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Iconic Mexican Performers Take Flight In Puerto Vallarta

Apr 25, 2008
Every weekend in Puerto Vallarta, a group of famous Mexican performers take flight. From a central location on the Malecón - Puerto Vallarta's beloved boardwalk - the Papantla Flyers dazzle visitors with six performances each Saturday and Sunday. Carrying on a centuries-old tradition, the Papantla Flyers engage in a ritualistic dance while suspended from a tall pole. As you walk down the Malecón on a pleasant evening in Puerto Vallarta, be sure to look for these remarkable performers near the easily-recognizable "Boy on a Seahorse" statue.

The dance performed by the Papantla Flyers originated in the town of Papantla, Veracruz - a region of southern Mexico known for its rich traditions. The unique aspects of the performance are derived from an ancient Aztec legend. In the story, five men attempt to deliver a message to the God of fertility - Xipe Totec - after a long period of drought. To gain the attention of the deity and request the return of the rains, these men cut down the tallest, straightest tree in the forest and erected it in the middle of their village. After removing all the branches, the men dressed as birds, suspended themselves by their feet from the pole and flew in circles to attract the attention of their God. It is believed that this ritual performance dates back at least 1,500 years and was eventually disguised as a sport to conceal the custom from Spanish colonizers.

As the tradition of the Papantla Flyers developed, each of the dancers' movements came to signify important aspects of native religion and custom. For instance, in the version of the dance performed in Puerto Vallarta, each of the four men suspended from the pole make 13 revolutions for a total of 52 revolutions - signifying the weeks of the year. Meanwhile, the flyers themselves signify both the four cardinal directions and the four elements - air, fire, earth and water - while representing the rotation of the earth and the power of the sun. The rich symbolism even extends to the colorful costumes, as the dancers wear red pants - symbolizing human mortality - and vibrant ribbons that incorporate all the colors of the rainbow.

When you visit the Papantla Flyers in Puerto Vallarta, you will see five men courageously ascend the 30-meter pole. When they reach the top, one of the performers rests on a small platform at the summit. Throughout the performance, the dancer atop the platform beats a drum and plays traditional melodies on his flute, allowing the music the guide the movements of the flyers. As the music plays, the Papantla Flyers take off and begin flying, face down and arms wide open, above the boardwalk. Behind the dancers, lies the majestic Banderas Bay, a perfect place to witness one of Puerto Vallarta's famous sunsets.

During the summer months, the Papantla Flyers typically hold six performances each Saturday and Sunday at 6, 6:30, 8, 8:30, 9 and 10 PM. In the midst of high tourism season, the dancers often perform daily with at least four performances per evening. While each performance of the Papantla Flyers promises a magical experience, many locals and past visitors have found the 8 PM performance to be the liveliest. Each performance of the Papantla Flyers takes place at the same site in Puerto Vallarta, the centrally-located statue of the "Boy on a Seahorse" on the waterfront Malecón.

Whenever you visit Puerto Vallarta - or any of Mexico's cosmopolitan destinations - be sure to pay a visit to the Papantla Flyers. These traditional performers have been training since childhood to bring their beautiful dance to locals and tourists alike. Furthermore, as true cultural icons in Mexico, the Papantla Flyers offer a unique glimpse into the rich traditions of this gorgeous country. When set against the majestic sunset over Banderas Bay, a performance from the Papantla Flyers becomes one of Puerto Vallarta's most treasured events.
About the Author
Justin Burch writes articles about travel in Puerto Vallarta for the Marriott Resorts.
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