Bottle dancing in Quito

Saturday and Sunday are the best days to walk around the city for two reasons: everyone else is doing it, and the city provides entertainment in the form of music and dancing.

First, the people watching part: both weekend days are big shopping days. On Saturday, all shops are open and are doing big business. Squeezing through the stalls of the Quiteño equivalent of a mall is an experience in itself. The shopping centers mostly resemble a U.S. storage locker facility where rows of 12 x 24 foot empty spaces face each other across a narrow hallway. Here, though, those lockers are packed to the top with merchandise of all types. One stall has underwear, the next has shoes, the next has small appliances, and the one next to that has mattresses (which reminds me, I need one.)

The wares spill out into the hall, making it even more difficult to pass. If someone is pushing a baby stroller–and someone always is–forget about it. You're going to spend a few minutes among the piles of bras or blenders until they're done looking at the baby shoes and pass you by.

But, there's no hurry in Quito on shopping days. The best thing to do is just leave your American impatience behind. Where do you have to be anyway? Even if you do have an appointment, the person you're going to meet is going to be 20 minutes late anyway. I call it Ecuadorian time. Or you can blame Quito traffic. Take your pick.

The seniors like to dance, too, but no bottles on the head.

Sundays are slightly different. Most shops are open, but not all. And all the moving around the city has a different aim. First, on Sundays, Quito closes a few of the main thoroughfares through town to car traffic and opens them up to bikes. Quiteños are great bikers and you see everyone from serious cyclists in their tight uniforms to moms and dads and kids all the way down to training wheel sized toddlers on the streets. It's just flat fun to watch the parade.

Also, in the center of the city, (and in some of the parks outside the center) nearly every plaza (in our neighborhood there are about 20) has something going on. In the Plaza Benalcazar near our apartment there's a regular weekly set up of people selling tasty native concoctions off folding tables while an old folks dancing club is doing their thing.

If I'd been luckier, I could have been wearing one of these blouses.

Down the road, in the patio of the Archbishop's Palace, you typically see Indian bands playing their traditional music, with perhaps a little jazzing up with a drum set and a bass guitar, and youthful groups of costumed dancers doing both their traditional dances and some modern interpretations. What surprises is the youth. Some of these dancers are at most seven or eight years old. Each age group seems to have their own show. The youngest kids, the early teens, the later teens, the young adults, etc., all the way up to the gray hairs.

Don't try this at home, unless you are already drunk.

My favorite so far is a group of very young girls who danced with decorated bottles full of water on their heads. They shook, they dipped, they skipped, all without touching the bottles or spilling a drop. It was wonderful, and so cute you could barely stand it. I can barely walk across a crowded room with a full drink, myself.

And, it's all free, put on by the city of Quito. Of course, some of the groups pass the hat after their dance. The typical donation might be a quarter or 50 cents for a half hour routine. One group of youngsters had a lottery for one of the magnificent embroidered blouses they wear in their dance. Fifty cents a chance to win something it probably took a woman thirty hours to do, and which you can buy in the Otavalo market for $10. A good deal. I bought two chances, but didn't win, thankfully.

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