Walking on stilts is a daunting task for most people, but for the skilled “danzatores” of Anguiano, Spain, it’s a regular walk in the park. During the annual Danza de los Zancos celebration they take to the streets on wooden stilts measuring some 50 centimeters, and spin rapidly down the town’s steepest alleyways. They risk breaking their necks or smashing their heads against the cobbled pavement to honor La Magdalena (Mary Magdalene).
Every year, on July 22, the town of Anguino hosts one of the oldest, most fascinating fiestas in Spain, the Danza de los Zancos (Stilt Dance). In honor of Mary Magdalene, one of the most popular saints in this part of the country, eight brave and morally upright boys from the oldest families in Anguiano put on brightly colored vests, white shirts and damask yellow skirts, and dance on 50-cm-high wooden stilts. And I don’t mean just bouncing from one foot to another, but whirling at high speeds on steep and narrow alleys with nothing but a human mattress of spectators to catch them if they lose their balance. Did I mention they clap their castanets at the same time?
Spinning at high speed on a steep cobbled street without losing your balance seems hard to do on your own two feet, but the dancers of Anguino manage to do it on stilts. They try to stare ahead in a fixed gaze, but it’s their traditional long skirts that really help them maintain their equilibrium in this amazing whirling dervish dance. Accidents are rare, and the performers believe the Magdalena protects them during their dangerous routine. But if she won’t, it’s up to the crowd lining the scene of their performance to catch them.
The Danza de los Zancos can be traced back to the 17th century, when the villagers in the region of Alta Oja used stilts to navigate through marshes. The dancers are such a big part of local culture that one of the alleys they spin on has been named after them – Cuesta de los Danzatores (Hill of Dancers).