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Sally McKinney
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Firedance
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Mexico
Playa del Carmen, OT (Mexico)
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Dancing With Fire in Playa del Carmen

by Sally McKinney
March 5, 2010
Playa del Carmen, OT (Mexico)
We follow a walkway beside a dark lagoon, and our excitement grows. Flaming torches cast shimmering reflections on the water. Steep steps lead to a theatre in the jungle where we'll see "Popol Vuh: The Maya Fireball Game!"

While the music corps beats hand drums, a line of dancers tromps onto the stage. They wear feathered headdresses, loincloths, painted faces and bodies—and not much else. Arms pumping, legs flying, they dance the Mayan creation story in a quick-moving blur and a narrator relates the story in Spanish.

The Popol Vuh is a mythic tale of conflict. Armed with sticks, the dancers represent the forces of good as they fight off evil. Pyrotechnics that erupt from the stage illumine trees in the forest while the dancers do athletic jumps and turns. The lead dancers—the mythic Hero Twins—portray talented ball players seeking revenge for murder. Using supernatural powers, they successfully meet a series of challenges by Lords of the Underworld. Ultimately, the Hero Twins defeat the evil forces and create a better world for humans. A line of flames fizzles out across the stage, and the drums go silent.

We had come to Playa del Carmen for a dance holiday weekend on the Riviera Maya. From a low-rise hotel on Fifth Avenue—closed to motor traffic—we could walk to tiendas, boutiques, and open-air bars, and dine at cafes where mariachis played. On Saturday night, we strolled four blocks to Mamitas Beach Club for a Gino Vannelli concert.

I'll be disappointed if there's no dancing at all! When I heard the "People Gotta Move" song on an iPod that morning, I was sure the audience would dance at the concert. Perched on the boardwalk that evening, I see masses of people milling around on the sand. . .and I'm less sure there'll be dancing.

The tropic night is warm and beautiful. On our right, scattered lights from the island of Cozumel highlight dark ripples in the Caribbean Sea. The couple beside us has flown in from Mexico City. A single woman on the left has brought her daughters; the younger one plays in the sand. Ahead, a sound stage on the beach rises—like a giant erector set—three stories high. Teal and magenta spotlights skip around loose cables while a warm-up band plays.

With his first bluesy number, Gino Vannelli owns the crowd. Wearing tight, white jeans and a black leather vest, he punctuates "You're Lookin' Good" with snapping fingers, kicking legs, pumping arms. Other nights, other years, I've danced happily on sand while live bands played under Caribbean palm trees. Some songs are entirely danceable. Yet the masses stay seated, as if planted in sand.

When Gino sings "Ooohh, you gotta move," I look for someone—anyone— to dance with…and see two couples dancing on the boardwalk! Feeling bold, I skip up the steps toward these strangers. When they see me, the Mexicans open their arms…and we all dance to "People Gotta Move".

After the concert, we check out the dance scene along Fifth Avenue. Every night around 10 p.m. a group called Fuego Rojo does fireball dancing at Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill. While people watch from beach chairs, talented dancers twirl flaming batons. People may not realize the Maya used to burn resin balls in an effort to influence the gods. The modern fireball dance makes great entertainment. One male dancer marches with his baton, spins on one leg, dazzles the crowd with flaming circles and figure eights.

Around midnight, we are drawn inside by the slow/quick/quick of a salsa beat. Someone has pushed back the dining tables; the room looks festive with its red ball lights and loopy chains. While a trio plays, lively couples show off their salsa moves. Eager to take part, I finish a margarita and head for the dance floor to try a club dance step I already know.

During a break, a young woman takes me aside and offers to teach me basic salsa. She speaks Spanish, and I speak English, but that doesn't matter. We both speak fluent dance! Soon the hot and spicy music starts up again. Now, all of us are dancing with fire!




If you go…

The Maya Fireball Game dance performance was the highlight of a Coba Sunset tour offered by a company called The Mayan Express.
For Email use the contact form on web site:
www.themayanexpress.com
The Mayan Express phone (984) 147-0303
  

More about The Maya Fireball Game.
The Mayan performers were from Tihosuco Yucatan. The music and play were written and directed by the Maya group Uki'ilba Chaac.

Fuego Rojo performs nightly on the beach at
Fusion Beach Hotel Bar & Grill
Calle 6 and the Beach
Playa del Carmen
Quintana Roo, Mexico
www.fusionhotelmexico.com
Email info@fusionhotelmexico.com
Phone Mexico (984) 873-0374

We also liked
Hotel Quinto Sol
5a Avenida con 28 calle Norte
Playa del Carmen
77710 Quintana Roo, Mexico
www.hotelquintosol.com
Email reservation@hotelquintosol.com
Phone Mexico (984) 873-3292/93

The resort area known as Riviera Maya, accessed by flights to/from Cancun, extends 81 miles from Puerto Morelos south to Tulum. For more information visit www.rivieramaya.com

Notes on the photos: The Maya Fireball Game dance performance is a component of the Coba Sunset tour offered by The Mayan Express. Climbining a pyramid, riding bicycles, visiting villages and dining on Mayan food are also part of this day-into-evening Coba Sunset tour.
Tihosuco Yucatan troupe performs in an outdoor theater enhanced by traditional Mayan design

Tihosuco Yucatan troupe performs in an outdoor theater enhanced by traditional Mayan design

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


A close-up shows a dancer's make-up and headgear Logos courtesy of the Mexican tourism industry

A close-up shows a dancer's make-up and headgear
Logos courtesy of the Mexican tourism industry

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


The dancers prepare

The dancers prepare

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


The Maya Fireball Game performers from Tihosuco Yucatan on stage at the outdoor theater

The Maya Fireball Game performers from Tihosuco Yucatan on stage at the outdoor theater

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


The Fuego Rojo troupe dances nightly on the beach at Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill.

The Fuego Rojo troupe dances nightly on the beach at Fusion Beach Hotel Bar and Grill.

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


The Fuego Rojo dancers playing with fire on the beach

The Fuego Rojo dancers playing with fire on the beach

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


A pair of Fuego Rojo dancers making fiery patterns in the night

A pair of Fuego Rojo dancers making fiery patterns in the night

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


Fuego Rojo dancers entertain people nightly on the beach

Fuego Rojo dancers entertain people nightly on the beach

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


After dinner the tables at Fusion are pushed aside for hot dancing

After dinner the tables at Fusion are pushed aside for hot dancing

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


After dinner the tables at Fusion are pushed aside for hot dancing

After dinner the tables at Fusion are pushed aside for hot dancing

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


Glowing neon and a lively salsa band at the beachfront Fusion. Note tables on the beach.

Glowing neon and a lively salsa band at the beachfront Fusion. Note tables on the beach.

Photo © & courtesy of Fusion Beach Hotel Bar And Grill


The Mayan Express uses a rolling trolley for transportation

The Mayan Express uses a rolling trolley for transportation

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


Travelers meet residents of Mayan villages during the Coba Sunset tour

Travelers meet residents of Mayan villages during the Coba Sunset tour

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


Visitors head to the top of an ancient Mayan pyramid

Visitors head to the top of an ancient Mayan pyramid

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


A cool bike ride is refreshing during the Coba Sunset tour

A cool bike ride is refreshing during the Coba Sunset tour

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


A happy couple enjoys fine Mayan cuisine. (Also an example showing that ExploreDance.com is not the only organization that understands the importance of photographing one's food.)

A happy couple enjoys fine Mayan cuisine.
(Also an example showing that ExploreDance.com is not the only organization that understands the importance of photographing one's food.)

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


A beautiful sunset during the Coba Sunset tour

A beautiful sunset during the Coba Sunset tour

Photo © & courtesy of The Mayan Express


Gino Vannelli, a singer lyricist/conductor/composer who lives in the Netherlands, entertains his international audience with a warm, personal style

Gino Vannelli, a singer lyricist/conductor/composer who lives in the Netherlands, entertains his international audience with a warm, personal style

Photo © & courtesy of Gino Vannelli


Tropical foliage enhances Playa's low-rise hotels

Tropical foliage enhances Playa's low-rise hotels

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


Sunworshippers find shade at Mamitas Beach Club

Sunworshippers find shade at Mamitas Beach Club

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


Fifth Avenue is lined with oases for strolling pedestrians

Fifth Avenue is lined with oases for strolling pedestrians

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney

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