to the history page. As promised, this week we explore some of the unsuspected
subtleties of ball pagès or traditional
Ibicenco folk dancing. This subject, more anthropological in nature than historical,
intrudes rather conspicuously on Kirk's domain; however, as an integral part
of the village festivities that so frequently our attention, Kirk has given
his blessing for the 'intrusion'.
today there are some 20 folk dance groups called collas
whose aim is to revive the lapse in the island's indigenous culture. Colla
members don the traditionally dress of generations past, produce music with
4 or 5 age-old instruments and follow, literally, in the footsteps that their
forebears have traced since time immemorial.
understand Ibicenco folk dancing - its origin, its evolution and its role in
present-day island society - one must travel back to the Middles Ages (spanning
both the Islamic and the Christian cultures) when Ibiza was primarily an agricultural
society. Island inhabitants had few distractions apart from the sowing and reaping
of farm life and, for centuries, xocotes, or informal fiestas, provided a social framework for human
interaction and celebration. Xocotes
were generally spontaneous rural gatherings where Ibicencos found joyous release
from their drudgery through popular song and dance.
encroachment of modern life that came with tourism brought about an abrupt shift
from the agrarian-based economy of yore to a fast-paced, business-oriented economy.
In the space of 20 years, the island's social structures and daily customs were
Threat To Tradition
early 1960s, folklore was on the road to oblivion as go-go dancing, Elvis Presley
and The Beatles instituted themselves as icons of modernity, even in a society
as remote as Ibiza. The situation quickly became critical as only a few families
conserved the ancient knowledge of folk dancing, the craft of carving instruments
from wood and the confection of typical apparel.
prior to this state of affairs (in the early 1950s), the Council of Culture
had begun to organize folk dance teams to compete at the national and international
level. These teams met with great success, consistently winning first and second
prizes at folk festivals all over Spain and Europe. However, being made up of
relatively few members, this endeavour encompassed only a small slice of the
island's native population. Moreover, the teams were of a markedly competitive
nature: their sole focus was on off-island performances and not even dress rehearsals
were practised in public.
mid-1960s, the irony of 'exporting' a virtually extinct culture, while excluding
its heirs from the revival, became apparent to all. As spontaneously as flowers
bloom in spring, collas began sprouting
up in every township across the island. In fact, Santa Eulàlia's principal colla
is called es Broll ('The Sprout'),
a reference to the rebirth of popular Ibicenco culture.
first colla to form was the Aires
de sa Talaia of Sant Josep. They
organized bi-weekly demonstrations of ball pagès,
which, with the collaboration of local tour operators, became quite popular
with tourists. Many colla members
have followed this precedent and currently stage regular folklore exhibitions
in most of the island's towns and villages.
About The Dance
pagès, the roles of men and women
are clearly differentiated. The woman is submissive; keeping her arms close
to her body and her gaze fixed on the ground - never on her partner. With short,
quick steps she traces a pattern of circles around her male counterpart. The
man, on the other hand, is not bound by any pre-determined steps. Rather, he
tries to demonstrate with jumps and kicks, his strength and masculinity in order
to win the favour of the woman. (In traditional Ibicenco courtship, it is the
woman who chooses her husband from various suitors.)
of the Ibicenco woman in customary dress has been likened to Phoenician terracotta’s
(i.e. busts of Tanit), whose triangular form and distant air keep men ever questing.
The man is often compared to the rooster. Old documents speak of a now extinct
Ball des Gall (Dance of the Cock),
and, indeed, the red cap, scarf and tassel of the belt are reminiscent of the
rooster's crest, wattles and tail feathers.
mentioned the dances were the product of a rural farming society that depended
on water for its survival. Due to the preciousness of this element, a fervent
water cult had already developed in pre-Christian times. The desire to pay homage
to this life-giving liquid gave rise to ritualized dances around wells and springs
where supplications for fertile lands and plentiful harvests were offered up
to the heavens. The custom of dancing around wells and springs is still prevalent
today, although a good deal (but not all) of the superstition has been lost.
Island ancients also danced to render homage to the moon and the stars and to
music, even more than the dance itself, it undeniably Arabic in character. Song
lyrics are barely intelligible as syllables are cut short, the words no more
than a murmur in an archaic and haunting melody. The Catalan Conquest in 1235
brought about the Christianization of many of these rituals, although the pagan
origin of the dances is still palpable beneath the veneer of medieval European
base of Ibicenco music is wind and percussion. All instruments are made and
played exclusively by men, and, curiously, there are no string instruments.
Formerly, its player handcrafted each instrument, and great pride was taken
in the carving of decorative motifs on the drum and castanets. Today, however,
only a very few elderly craftsmen remain who remember the age-old technique
of instrument making. In light of this decline, the Island Council is investigating
the possibility of creating workshops in which the old masters might pass down
their skills to younger apprentices.
ball pagès generates high enthusiasm
among Ibicencos of all ages. Colla
organizers are pleased to see the resurrection of island culture. Their only
misgiving is that folk music and dance, one a living part of popular culture,
has become somewhat frozen in its evolution. Sadly, ball pagès is no longer the spontaneous, intrinsic expression of joy that
it once was; instead, it has been relegated to the status of an extracurricular
activity, a hobby of sorts.
and Antonio Marí, both of whom helped in the research of this article and both
experts in the field, expressed the common conviction that the glamour and spectacle
inherent in staged productions of ball pagès actually rob it of its true beauty, which is simple, unassuming
and deeply rooted in nature.
is a brief description of six of the most common dances still performed today:
Curta (the short dance) is so called because it is of short duration. It
was danced by community elders in initiate festivities and to give permission
for other to start dancing. It is a slow dance.
Llarga (the long dance) is the opposite of sa
Curta. The young people show their energy with a much faster rhythm.
Filera (the line dance) involves one man and three women in a row. It seems
to have been a wedding dance in which her two maids of honour accompany the
bride. The rhythm is the same as sa Llarga.
Dos Balladores (the two dancing ladies) is another variation of sa
Llarga in which the man courts two women alternately without deciding upon
either. In the end, he kneels down between the two female dancers.
Canvi de Parella (the change of partners) is also based on sa
Llarga. Two male dancers position themselves so as to be able to change
partners without interrupting the symmetrical circles of the female dancers.
Nou Rodades (the dance of the nine circles) is perhaps the most beautiful
and impressive of the dances and is the culminating dance at nuptial festivals.
The newlyweds trace several circles, separating and then rejoining at a central
point where they touch forearms and elbows. After the sixth circle, the bride
shows her wedding rings (24 in all) given to her by the groom.
The Instruments Used
Tambor (the drum) is made from the trunk of a fig tree that is hollowed
out with fire and fitted with a rabbit skin.
Flauta (the flute) is made from a branch of oleander and has three holes.
(the sword) is the only metallic piece in island music and adds a certain stridency
Castanyoles (the castanets) is probably the most unusual feature of Ibicenco
music due to their large size and the sound they make (like horses’ hooves).
Made from the root of the juniper tree, they are used by the man, not the woman
as in Andalusia.
Xeremia is a wind instrument made from reeds that was used mostly by shepherds.
In the British Museum in London there is an identical item, the Egyptian maid.
you have the basics of Ibicenco folk dancing, a rich element of island culture
that, thankfully, has been preserved, even if only on stage. There is ample
opportunity to see this colourful, ancient dance, as it is a fixed feature at
all patron saint's fiestas. It is also is performed regularly in many towns
and villages, though you'll have to check with the Town Halls to find out the
exact days and times. See you next week when we'll discuss . . . something or
© Gary Hardy (Fiesta de Sant Llorenç de Balàfia 10th August 1992)