Travel Essays

Sardana i Solidaritat

101_9851Between songs, the trumpeter took a break from his instrument to smoke. No one seemed to mind. In Barcelona in front of the Gothic Cathedral, crowds had gathered to dance the sardanas, the traditional Catalan dance of unity and solidarity. The masses of avis, the grandparents of Barcelona, held hands to form circles that grew larger and multiplied as more locals joined in and tourists slowly figured out the dainty steps.

I wanted to take part in the sardana, but I have the annoying habits of liking to do things the right way and not embarrassing myself on purpose. Those habits, combined with my inability to pick up choreographed dances, made the basic steps of the sardanas elusive to me. I even had my “dancing shoes” on, a pair of red espardenyas, a soft-soled, slip-on straw shoe stitched with white thread. Most of the sardana dancers wore espardenyas barcelonis, a variation of the shoe with two cloth ribbons that they laced and tied across their ankles like ballerinas. Many espardenyas were white, like little doves hopping across the stones of the plaza.

The dancers were mostly from the older generation: men in dress pants and button-down shirts and their wives in knee-length skirts and blouses. Younger people joined in too: mothers and fathers, teenagers without even an eye-roll, and charmed tourists. My favorite was the hunchbacked old lady who could barely raise her arms above her head, yet insisted in performing all the light footwork. Meanwhile, other dancers debated on what count to end the dance on—“On the four?” “No, on the two!” “Sure?” “Two!”—as the late afternoon light slid off the looming old cathedral and ba  thed the plaza in warmth. The cobla, a band of ten wind instruments, a double bass, and a small drum played a distinct, shrill, but gleeful tune. As the music swelled, the dancers added a small hop to their steps, but only if the entire circle consented. The avis merely bent their knees a little more while the smaller circles of families bounded.

An old woman sat in her wheelchair in the middle of a circle, surrounded by a great diversity of faces. When the music ended, her daughter came to her and asked why she was crying. I, however, understood: it is a strange thing to feel alone among such great togetherness.

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