Culture & Lifestyle

El Brinco Del Chinelo

How a cultural tradition can teach us to dance in the face of great change & impermanence.

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Multimedia photostory by Rodrigo Gaya
November 10, 2019

In this sleepy 'Pueblo Magico', on the foothills south of the Mexico City mountain range, lives a strange-looking character playing protagonist in the  exchange of cultural traditions from old to young.

Fernando Ortiz, wears his modern-day Chinelo outfit in Tepoztlan, Morelos. Adorned with Star Wars characters.

Photo by Rodrigo Gaya, Carnaval 2019.

A mural depicting a Chinelo bearing a flag that reads, 'Tepoztlan, Not For Sale".

Photo by Rodrigo Gaya, Carnaval 2019.

El Origen

This rebellion-inspired tradition arose from the Spanish colonial take-over, know as the Meztisaje, 'the mixture', occurring in the early 1600s.

As  the modern day 'Carnaval' turns Tepoztlan into a street festival, theses characters are bound to dance. A response to the horrors of the conquest, the Chinelo pokes fun of their Spanish conquerors.


Although a strange presence when you first come across one, they're clearly a symbol of the town. Showcased throughout the mountain-side town, you are as likely as I was, to come across a Chinelo standing tall over your shoulder.

Depicted in murals, refrigerator magnets, and countless other artisanal iterations, are masked characters in pot-shaped hats with feathers, beads depicting ancient warriors, wearing full black tunics, gloves, and a eerie life-like meshed mask with blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and a pointy beard.

"The requirement for the Chinelo is simple, when the band plays, they dance."

-Edith Salazar

Lead by the township's flag bearer, each of the surrounding towns, bring their band, Chinelos, and townspeople, all asked to dance as long as the band is playing.

Jumping up and down, shaking of the hips is required. Sometimes for as long as 5 minutes, leading to some sweaty Chinelos.  To overcome the intense heat, they protect themselves by covering up in cloths under their tunics and hats, and sweating.

Fernando Ortiz wears his modern-day Chinelo outfit in Tepoztlan, Morelos. Adorned with Star Wars characters. Photo by Rodrigo Gaya, Carnaval 2019.

La Leyenda

Ask most tourists - visiting for 'tacos pre-hispanicos y micheladas', who these symbolic characters are, you'll mostly get "Oh that's the Chinelo. But, I don't know much else."

This is where Edith Salazar comes in. Daughter of a traditional Chinelo outfit maker, she's lived many 'brincos'. Taking part as a Chinelo herself as a child, helping make the outfits, and now as an informal Tepoztlan/Chinelo guide.

I met her standing next to a tall, silent Chinelo at the doorstep of the local theater in the town's center. She's the first interview in the upcoming video.

With her classic Morelense accent, she guides us through the Chinelo experience, customs, & traditions she's learned.

Later in the video below, you'll meet Fernando Ortiz, a modern-day legacy holder. Chinelo to the core, next to where you'll find his passion for Star Wars. With an outfit designed with the film in mind,  he's a great example of how ever-evolving a cultural tradition really is.



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