The sardana, a moving circle dance of the Spanish region of Catalonia, represents national pride, unity and identity. The origin of the dance is unknown, though similarities to Mediterranean and Iberian circle dances hint at its possible roots. The dance is typically accompanied by a small group of musicians playing brass instruments called a cobla. A flute leads the music while a tambourine sets the rhythm.
The sardana is composed of two step sequences; short steps called curts and long steps called llargs. Both types are based on a sequence of steps similar to the ballet combination "pas de bourree," which consists of three quick steps -- behind, side, front -- where the dancers' weight shifts from foot to foot.
To perform a curt, touch the ball of the left foot forward, then place it to the side of the right. Take a small step diagonally back with the right foot. Cross the left foot diagonally in front of the right. Repeat the sequence starting with touching the ball of the right foot forward. One sequence should take up about two counts of music.
The llargs are similar, but more elongated. Place the ball of the right foot forward, then place it to the side of the left foot. Place the ball of the left foot forward, then cross it in front of the right foot. Place the ball of the right foot forward, then place it to the side of the left. Take a small step diagonally backward with the left foot. Cross the right foot in front of the left. Repeat the sequence beginning with touching the left foot forward. The llargs should take up about four counts of music.
The trick is mastering the quick shifting of weight from one foot to the other. Steps should have a loose give in the ankles and knees. Heels should never rest on the ground.
The dance is divided into sections called tiradas, typically composed of 10 sections where dancers alternate between the curts and llargs. The changes and length of time in each tirada, along with the finishing step that separates each section, differs with each tune.
Participants stand in a circle formation, alternating by gender where possible, although the dance is not limited to couples. Hands are joined throughout the dance, held down during the curts and raised to shoulder level in the llargs. An experienced dancer leads the group, anticipating the changes in steps and direction by listening to the beats in the music.
Costumes are not worn during the sardana. Normal, everyday attire is customary. Dancers occasionally wear traditional rope espadrilles.
Where to Find the Sardana
Fiestas and celebrations are the best place to find a sardana forming, often in a village or town square. Dancing can often be seen in Barcelona on Sunday mornings in front of the Cathedral and the Placa de Catalunya, and many evenings at the Placa de Sant Jaume. The sardana is customary at the four-day festival of La Merge, patroness of Barcelona, which begins on September 24.
The steps are more complicated than they may appear to the spectator. The subtle changes that dictate the shift from curts to llargs are easily missed. The length of time in each step sequence as well as the number of steps varies with the music and can also be confusing to the dancer. Although all are welcome to join the sardana, it is viewed as poor etiquette for an individual to join a dance already made up entirely of couples.