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Mexican dwarf bullfighters use 'squeezy plastic hammers'

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  • Mexican dwarf bullfighters use 'squeezy plastic hammers'







    VALLE DE SANTIAGO, Mexico The rousing trumpet music, the swish of the cape and the shouts of "Ole!" as the bull charges are all familiar to anyone who has seen a bullfight.
    The unnerving thing in the bullring at this dusty central Mexican town is that bull and bullfighter are standing eye to eye, both about four feet high.

    The Mexican "dwarf bullfighters" are carrying on a tradition born in Spain along with regular bullfighting, as well as an even longer legacy of "little people" as entertainers. But they say the ring showcases their skill and comic artistry, making them more than just a curiosity.

    While the young bullocks they use are half the weight of regular fighting bulls, they are bred to be aggressive and, from a dwarf's perspective, are just as frightening as the real thing.

    "It's scary when you are face to face with a bull. It hurts when you get hit. And it's dangerous if the bull falls on you," said Antonio Garcia, 40. Before entering the ring, he showed off scars on his head and dental repairs needed after run-ins with bulls.

    "But I like it. I do it more for the fun than the money. I love being an artist, and, thanks to being short, I've had this opportunity to travel to lots of places," he said, grinning.

    His troupe, which takes its show all over Mexico and the United States, does not fight the bullocks to the death but, like bloodless "corridas" in Portugal and France, it uses traditional bullfighting skills to lure and dodge them.

    The small-statured "toreros" wear traditional gold-trimmed matador suits with pink stockings and black slippers and use pink and red capes to perform passes.

    While the bullock is a constant danger, the show descends into comedy when two dwarf "picadors" enter the ring.

    Instead of sitting on horses and spearing the bullock with spiked wooden pikes as in real bullfighting, the pair have fleecy pantomime-style dummy horses attached to their sides, providing padding, and their aim is to hit the animal with a squeezy plastic hammer.

    "People laugh a lot at what we do, and that's the point, making the public laugh. It's very satisfying," said Jorge Reyes, 48, who shines shoes during the week and bullfights on the weekends for fun and extra money.

    "It's just like being a normal-sized comic. For me there is no complex, I feel normal," said Reyes, who is married to an ordinary-sized woman and lives in Mexico City.

    The troupe's manager, Eduardo Ferandel, says Reyes was overcome with emotion when the show came to his home town several years ago, and for the first time in his life he saw other adults his size. Reyes joined the troupe immediately.


    FROM JESTERS TO MINI ME

    A comic event from the start, miniature bullfighting arrived in Mexico around 30 years ago, brought over by some Spanish dwarfs. Ferandel's all-Mexican troupe, the "Original Little Dwarf Bullfighters," started a decade ago.

    New arrivals learn from observation, rather than taking any formal training, and some bring singing and clowning skills to add a touch of the circus to the bullfighting.

    "Little people," as some prefer to be called, have been entertainers for centuries, being excluded by discrimination or their height handicap from many everyday professions.

    Achondroplasia, a genetic variation that is the most common form of dwarfism, affects around one in 30,000 to 40,000 people. Most dwarfs defined as adults less than 4 feet 10 inches high and having atypically short limbs are born to normal-sized parents.

    After being court jesters in the Middle Ages, many were shown off as circus attractions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Around 100 were Munchkins in the 1939 classic "The Wizard of Oz" and 32 inch-high Verne Troyer has achieved movie star status playing cloned villain "Mini Me" in the Austin Powers comedies "The Spy Who Shagged Me" and "Goldmember."

    "The whole idea is to make people smile and laugh. That's what we live for and it's what we live off," said Garcia, one of two clowns who dodge the bull alongside five bullfighters.

    Many dwarfs find it hard to get regular jobs in Mexico, which does not oblige companies to employ a percentage of people with disabilities and offers no financial support.

    There is no association to help dwarfs deal with everyday challenges like bank counters, supermarket shelves, light switches, urinals and clothes shopping.

    It's all the more reason to love life in the bullring.

    "They are not laughing at us but at what we are doing and the jokes we make," said bullfighter Ignacio Zaragoza.

    "I am happy as I am," added Rogelio Ayala, a car mechanic when not bullfighting. "I don't envy anybody, I feel lucky. I have lots of friends and I'm a star in my home town."
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