Watching the brightly-clad 'birdmen' swing around and around, gradually unwinding the rope attached to their feet is like nothing else. These men wear red pants and white shirts with a sash around their chests and a brightly colored cap. They stand out against the blue sky. Although some reviewers have said it was a Mayan ritual, the pole-dancers originated with the Nahua (Aztecs from central Mexico), the Otomi (from Hidalgo state) and the Huastecas (San Luis Potosi state). The Totonacs adopted the 'dance' and it is today associated with them. Many years ago, the dancers flew from a metal pole donated by PEMEX, the oil company. Today the pole is also decorated.
There is no relation to bungee jumping. The men swing around in an ever-increasing arc since their legs are tied to ropes that are wound tightly around a very tall pole. The event is over when they touch the ground standing up.
The dance is accompanied by Totonacs playing wind flutes. This is not just something put on for tourists (though it is now regularly scheduled). These people are really serious about their ritual. It may have originated to appeal to the gods for rain during a drought. These guys are seriously praying while they practice the exhibition.
People should be respectful while observing the ceremony. The dancers ask for a donation afterwards, which is only appropriate. Their costumes cost them thousands of pesos and they need to make a living too.
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