Tourist Information Guide

Sardana Dancing - Catalan Cultural Dance

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By Romilly Turner
Catalan dancing in Barcelona
Catalan dancing Barcelona

This page will give you an overview of one tradition of Catalan culture - the Sardana. This Barcelona Catalan dance is a symbol of Catalan unity and pride. You will learn why this Catalan dancing is so important as a symbol, an explanation of the dance, and where you will be able to see the Sardana.

Throughout the region of Catalunya or within the Barcelona area, you may have come across a curious but enthralling spectacle of Catalan dancing; where circles of people join their hands together and with them raised; dance with very small, precise steps, slowly round and round whilst people join to make the circle bigger. This is the Sardana: the traditional national dance of Catalunya.

Sardana Dancing - Musicians
Sardana Dancing - Musicians

It is very special to the Catalans - not only does it bring the people of Catalunya together; it is a symbol of their national pride and identity. To understand the meaning behind the dance, it is important to look at the historical context behind this supposedly simplistic idea of Catalan dancing.

The Catalans are a very proud and patriotic people with distinct traditions and culture that set them aside from Castellan Spain. Many Catalans consider the region of Catalunya to be distinct from Spain and even though it is within Spain there has been much campaigning for an independent Catalunya for over 150 years.

Franco, the Spanish dictator who ruled for 30 years from the late 1940's to 1975, saw the Catalans as a threat - their desire for independence and their deep national pride was considered by Franco to be insolent, arrogant and a personal affront. His dislike for the Catalans was such that he enforced many crippling laws in an attempt to remove the traditions and language of the Catalan culture and thus make Spain a uniform state. Among other rules he enforced, he banned Catalan being spoken as well as any of the Catalan traditions, one of the main being of course, the Sardana.

Catalan unity
Catalan unity

The Sardana therefore, is considered by Catalans to be a powerful symbol of national unity and identity, which captures the spirit of Catalunya. Even under tyrannical rule, the true nature of the Catalans remained and this is captured perfectly through the Catalan dancing of the Sardana; people dancing, united together, from all different walks of life and ages, casting their differences aside and proudly saying, with their hands and heads raised high that they are Catalans and proud to be.

So, what is involved in the dance you ask? Circles of people join together- it can either be of the same sex, mixed or with couples. For pure authentication, no formal wear is worn, normal attire is usual, and all ages and classes join in. Dancers hold hands with raised arms and follow a leader who leads the movements and timing.

Sardana steps
Sardana steps

The steps are meticulous and very precise, one false move and you can put the whole circle out of step! You are advised, therefore, to watch rather than join in- the dancers can get more than a little peeved if a bumbling tourist cleaves in and messes the dance steps up! It is also considered bad etiquette if you join a circle that is just made up of couples. When a circle becomes too big, more circles are formed and the final spectacle, with maybe four or five circles dancing is wonderful to watch.

The Catalan dancing is complemented by a 'cobla' a small group of musicians accompanying the dance with a selection of brass instruments and lead by the 'flaviol' a type of flute whilst the tambourine sets the rhythm.

The best times to see an authentic Sardana are at a festival. The Focs de Sant Joan festival on the 24 June is one such example. Visit a Catalan village outside of Barcelona to capture the dance in authentic surroundings.

You can also see this type of traditional Catalan dancing throughout the summer months in the sunlit early evenings starting around 18:00 to 18:30. Within Barcelona, hot spots include plaza Jaume I on Sunday Evenings as well as the nearby grounds of Catedral de Barcelona on Saturday evenings.

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