Baile Cabeza de Cochino verticalEl Baile de las Cintas (The Ribbon Dance) is portrayed in almost every website, guidebook, or history book about Yucatán; its image of men and women in colorful regional dress, dancing in a circle around a simple pole, each participant holding on to a brightly colored ribbon, is iconic.

The photo on our cover this month, with the Baile de las Cintas taking place below the branches of a sacred ceiba tree, was taken at “Momentos Sagrados Mayas”, which invites viewers to enjoy the beauty of a show with deep Maya roots and at the same time which benefits the participating artists and communities. The 90-minute show is performed each year from January to the beginning of March on a natural, open-air stage in X’ocen, near Valladolid. There are 270 Maya actors from eight communities from the east of the Yucatán Península: Dzitnup, Nohzuytún, San Silverio, Tikuch, Xuilub, Yalchén, Zací and X’ocen. The Danza de las Cintas is just one of the magical moments included in the show, which focuses on day-to-day life in a typical Maya pueblo.

The origin of the Baile de las Cintas is European. It began in Bavaria in the XIV century with the name of Maiphahl (maypole). It is also danced in England and the low countries, and also referred to as the Maypole dance. It reached Spain during the reign of Carlos V and was known as the Danza del Cordón (Rope Dance).

The next stop on its migration to Yucatán was the state of Veracruz, moving on to Puebla, Jalisco, and Hidalgo, with each regional group giving the dance its own special touches. It finally arrived in Yucatán with the Austro-Hungarian immigrants who came here during the rule of Maximilian.

The dance is a traditional part of a “vaquería” (from the word “vaca”, or cow, and “vaquero”, or cowboy; it is a festival which used to be held on the cattle ranches to honor the vaqueros of the region). It begins with the search and preparation of a tree trunk, ceiba if possible, or other pole suitable for the maypole, of 5 to 6 meters in height. It is placed in the desired position and ribbons are tied to the top of the pole. Ten or more dancers, alternating men and women, dance toward the pole, and then each holds on to the end of a ribbon, forming a circle around the pole’s base. In Yucatán a “jarana” is played, in ¾ time, and the dancers weave around the pole and around each other in a complex series of steps which seem totally random but which are not; the end result is a beautifully woven braid around the pole, from top to bottom. Then, they repeat the steps in reverse, and unbraid the ribbons; all of this is done in time to the music. Finally they leave the pole and dance their way to the place where the vaquería will take place. Nowadays, this usually means outside the municipal palace of towns and cities throughout Yucatán. There are few regional dance performances anywhere which can match the joyful spirit of the Baile de las Cintas.