The month of November hosts many celebrations in Panama, collectively known as Fiestas Patrias, or patriotic holidays. November 28 is the major November holiday, celebrating Panama’s independence from Spain. And this year it’s especially significant because it’s the bicentennial celebration, and events were scheduled for several days.
In Boquete’s town square on the evening of November 26, a large stage was set up and many rows of chairs were added to the open area in front of the municipal offices for an exhibition of traditional music and dancing. Folk dancers from all provinces of the country showcased their talents and elaborate costumes, and is one of the events I have missed most during the pandemic.
The “signature dance” of Panama is the pollera dance. The ladies wear dresses with very full skirts (usually with row upon row of embroidery), lots of gold jewelry, and elaborate beaded headdresses. The men wear black or tan pants, white shirts, and a particular style of hat. The movements are graceful, and the ladies show off the fullness of their skirts by spreading them like a peacock’s tail as they dance.
The children participate in learning this traditional dance from a young age. There were two performances by the youngsters, one with the smallest dancers and another with young teenagers. The little ones are so adorable!
The various Panamanian provinces have distinctively specific styles of dress and music. Some are more formal, with the classic white polleras with lots of embroidery, and other dress styles are more “rustic” and have floral printed skirts with white tops and little or no embroidered details.
The provinces along the northern coast of Panama have a distinctively Afro-Caribbean flair in their traditional dances, both in their costumes and dance styles. So energetic and free-spirited!
There is one folk dance that is extremely different from the pollera-style dances. These dancers seem more like fairytale characters, wearing masks and fanciful outfits. I haven’t yet learned the story behind this style or its meaning, but it’s very intriguing, to say the least!
I’m so happy to see that some of the exuberant Panamanian cultural demonstrations are coming back after the (hopefully) worst of the pandemic is over. I have missed them so much!
More bicentennial festivities in the next post.