Carried Away

Fire and Drums: Marcella Cruz, Jenny Salas, Chiva Lira; Watercolor on paper, Artist: Stefanie Graves 2022

An unexpected turn of events presented the next subjects for my women portraiture series, ”You’re So Pretty.”

Last fall Dave and I were invited to dinner with some friends in San Miguel de Allende at Paprika, a popular restaurant with an outdoor courtyard and nightly performances. That night there was a group performing on drums accompanied with fire dancing. I thought it would be fun.

We found a table off to the side of the area to be used as a stage and watched several other folks come in to enjoy the evening and have dinner. We ordered and soon a group of three women and one man came in wearing jaguar headdresses and animal print costumes and began setting up sound equipment. They reminded me of the indigenous dancers that performed periodically at festivals in San Miguel.

Soon they stepped up in formation and began their synchronized drumming, thrumming together in a fast pace, the tonals of each drum blending with each other.

The performance begins

The women each had painted their faces and bodies with black tribal markings. They dressed in scant exotic leggings, scarves, and tops. Bangles hung from their hips, feathers from their earlobes. And while they had a male counterpart, he wasn’t the lead.

Chiva Lira, Jenny Salas, Marcella Cruz

I don’t think I’ve ever listened and watched a group of women drummers. They mesmerized me with their intricate rhythms. It was only them and their drums, creating a melody that pierced me. I became part of the sound, part of the music that emanated from their drums.

Marcella Cruz drumming and singing

And then there was fire added to the performance. A crown was placed on the smallest woman’s head and then ceremonially lit while she whirled and flew with this headdress made of firey feathers.

Jenny Salas, fire dance

The whole evening was infectuous, powerful in the strength of its performers.

Maybe I was just carried away, but the performance felt so singular. I couldn’t remember seeing another performance with mostly women who drummed, danced with fire. Living in Chicago I was used to seeing young boys downtown drumming on overturned plastic buckets, performing for change. But this was different

Marcella Cruz dancing with fire

Damn, they were good. They were mighty. They were women.