At my tender age it’s just not going to happen anymore but one of the things I wanted to do when I first came to Cuzco was to be part of a Saya dance group. I have work and kids, I don’t have time or style, so being a “Sayero” (that’s probably not a real word) is probably not going to happen for me in this life.
There are many traditional dances in Peru but here in Cuzco the “Saya” dance is by far the most common. I wanted to say “the Saya dance is the most popular” but I hesitate because there’s this odd love-hate thing between Cusqueños and Saya. In festivals and celebrations, parades and school dances, you see more Saya then any other traditional dances. We have several friends who belonged to Saya dance troupes that go to the Virgen de Candelaria festival in Puna every year.
Despite the fact you see more Saya in Cuzco than any other dance, many Cusqueños dislike Saya with a passion. They fuss and complain, why do we have to see more Saya? Why can’t we dance something different? Fuss fuss, on and on. Ostensibly the reason Cusqueños dislike Saya is – are you ready for it? – that the Sayeras show their bottoms when they dance and twirl their skirts and kick their legs up high. The Cusquenian middle class fusses that the “real” Sayeras wore shorts or under-skirts so as not to show their bottom when they twirl or kick their legs up high.
Type “baile saya” in Google images and you’ll see the supposed problem: the Sayeras typically wear these grandma-style black lycra bikini bottoms that wouldn’t excite anyone this side of the Iron Curtain but in traditionally prude Cuzco, that is still a problem.
There’s probably some truth to that, a bit of jealousy maybe on the part of jeans-wearing Cusqueñas (they all wear jeans all the time when they’re not dancing Saya or wearing their work/school uniforms) but I think the real reason Saya is disliked in Cuzco is that it is originally a dance from the Altiplano region of Puno and there’s a traditional jealousy between Cuzco and Puno. In fact there are many ethnic or regional distinctions in Peru: the Limenians don’t particularly like the Serranos, Arequipa is considered almost a country in it’s own, there’s a distinct Afro-Peruvian culture, the Serrano women think all the women of the jungle are horny and of loose morals, etc etc.
Of all the ethnic/regional distinctions in Peru, one of the most noticeable is toward the Puno region. Puno is very traditional Aymara/Quechua and is the region bordering Bolivia. Peruvians still have some resentment towards Bolivia because Bolivia supposedly got Peru involved in the War of the Pacific in the 19th century. In practical terms, Puno is cold as a witch’s boob and many Punenians have moved to nearby parts of Peru such as Cuzco, Arequipa and also to Lima. Punenians are some of the hardest working people you’ll meet but they are not interested in living a fancy pretentious lifestyle. Personally I think this is where some of the dislike of Punenians comes from: good old fashioned jealousy of the middle-class Cusquenians, who wear nice clothes and send their kids to private schools but at the end of the day live from paycheck to paycheck (kind of like, you know, the supposed middle class in the other 250 something countries in the world). Those middle-class Cusquenians grumble at the Punenian entrepreneur who has a little store in one of the “Altiplano” markets in Cuzco, lives in a very unpretentious manner but has $100,000 in the Caja Municipal (and gets 10% interest on his savings).
Anyway, it’s all petty harmless jealousy, I just wish I could be a Sayero!