Jump Around: Ball de Bot

Ball de bot literally means jump or bounce dance. It isn't one specific dance. As explained by Sarau Alcudienc, the Alcudia cultural association which was integral to the rediscovery and popularisation of Majorcan folk dance from the late 1970s, it is more of a generic term, and its origins have been subject to differing theories. One is that it was a specific derivation of the "jota", which also means jump, and which has its roots in eighteenth century Aragon. Another is that is based on the fandango, the earliest record of which is from early in that same century. Then there is the bolero, which came along in Spain towards the end of the 1700s.

It isn't therefore purely Majorcan, as it evolved from imported forms of dance, and these had been brought by theatrical groups who performed in noble circles. These dances seeped out into wider society and created a legacy of different titles, such as "ball de pagès", farmer's dance. These other titles came about, or so it would seem, simply according to whims of a particular time or place. Whatever the title, the dance is from the same generic family.

The place has some importance in the development of dance that became associated with particular parts of the island. There was, for instance, a fandango from Pollensa, a style from Selva that was notable for its pauses, while in the northeast of Majorca, the dance was faster than elsewhere.

It isn't clear when what we might call the Majorcan folk dance movement really took hold, but the assumption is that the tradition - a relatively widespread tradition - is no more than two hundred years old. This may seem recent, and it is when compared with other forms of dance - the group forms such as the cavallets.

One has to go back to the fifteenth century to find the origins of the cavallets, which is the dance that features horse figures worn on the waist. Although this dance had become secularised in that the cottonmakers guild in Barcelona had been granted a form of responsibility for it, the church was closely involved. This was certainly the case when the cavallets crossed over to Majorca and were promoted by Franciscans in Arta, Llucmajor and Palma.

The cavallets were in keeping with a strand of religious liturgical theatre, as also - it has been argued - were the cossier dancers, the first mention of whom was in Soller in 1544, almost one hundred years after the cavallets. While both the cavallets and the cossiers may have owed something to church ritual, their popularisation was more secular, the cossiers especially, as the church wouldn't necessarily have approved of the participation of a demon.

From the point of view of the evolution of Majorcan folk dance, there was a gap of a good couple of centuries and longer from the initial burst of the cossiers during which there was seemingly little development. This was until a discernibly popular form of dance emerged with ball de bot.  

It is debatable, however, quite how popular the folk dance was. Through the nineteenth century, it wasn't something which apparently held much appeal to young people. It was the preserve of older folk and of various associations. It is perhaps also reasonable to assume that it wasn't much of a feature of Palma society but of rural Majorca.

This patchy popularity was a reason why ball de bot went into something of a decline from the 1920s. Another, and this was especially important for young people, was the appeal of dance from America, something which the five-year Second Republic did little to deter. The associations, with names such as Parado de Valldemossa, received minimal support. Then came the Franco regime.

Contrary to what is sometimes said, the regime favoured tradition, especially if it had a clear Majorcan flavour. Ball de bot may have had an Aragonese background, so by association Catalan, but it was Majorcan. Moreover, it wasn't American. For the ultra-conservative Francoists and the church, ball de bot was perfectly acceptable, and express support was to start in 1940.

The onset of tourism was what really caused a setback, as it did with other traditions. Ball de bot survived, but it was to take initiatives, such as that by Sarau Alcudienc, to begin to make folk dance genuinely popular and to do so, it's fair to say, for the first time. While the number of associations grew, folk dance moved firmly into everyday and everyone's culture. Nowadays, when there is "popular dance" at fiestas, this is popular in the sense of meaning the involvement of ordinary people. Young and old, everyone joins in. Well, maybe not everyone, but it can appear so.

This week is World Folk Festival week. Dance groups from all over the world will be performing. Alongside them will be Majorcan groups and so therefore ball de bot.

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