Anyone who visits Veracruz and environs at fiesta time is likely to see the age-old Dance of the Voladores, the ancient Mesoamerican acrobatic dance that brings awe to viewers. I was in Cuetzalan, on the border between Puebla and Veracruz states over the weekend. To my delight, be-costumed dancers arrived at the Zocalo on Sunday morning and began to climb the huge pole. It must have been over 100 feet in height.
According to the history books, the ritual began many centuries ago as a supplication to the gods to end drought and return rain and fertility to the soil. As recently as a few decades ago, the dancers would still adorn their bodies with feathers to appear as birds to the gods. They'd apply feathers from eagles, owls, crows, parrots and the brightly colored quetzal bird.
Check out this January 1954 Popular Mechanics article titled "The Weird Birdmen of Mexico." The article notes that after the dancers climb to the top of the pole, they "drop off into space with blood-curdling shrieks and glide in widening circles until they hit the ground."
I didn't hear any shrieks. Rather, the whole ceremony was accompanied by lilting fife and drum music, and the pealing of church bells. The costumes include long pastel ribbons that flutter as the dancers descend to the ground.
In 2009, UNESCO chose the ritual ceremony of the 'voladores' as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, putting it up there with Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities.