A unique and fun aspect of Bolivian culture is the entrada, a lively street parade featuring traditional music, dance and costume.
Entradas feature huge variety of styles and genres which vary from region to region. The dances of the amazon, for example, are completely different to those of the Altiplano (highlands), while dances from Tarija, near the boarder of Argentina, are different again with an obvious guacho (Argentine cowboy) influence.
Most dances are a combination of indigenous and colonial Spanish influences which makes for a bizarre cultural mix. Regardless of the dance, costumes always are vibrant, colorful, elaborate and often worth a fortune, at least by Bolivian standards.
In La Paz there are literally more entradas than there are days of the year. The biggest and most interesting are El Gran Poder, Carnival and Entrada Universitaria.
Dancing in an Entrada
This year I was lucky enough to participate for the second time in the UMSA (Universidad Mayor de San Andreas) Entrada Universitaria. With over 80,000 students, UMSA is by far the biggest university in the country. In an attempt to preserve indigenous culture and tradition, it offers students credit towards their degrees if they participate in the Entrada. This credit, combined with Bolivia’s love of music and dance, makes the event hugely popular, with 15,000 dancers from 51 fraternities participating this year.
The parade lasted for a total of 15 hours and goes through a predetermined route in the centre of town. Thousands of people turn out to watch, with the atmosphere becoming more intense during the evening as the drinks start to flow.
Being one of only a few gringos in the event was quite the experience. Bolivians are very happy to see foreigners getting involved in their native traditions which meant I was something of a novelty. As a result, I was instructed to dance at the front of the bloco and the crowd offered me alcohol on countless occasions which I was obviously too polite to turn down.
My missus and I danced Las Chutas Antiguas which supposedly originates from a pre-colonial Aymara man who worked without pay to guard the entrance of the house of a richer Aymara man. How this scenario evolved into a dance featuring such outrageous costumes is beyond me.
One of the most well-known Bolivian dances is Caporales. Less than 50 years old, the dance originates from an Afro-Bolivian dance called Caporal of the Yungas region. The men wear a stylish onesie that makes them look like Power Rangers as they perform something resembling a mix between tap dancing and karate. The bells on their shoes make a lot of noise as they jump around and kick the air, a demanding routine especially when taking into account the thin high altitude air.
Another popular dance is Morenada which tells the story of African slaves bought to Bolivia by the Spanish to work in the mines of Potosi. This time, the bells on their outfits represent the clinking of slave chains. Strangely, the whole routine seems pretty upbeat considering it is supposed to represent misery and hardship.
Diablada, the dance of the devils, is recognizable by the devil mask and suit worn by most of the dancers. The outfit is a classic combination of Spanish and local traditions which represents each culture’s unique interpretations of the devil. During the dance, the devils battle with angels and are eventually destroyed by a sword-wielding female saint who wears a very short mini skirt.
There are dozens of other Bolivian traditional dances with their own music, costumes and history, each as weird and wonderful as the next.