Cultural heritage Dance Peru

Filming and feeling the Huaylarsh in Huancayo, Peru

The dance group Tuky perform the Huaylarsh Moderno at the Centro Cultural Grupo de Arte Tuky, Huancayo on January 2, 2019. © J. Ashley Nixon


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 “The Huaylarsh for me is not a dance, it is a feeling,” said Yosly Carolina Oregon, the 31-year old director of the Tuky dance group in Huancayo, about one of the most popular and exciting folk dances in Peru. She and her five colleagues were catching their breath after an invigorating performance my crew and I had filmed at the Centro Cultural Grupo de Arte Tuky, Huancayo, Peru in January 2019. Yosly, who has been dancing the Huaylarsh for the best part of three decades, was joined by five other dancers, Diana Vega and Gabriela Valentín, Cristian Sánchez Miranda, Iván Vila Gutiérrez, and Jean Sudario Vilchez.

Agricultural roots

Yosly’s grandmother, a singer-songwriter from Huancavelica, founded the Tuky Cultural Association in 1941 to perform and support education about the Huanca culture and their traditional music and dances from the Mantaro Valley. Located 3,150-3,500 m (10,330-11,500 ft) in the Andes, the valley’s wide belt of fertile soils has supported the large-scale production of potatoes, maize and other food crops dating back as far as 600 BC.  The steps, music and dress of modern Huaylarsh (also written in other ways such as huaylas and waylarsh) have evolved from those old agricultural practices. “Huaylarsh comes from our ancestors, the Incas…. It comes from the planting of potatoes, and sowing corn “, explained Yosly. But the Huaylarsh is not just about working in the fields; it’s a dance full of joy, about young people socializing, having fun, and falling in love.

Evolving music and costume

Huaylarsh was originally danced accompanied by singing and percussion from an ancient drum called the tinya, and the Andean flute known as the quena. Over time other instruments were added, then in 1950 the Huanca musician and composer, Zenobio Dagha created the legendary Orquesta Típica Juventud Huancaína that included two saxophones, two clarinets, two violins and an Andean harp. It was the start of what is now popularly known as Modern Huaylarsh (Huaylarsh Moderno).

The costumes also became more elaborate, particularly influenced by the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century. Yosly explained: “Francisca Pizarro, the daughter of Francisco Pizarro, arrived in the Mantaro Valley and brought with her the first textiles and embroidery to Huancayo. The indigenous people copied the style of clothing worn by the Spanish women and (also) began to express in their crafts representations of the local fauna and flora in the valley. With the arrival of the textiles, the agricultural Huaylarsh became the urban Huaylarsh that is currently danced.”

One of the male dancers in the group, Iván Vila Gutiérrez walked us through the main parts of his costume. He started with the hat, whose ribbon has a butterfly that represents single people. The white scarf around his neck bears a logo to represents Tuky, his dance association. ”I dance with many groups of Huaylarsh”, he said, “Each institution has a badge that represents it and if you go to a Huaylarsh contest there are hundreds of men but they differ by the handkerchief.” He wears a white shirt beneath a beautifully embroidered yellow-backed vest, representing the vicuña, the wild ancestor of the domesticated alpaca raised for the production of very fine fibre, and other local fauna and flora. His wide belt, called a chupi in Quechua, holds up black trousers with a white pleat, fashioned like those of the Spaniards that came to the valley in the sixteenth century, trailing down to heeled shoes with leather soles to help create the loud stepping sounds typical of the dance.

Yosly explained her female dance costume and its significance, starting with the pleated multi-coloured petticoat. “That’s what we call the ‘fustán tasqueado’. It has the flora and fauna of our region and they are embroidered by hand.” Each fustán takes about three to four months to be made by the dressmakers, who have used a woven cloth called Castilla since the Spaniards introduced manufactured textiles. The over-skirt is called the cotón, an ancient garment first produced by the Incas. While the women’s hats are traditionally the brown colour of the vicuña, in the modern version of the dance they can be any colour.

The sleeves of the dress, called “maquitos” are tied up over the neck, unattached to the remainder of the costume. Maquitos were formerly used only by men, to cover their arms to work in the fields when it was cold. As the temperature rose during the day, they could take them off again. Likewise, only the men used to wear a belt but now the women wear them as well, made with brighter colours, such as fuchsia, pink, and purple. Finally, the women dancers wear blankets covered with images of the flora and fauna of the region.

Feeling the Huaylarsh

The Huaylarsh is a splendid, high-energy dance, played out as a courtship ritual between young men (called huancas) and women (called huamlas), filled with intricate footsteps, jumping and, sometimes, acrobatic movements by the male dancers. What do the dancers feel like as they are performing?  “It’s like enjoying so much that you forget everything; you feel the music,” said Diana Vega.  “I feel a lot of joy, we express joy and emotion with the shouts we call guapidos”, said Gabriela, Valentín, the youngest of the Tuky dancers. “Every time my feet are dropping due to fatigue, I’ve got the shouts of my teammates to motivate me to continue and I have no words to define it. That’s what I feel, it runs through my veins” said Yosly Carolina Oregon.

The Huaylarsh for me is a feeling that expresses poetry with the feet.

The three male dancers with Tuky also shared their feelings. “The Huaylarsh is a very great emotion that one feels for being native to this land, a. Huancaíno that it is born with a certain gift, that pleasure of wanting to represent what is ours” said Cristian Sánchez Miranda. Jean Sudario Vilchez agreed: “The Huaylarsh for me is something fantastic, beautiful, showing the steps, also with the guapido (shouting) I can show what I have inside. It is fantastic to dance the Huaylarsh.” Iván Vila Gutiérrez was also wide-open with his feelings about the dance: “Well, when I dance the Huaylarsh, I forget everything. I forget about grief, about worries. The Huaylarsh for me is a feeling that expresses poetry with the feet.”

Filming the Huaylarsh

The documentary film Huaylarsh, Huancayo was shot at the Centro Cultural Grupo de Arte Tuky, Huancayo, Peru on January 2, 2019. It was filmed, edited and produced by Jennifer A. Nixon, J. Ashley Nixon, Carla Diaz Silva, Daniel Goméz, and Maria Carmen Nixon for J. Ashley Nixon Communications.

Please visit J. Ashley Nixon for photographs from the performance.

You can also see the film Huaylarsh, Huancayo on my Vimeo film site here.

The Tuky dancers are Yosly Carolina Oregon, Diana Vega and Gabriela Valentín, Cristian Sánchez Miranda, Iván Vila Gutiérrez, and Jean Sudario Vilchez. The dancing begins with words from the song Yo soy Huancaíno Por Algo written by Zenobio Dagha (which has also been attributed to Luis Cárdenas Raschio). This is followed by a traditional huaylarsh agrícola song performed by Orquesta Excelentes del Perú and Rompe Olla by Orquesta Huracán del Mantaro.

Huaylarsh in Huancayo

There are lots of times in the year to visit Huancayo and see the Huaylarsh performed. The Huaylarsh Huanca is a festival that lasts from January until May. The Festival of Santiago that runs from July to September is also filled with Huaylarsh music and dancing. Many local families go to these events and welcome guests with open arms. And if you want to learn to dance the Huaylarsh yourself, pay a visit to the Centro Cultural Grupo de Arte Tuky, Manco Capac 351, Huancayo. They would be pleased to teach you so you can take a piece of Huanca dance culture back home with you.

Tuky may be contacted at:

3 comments on “Filming and feeling the Huaylarsh in Huancayo, Peru

  1. Pingback: Filmando y sintiendo el Huaylarsh en Huancayo, Perú | NixonsCan

  2. Pingback: A short documentary film about the Huaconada de Mito, The Mask and More entered for My RØDE Reel @rodemics – NixonsCan

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