Ever felt the urge to join in a local sardana dance when visiting Catalonia but been too self-conscious to have a go? Take a leaf out of the book of our intrepid reporter Jan Shilling, cast embarrassment to the wind, and just go for it…
There’s a woman in Begur whom I shall never forget. I don’t know her name and she probably won’t remember me, but whenever I want to recapture the magic of our holiday in beautiful Catalonia, I just look at the video clip of the moment our paths collided and… laugh out loud!
This was no holiday romance. It was a few moments of pure joy when a local lady showed the patience of a saint as she tried to walk three English women, with two left feet apiece, through the intricacies of the revered local dance, the sardana.
Our hosts had already told us about the solemnity and ritual of the dance. “It is not the outpouring of joy and unstructured mayhem you often see in village squares in sunny holiday regions”, they warned. And indeed, the steps are so precise that, if one person takes a wrong step, it can break the rhythm for the entire circle. Unsurprisingly then, if you are lucky enough to happen upon a group of locals dancing, you may not be invited to join in. Dance is a serious business in Catalonia!
But invited we were! And we did try – so hard – to follow those deceptively simple-looking steps! Often when a novice joins in and doesn’t cut the mustard, the circle mysteriously breaks and reforms without them, but this lady wasn’t going to give up! The haunting music played by the Cobla (or ensemble) of usually 11 musicians comes from a flabiol (flute), a tambori (small drum), four shawms (like oboes, but much louder), a three-string double bass and five brass instruments (two trumpets, two fiscorns (a bit like a flugelhorn) and a valve trombone. It is addictive. It stirs the senses and wraps itself around the emotions and I guarantee that tourists will be YouTube-ing “sardana music” once home. I certainly do! And my feet start moving again; still not quite managing that elusive, off the beat syncopated rhythm, but enough to bring the smile back – and those wonderful, very special memories of a of a warm, late summer evening in the magical, old town of Begur.