Barcelona balla

Llibre Barcelona balla

Barcelona balla

Ferran Aisa

Editorial Base and Barcelona City Council

Barcelona 2011

347 pages

A glance at the list of shows staged between the 1930s and 1980s clearly shows that Barcelona has always loved dancing. Ferran Aisa learnt the foxtrot, swing, boleros and boogie-boogie with his parents, both regulars at the Rialto in Ronda de Sant Pau, where his uncle Fernando was the maître d’. They also danced around the radio in the dining room at home. At the age of 15, the author of Barcelona balla (Barcelona Dances) got his first job in a company that set up sound systems for theatres and marquees used for dancing, while his second was in an agency that did bookkeeping for restaurants and cabarets. This was how he met Oriol Regàs, the brains behind Bocaccio, and Vicenta, the founder of El Molino. He recalls how, while he waited for them to prepare the bookkeeping papers, “I used to sip a soft drink at the bar, enjoying the evening’s show in the famous music hall on Paral·lel.”

Barcelona has been dancing ever since the 18th century in the Santa Creu theatre and in the city’s small aristocratic palaces. In his Calaix de sastre [Catch-all] diary, the Baron of Maldà recalls the first waltz by Strauss ever performed in Barcelona for the Marchioness of Aguilar to dance to, and the Liceu held its first masked ball in February 1848. Popular festivities burst onto the scene in La Patacada on carrer de les Tàpies. Societies organising public dances abounded, such as Romea, Odeón, La Fraternitat and Terpsícore. Montjuïc mountain was not merely a fearsome castle; soldiers chased maids at la Font Trobada fountain and El Gurugú leisure area, while in the Tívoli and Camps Elisis gardens the town band and Cors de Clavé choir performed Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The 20th century belonged to Paral·lel: art nests, erotic shows and dancing cafes. Aisa does the rounds of “Barcelona’s Broadway”: Café Español, Arnau, El Molino, Olympia, Chicago, Las Delicias (subsequently Talía), Cádiz, Apolo, Nuevo Pabellón Soriano, Cómico and so on. The ’20s and ’30s brought the rhythm of jazz, Charlestons, foxtrots and tango; budding dancers learnt steps with taxi-girls and showed their moves in dance marathons.

Post-Civil War rigid national Catholic morality did not keep dancers down: orchestras reassembled and dance schools pressed on. Aisa notes that on 13 March 1939 the Demon’s Jazz orchestra performed Hollywood musical hits at Barcelona’s Teatre Circ: American swing versus “imperial” hymns. Dance halls abounded in the city again. On Sunday afternoons, crooners such as Antonio Machín, Jorge Sepúlveda and Rina Celi helped revellers forget the dreary hardship of rationing. In the ’50s, Carmen de Lirio opened Bolero, the first nightclub, and the Bikini discotheque opened on a scantily populated Avinguda Diagonal.

It is a graphically impressive book with occasional misprints, such as mutating the flamenco singer Angelillo into Angiolillo, Antonio Cánovas’s murderer. Typos aside, Aisa’s utmost documentary rigour shows that decades of Franco’s dictatorship never managed to quash Barcelona’s nightlife or dancing spirit. After the liberation of the ‘60s and the erotic and festive-tinged transition to democracy came a lull, when many venues for sentimental education were closed down. Decibel-heavy mega nightclubs and after-hours bars came to the fore: “Night-time recreational facilities often clashed with the authorities over noise, public order issues and the lack of soundproofing and safety in such venues,” says Aisa. The historian concludes that very few dance halls remain and a great many discos have been revamped as concert halls, but the dance bug lives on in dance schools and in local fiestas organised on social media. There is still huge demand for concerts because, sooner or later, music makes you want to dance.

Sergi Doria


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