Hands holding during Sardana dance (Barcelona, Spain)


La Mercè, the main festival of Barcelona, is here. There’ll be plenty of events going on, and it’s a great opportunity to discover the local traditions such as castellers human castles, monster parades, correfoc fire runs and… sardana dancing!

“La Sardana és la dansa més bella de totes les danses que es fan i es desfan” – Sardana is the prettiest dance of all the dances that are done and undone. This is the beggining of a poem by Joan Maragall that summarizes the pride of Catalan people for their most traditional dance. Very simple in apparence: a circle of people holding hands and stepping to the sides, occasionally bouncing. But full of symbolism: the unity of the people.

It isn’t fiery like flamenco, nor sensual like tango, nor entertaining like salsa. But it speaks of a nation that works together, doing little things that need precision to reach a goal. In a sense, it’s almost like a community prayer. 


Brief sardana dance history and origins

Sardana, Barcelona sculpture

Circle dances have been documented in the Mediterranean area since time of the Ancient Greece. So the roots of the Sardana are likely to date back to those old times. However, the first written record mentioning Sardana dancing is from the 1600’s, when it was danced as a form of entertainment by nobles and aristocrats, mostly in the areas that border what now is the French border near Girona. Only later on it’d be adopted by the more popular layers of the Catalan society.

The late 1800’s and early 1900’s are a moment of splendor for Barcelona. The Modernism art style (local Art Nouveau) is embellishing the city, the money is flowing thanks to the Industrial Revolution, and after a few centuries of decadence the cultural scene is blooming in the movement called “Renaixença”. The intellectual elite researches and standardizes the Catalan history, language and traditions to nurture a recovered pride for what’s local. And here is where la Sardana dance plays a key role as an authentic element of folklore with a metaphoric message of unity and local identity.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Spain was ruled by the General Franco dictatorship, who felt any expressions of regional cultures should be anihilated, as they posed a threat to the unity of Spain. Local traditions that weren’t considered authentically Spanish were banned, along with the local languages such as Catalan, that was only allowed in private settings. That affected the Sardana dancing as well, was forbidden, even if the Catalan people managed to keep it alive under the table.

It wouldn’t be until the come back of the democracy after Franco died in 1975 that Catalans were allowed again to dance Sardana in public again, and it started being included as a key element of any local festivity and celebration, cobla bands and colles sardanistes (dancer teams) were created, “aplecs” (sardana gatherings) started being scheduled all over, and even for many years the popular Corte Ingles department store organized free lessons for kids in front of their flaghship store of Plaza Catalunya.

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