Bullfighting is coming to Denver this weekend, with all the pomp and circumstance normally seen in arenas in Spain, Portugal and Mexico.
Matadors and bulls will take over the National Western Complex on Saturday, but the experience will be missing one key component: blood.
Coined “The Dance,” the bullfights will be “bloodless,” a technique that replaces the bullfighters’ knives with Velcro sticks and places Velcro squares on the bulls’ backs. Unlike a typical bullfight, both bull and matador are meant to emerge alive from the scuffle.
Event organizers say the show will celebrate cultural traditions, but animal activists say the idea of “humane bullfighting” is an oxymoron.
“You really can’t say that it’s a cruelty free support, because they’re torturing the bull and exploiting it for entertainment purposes,” said Lori Greenstone, a board member of animal rights advocacy group Colorado Voters for Animals. “The only thing they’re not doing is killing it in front of the public like in regular bullfighting.”
Organizers from White Eagle Promotions, the company putting on the event, insist it is cruelty-free, and an important mode of cultural exchange.
“The spectacle remains the same, and the danger is still there not for the bulls, actually, but for the humans,” said Mario Alvarez, general manager of the company putting on the show. “These bulls are going to be full of energy, and that can potentially harm the humans that are doing the dance.”
“The Dance” is the brainchild of Joe Fernandez, a Colorado native who now lives in Turlock, Calif.. Fernandez got hooked on bloodless bullfighting himself when he moved to California more than 25 years ago. Fernandez wanted to bring bullfighting to Denver.
“Being a Latino, I’m political also. I just think that right now there’s a lot of things going on in politics with immigrants and building a wall,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s a time to step forward and promote Latin culture and how beautiful it is.”
The event will feature Mexican matador Lupita Lopez, a fourth-generation bullfighter, and matador Daniel Nunes, of Tomar, Portugal. Rejoneadores, who fight the bulls from horseback, will also perform. The bulls come from a ranch in California.
A “suicide squad” will also take the stage in a performance in which eight men attempt to hold a bull completely still.
“Bloodless bullfighting” has come under fire in the past. In 2009 in Artesia, Calif., animal rights activists clashed with the Portuguese community there over the sport, according to the Los Angeles Times. The activists, part of a group called Animal Cruelty Investigations, claimed that the matadors were using sticks with sharp nails attached during the fights.
Lori Greenstone, of Colorado Voters for Animals, said she fears this sort of foul play, and opposes bullfighting no matter the weapon. Aubyn Royall, state director of the Humane Society’s Colorado chapter, echoed this sentiment, writing via email: “We oppose any effort to bring bull fighting to the US, even if it is reportedly more humane than traditionally practiced.”
Tickets are available online.