DRESSED in gaudy clothes and a face full of make-up, they dart about the ring leaping out of the path of a charging bull as the crowds of spectators watch on.
But unlike the hushed reverence of an audience commanded by a matador in his suit of lights as he stares down a half-tonne beast, these ‘comedy toreros’ perform their antics to the accompaniment of collective screams of laughter.
Welcome to the peculiarly Spanish spectacle of dwarf bullfighting, a practice that has caught the eye of Spain’s Social Rights Ministry, which is determined to outlaw what they describe as “degrading” shows designed to ridicule people with disabilities.
For many it is astonishing that such ‘entertainment’ has been allowed to continue into the 21st century even in a country where the bloodlust of the bullring is still considered by many as a hallowed tradition.
But now it looks like their days are numbered after the show after coming to the attention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has reportedly put pressure on Spain to call time on the shows.
Earlier this month Spain’s Minister for Social Rights, Ione Belarra, from Unidos Podemos called for the cancellation of comic shows by dwarf bullfighters, insisting that such spectacles were ‘degrading’.
As a result Andalucia authorities suspended a show by a dwarf troupe in Baza, Granada over the August 15 fiesta weekend citing the need to “safeguard the dignity and image of people with disabilities”.
While the news is broadly welcomed by disabled rights groups, many of whom have long argued for the abolishment of such shows, the dwarf performers themselves are furious.
Jesús Martín Blanco, the head of the department overseeing the rights of people with disabilities at Spain’s Ministry of Social Rights and also someone who has dysplasia – a type of dwarfism – believes such public spectacles degrade and humiliate those who take part and encourage an audience, often including children, to believe such behaviour is acceptable.
“If the children are going to laugh at a person in a bullring, they will surely laugh at me when they come out,” he told El Pais.
However, those at the centre of the row are not at all happy about having their means of livelihood prevented.
Diversiones en el Ruedo are taking legal action over the cancellation of their show in Baza insisting that their right to work, which is enshrined in the Spanish constitution, has been contravened.
This week the group announced it would sue regional authorities, and particularly Andalucia’s Ministry of Equality, Marcial Gomez Balsera for “forbidding us from carrying out our work”.
“It shows a complete lack of respect and freedom,” said Daniel Calderon, a bullfighter and the manager of Diversiones en el Ruedo.
“We are skilled professionals who work hard and we entertain like other performers,” he said.
“All those who enter the ring are registered as bullfighting professionals at the Ministry of Culture, whatever size they are, and we enter of our own free will. Surely it’s discrimination to stop us from doing so?”