A unique and fun aspect of Bolivian culture is the entrada, a street parade featuring traditional music, dance and costume. There are a huge variety of styles and genres which vary from region to region. The dances of the amazon are completely different to those from the Altiplano (highlands) while dances from Tarija, near the boarder of Argentina, have an obvious guacho (Argentine cowboy) influence. Most dances are a mix of indigenous and colonial Spanish culture which makes for a bizarre combination. The costumes are vibrant, colourful, 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.
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, UMSA offers it’s 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. Around 15,000 dancers from 51 fraternities participated 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 and the atmosphere becomes 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. Because I was somewhat of a novelty, I was instructed to dance at the front of the bloco. The crowd offered me alcohol on countless occasions which I was obviously to polite to turn down.
My missus and I danced Las Chutas Antiguas. The dance 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. This new dance is less than 50 years old and originates from an Afro-Bolivian dance, Caporal, of the Yungas region. It has some religious meaning, with the dancers paying homage to various virgins. The men wear a stylish onesie that makes them look like Power Rangers. The dance resembles a mix between tap dancing and karate. Bells on the shoes make a lot of noise as the dancers jump around and kick the air. It’s is probably the hardest dance to learn and is particularly difficult in 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. Bells on their outfits represent the clinking of slave chains. However, the whole thing seems pretty upbeat considering it is supposed to be represent misery and hardship.
Diablada, the dance of the devils, is recognisable by the devil mask and suit worn by most of the dancers. The outfit is a classic combination of Spanish and local traditions and represents both European and Indigenous interpretations of the devil. During the dance the devils battle with angels and are eventually destroyed by a sword wielding female saint wearing a mini skirt.
There are dozens of other Bolivian traditional dances with their own music, costumes and history. Each of them are as weird and wonderful as the next.