Imagine sipping a few tequila shots at the Jose Cuervo Distillery in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico and then heading out to the square only to look up and see four men flying through the air, circling a tall pole. We weren't sure if we actually seeing what we thought we were seeing or if the tequila we had just tasted was stronger than we thought!
After a moment and getting a handle on reality, we realized that were actually seeing a Mesoamerican ceremony/ritual called Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) or Palo Volador (Flying Pole). This ceremony is performed to bring an end to the drought and is at least 450 years old. It is thought to have originated in the mountain areas of Veracruz.
Four men climb the 30 meter pole, position themselves on a platform and spin the platform to wrap the rope around the top of the pole. They then tie the end around their waist. Next the flute player climbs to the top and positions himself at the pinnacle. As he plays the flute and dances...yes...dances, the four lean back, with one leg wrapped around the rope and as the rope unwinds the circle as birds on a slow and graceful descent to the ground, representing the regeneration of life. Today's voladores generally circle the pole 13 times each totaling 52 or the number of years on the Aztec calendar.
The men were dressed in red pants with a white shirt with a colorful and heavily embroidered chest cloth. The headpiece is has multicolored ribbons symbolizing the rainbow, flowers representing fertility and mirrors, the sun. The pole is a connection between the sky and the earth...the world tree.
It was quite a sight to see and I must admit I held my breath a bit as they made their descent. It was quite an amazing sight. It was beautiful, delicate, graceful and dangerous all at the same time. As I watched them circling close to the ground I hoped silently that they hadn't done the distillery tour before the ceremony! It appeared no tequila was involved, as they made it to the ground without a hitch.
Have you ever seen the voladores in flight? What other cultural traditions have you seen as you have traveled?