Believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec, and Otomi peoples of central Mexico, the Danza de los Voladores is a very ancient ritual dating to the Pre-Classic era of Mesoamerican civilization; a formative phase of development commencing more than 4000 years ago.
It consists of one musician time-keeper and four dancers or ‘flyers’ who ascend a thirty metre pole, tie ropes around their waists, and then spiral back down to earth. In ancient times, participants wore elaborate feathered costumes to resemble eagles or other birds. One myth suggests the ritual originated during times of drought when five men sacrificed themselves to earn the favour of the gods of rain. The present-day version of the danza does not involve sacrifice, has been significantly simplified, and is maintained chiefly by the Totonacs of Veracruz.
Today, metal poles have replaced tree trunks, but the dance remains laden with symbols, including multi-coloured streamers representing rainbows and mirrored hats symbolizing the sun. The rotations of the flyers correspond to ancient calendars (13 rotations x 4 = 52, the number of years in a Mesoamerican century). The dance group featured in this video comes from the Totonac town of Papantla. They perform for tips every day on the plaza in Playa del Carmen.