The chants of an impatient crowd surge back in waves to the holding area where a group of young women sit tall astride eight stamping mares. The commanding octet, finely dressed in the rich embroidery and cascading skirts of their ancestors, catch each other’s eyes, tilting their wide-brimmed hats with a nod of confident assurance.
On the signal, they dig in their spurred heels and charge into the ring. The scorching Mexican sun glints through the clouds of red dust kicked up by their snorting mounts, setting the group aglow. With precise and practised movements, the women and horses twirl about one another in perfect unison. The stepped stands reverberate with deafening cheers, powering the dance on.
These striking female riders, known as Escaramuzas, are part of the Mexican rodeo tradition or Charrería, which is the official national sport of Mexico. Charreada competitions are held on Sundays during which competitors take part in a range of events showcasing the traditional rancher practises that go back generations. It was created in 1921 to prevent the herding practices from being forgotten after the Mexican revolution saw the break-up of many haciendas with the fall of their powerful families.
The dance of the Escaramuzas was added to the competition in the ‘50s and shows a recognition for the women’s contribution to the war effort. The long, ruffled dresses and wide-brimmed sombreros of the Escaramuzas are worn as a tribute to the valiant female soldiers or Adelitas who fought in the revolution.
While the revolution was primarily a fight for the independence of Mexico from its Spanish rulers, it was also a victory for female independence with some women even commanding groups of male soldiers. The term Adelita is now used for any Mexican woman who fights for her rights.
Boldly galloping into the dusty, macho ring the Escaramuzas demand their right not only to exist, but to thrive where men dominate. Flying the banner of their heroic foremothers, they prove to women the world over that they can do anything a man can.