I knew I wanted to see the Sardana when I got to Barcelona. On an earlier visit, I wasn’t aware of when to be in the Cathedral Square to witness the traditional dance, but during my month-long visit I managed to be present several times. The dance itself is rather formal and intricate, if you pay careful attention. One of the several things that fascinated me was the age range of the dancers. You may hear an activity described as being “for all ages” but I saw people of an age span from eight to eighty join the circle of the dance.
The basic formation for the dance is a circle in which people join hands. The circle may comprise as few as four or as many as twenty. Participants put their coats and bags (and sometimes their small children) in the center of the circle.
The Sardana is considered a traditional expression of Catalan culture, and it was forbidden during the repressive Franco regime when defiant dancers would form a group in a city square, then disappear into the crowd when authorities arrived, a sort of Sardana flash mob. You will often see the red and gold Catalan flag displayed at the Sardana.
Although at first glance, the dance may seem simple, it is done competitively. You’ll notice the tee shirts some of the dancers wear identify their particular group. And the most avid dancers, young and old, often wear a sort of espadrille on their feet.
The live music that accompanies the dance is provided by the Cobla, a band of about twenty musicians that includes a hand-held drum, oboes, and some brass, a double bass. There are several Cobla representing different folkloric clubs and representatives move among the crowds collecting donations to support the band. Each donor is given a small lapel sticker.
The Cobla members are dressed in matching suits and ties — very stylish. Although the Sardana gathers quite an audience, it is not so much a performance as a social gathering. I noticed that the same groups made it a point to get together, week to week. One Sunday, there must have been over one hundred dancers.
If you Google “Cobla Barcelona” you should be able to find examples of the music. I became quite a fan and even brought home a couple of CDs — but there is no substitute for being there.