

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Each week on World Music (Saturday nights from 8-10 on KSTX 89.1 FM), I take a look at celebrations happening around the world. This week we visit Spain. 


One of the most exclusive processionals anywhere takes place in northwestern Spain on July 29th. Participants must have had a near death experience within the past year. These fortunate few now have the opportunity to follow through on the process of what might have happened. They climb into a coffin, which will be carried by pall bearers, usually family members, and are taken from the church of Santa Marta de Ribarteme in Las Nieves to a graveyard. Fortunately, no actual internment takes place--instead, the coffins and their occupants return to the church, where financial tokens of gratitude are offered. All of this is accompanied by music, food, and a general air of festivity. Incidentally, if you are unable to rustle up some pall bearers, you can’t travel in your coffin-- you have to carry it!


Walking in stiletto heels requires some amount of balance, and falls are not unheard of, but imagine wearing tall stilts and dancing on cobble stones. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene eight strong, morally upright young men from respectable families will perform La Danza de los Zancos. In addition to the stilts, they wear long colorful damask skirts. These Spanish stilt dancers perform several times throughout the year, and their next appearance will be on Monday for the Feast Day of Saint Mary Magdalene. Carrying a statue of the saint, they’ll dance and pirouette down steep steps, and twisting streets all while playing castanets. And it is while they are negotiating these hazardous alleyways that the skirts play an important role, by helping the dancers maintain their balance. The first recorded history of the stilt dancers in Anguiano, Spain goes back to May 1603.


You can hear more about these and other celebrations happening around the world every Saturday night on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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