Multimedia feature by Nicolas Villaume
This is a preview article from the Summer 2011 issue of AQ, to be released on August 10 and available in all Barnes & Noble bookstores beginning August 15.
There are a number of Quechua myths regarding the origin of the Scissors Dance. The most common tells the story of a young shepherd boy who, while tending his flock, stumbled upon the devil. The boy and the devil made a pact: in exchange for food, the devil would give him the ability to dance. The devil provided the boy with a costume (similar to the one used today) and musical instruments, which included two gold plates that resembled and sounded like a pair of scissors.
Whatever its mythical origins, the dance likely began in Quechua communities in the southern Central Andes of Peru before Spanish colonization. It was meant to be a cultural act to celebrate, reveal and worship Andean divinities tied to the earth, such as the mountains (Apus), the stars (Joullur), the sun (Inti), and the moon (Quilla). Under Spanish rule, dancers were persecuted. Colonial authorities considered them sorcerers and children of the devil. It wasn’t until the late sixteenth century that they reappeared and were accepted, under the condition that they converted to Catholicism.
Today, the Scissors Dance is practiced in diverse parts of the country, such as Ayacucho, Apurimac, Huancavelica, and north of Arequipa, and it has also expanded to urban areas—especially the coast of Lima, where it was introduced by Andean migrants
in the 1950s. The dance is both a physical challenge between dancers and a veneration of nature. The physical aspect is no small part; the clothing worn during the acrobatic leaps and splits weighs about 33 pounds (15 kilograms).
In 2010, the Scissors Dance was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).