“When Women Fly”

Location: Messico

When Women Fly is a long term project about the participation of women from Cuetzalan del Progreso, Mexico in a prehispanic ritual called the Danza de los Voladores which was traditionally performed only by men. 

The ritual begins with a ceremonial dance. Five participants then ascend a 30-metre pole and jump off the top, head first, tied to ropes as they revolve around the pole towards the ground. It’s believed that the dance began as a way to encourage a good harvest. After the colonisation, the dance became a tribute to Catholic saints during religious festivities. 

In the past only men were allowed to partake in the ritual and the flying tradition was typically passed down and continued through male relatives. Jorge Baltazar was the first to challenge the status quo in Cuetzalan. Baltazar, a famous and charismatic caporal, fathered four daughters. He had to choose between seeing the tradition disappear from his family or teaching his daughters to fly.

These sisters were the first to be accepted in groups of voladores and they were quickly followed by other women. Women participating in the flying dance defied traditional gender roles, symbolising transformation within their social context. 

They were slowly followed by other women who decided to join the dance. The first generation of flying women had to overcome prejudice and discrimination in order to be accepted in the dance. Women were often considered too weak to fly, or they were  judged because ‘they wanted to behave like men’.

While support for female flyers has grown within the local community over the years, women still face greater barriers compared to their male counterparts. Balancing household responsibilities and full-time jobs, women find it more challenging to continue flying after a certain age.

I first travelled to Cuetzalan in 2013 to carry out academic research as an anthropologist and have returned many times since then. 

Since 2022, I’ve been portraying several women, aged 9 to 50. With my work, I hope to celebrate the daily lives of these women and show their balance between being mothers, sisters, daughters, workers but also proud voladoras.


Valeria Luongo is an Italian documentary photographer, filmmaker, and anthropologist who’s based between the UK and Mexico. Her photographic approach is characterised by working on long term projects. Her work explores stories regarding gender, spirituality and rituals and has been featured in The Guardian, National Geographic, BBC, GEOmagazie and De Volkskrant and exhibited internationally.


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