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The Catalan Sardana dance explained

The most famous folk dance from Catalonia is undoubtedly the sardana. A dance from the 19th century where people dance hand in hand in a circle to the rhythm of a cobla. With its Republican and deeply Catalan background, this is one of the most characteristic dances for the Catalans, who like to dance the sardana during village festivals and various festivals and events. Curious about this special dance and where you can experience it in Barcelona, read on.

What is the Sardana?

Cobla musicians in Barcelona
Cobla musicians in Barcelona

The sardana is a type of dance danced in circles, hand in hand, with other people, usually arranged as man-woman-man-woman. When a circle becomes too large, it usually splits into two smaller ones. In the circle, there is always one person who directs the rest. The dancers move slowly from left to right to the rhythm of the music, with hands up or down, and feet taking short or long steps.

There are actually two different blocks: the ‘tirada de curts’, where you dance with your arms down, a foot to the right and a foot to the left with an intermediate step to change direction; and the ‘tirada de llargs’, where the arms go up and three steps to the right and three steps to the left are done with an intermediate step. These two blocks are repeated several times until the musicians announce the end of the dance. Then the dancers throw their hands towards the center of the circle to conclude.

The dancers are accompanied by the music of the cobla. An instrumental ensemble consisting of eleven traditional folk instruments, such as the flabiol (a Catalan flute), the tamborí (a type of drum), the fiscorn (a Catalan bugle), the tenora (a typical Catalan double-reed instrument) or the tible (the soprano variant of the tenora).

Where and when can you see the sardana

The sardana is the national dance of Catalonia and is therefore danced throughout Catalonia. During village festivals and Catalan festivals, there is always a moment when the cobla musicians take out their instruments and dance the sardana. It is often people of a certain age who dance the sardana, but in principle, everyone is welcome to join the dance circle while the rest of the audience watches and applauds.

The Sardana dance in Barcelona
The Sardana dance in Barcelona

In Barcelona, you can admire the sardana dance every weekend. For example, in front of the Cathedral, where the sardana is danced every Saturday around 18:00 and Sunday at 11:15 (except in August). On Sunday evening you can see the sardanes on Plaça de Sant Jaume. Participation is of course possible and highly recommended if you want to mix with the locals. For children, too, seeing and hearing the sardana is a beautiful experience.

During the recurring event La Festa Catalana, sardanes are also regularly danced, as well as at all neighborhood parties and festivities such as La Mercè and Santa Eulàlia.

History of the sardana dance

Little is known about the origin of the sardana dance and there are different theories. Whether it comes from Sardinia, l’Empordà, Empúries, or the Cerdanya: it is a very old way of dancing together with a group of people. Even in the times of the Greeks, people danced in circles; with hands up to worship the sun and down for the moon.

What we do know is that the sardana is a descendant of the contrapas. Thanks to the arrangements of Pep Ventura, who introduced the cobla music in the sardana, and the Republican character of the sardana, the sardana dance became enormously popular at the end of the 19th century. It was, among other things, the way for the Catalans to profile themselves against the conservative Carlists (a movement for the Spanish throne), who preferred to dance the contrapas. Yet, this Catalan dance also had less favorable periods, such as during the dictatorships of Primo de Rivera and Franco, when it was strictly forbidden.

Today, the sardana is a true symbol of Catalan culture and identity, comparable to the castellers (human towers) or la senyera (the Catalan flag). In 2010, the sardana dance was distinguished as a national interest and was added to the catalog of Catalan festivities heritage by the Catalan government.

A monument by Josep Cañas i Cañas has adorned Plaça de la Sardana on Montjuïc since 1965. A beautiful sculpture that depicts and honors this Catalan folk dance.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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