It's impossible to say exactly how old the Danza de los Voladores is, but archaeological evidence makes it clear that the tradition is very old, indeed—not hundreds of years, but thousands. It began as, and still very much is a form of Mayan sun dance; a way to bring fertility to the land by honoring the sun. And while the numbers of those who practice this ancient ritual have diminished in recent years, there are still families that keep "The Dance of the Flying Men" alive.
While on assignment in Tulum, we met the Garcia family, one of the last groups of Voladores left in the region. Together, they represent three generations of "Flying Men," with Franciso, at nearly eighty years of age, the patriarch of the group. The dance begins with a lighting of incense and the playing of a distinctive flute. Then, wearing hand-stitched costumes that take over a year to make, they mount the center pole and attach the ropes. At first, the flying men seem to hang suspended; but as the ropes unwind and they come spiraling gracefully down through the sky, the true nature of the dance unfolds. It is a dance of beauty, a dance of grace, and a dance of thankfulness. And in this way, a priceless cultural heritage is preserved in the Yucatan.