You hear the drum and the piano accordions some way off.  And then they’re there – the hubbub of kids with swinging lanterns, grownups, musicians and the dancers.  They form an arena on Place Charles Cros, the square below the apartment.  I canter down the steps with my camera.  This year I’m not missing this fête.

From a distance

The dancers, four couples, are splendid in traditional costume.  They’re ready.  And they’re off, with the music reminding me at a distance of “boeremusiek”, major-key folk dance music in South Africa.  The costumes seem to be Spanish, but they could also be Italian, but this is Occitan, the patois-culture of the Midi, southern France.  The men wore black, broad-rimmed cordobe hats, black waistcoats and trousers; the women, wide embroidered skirts with colourful scarves.

With marvelously complex steps, arms high, swinging circles, radiant faces, they had the crowd clapping and yelling their wonder and appreciation.  I looked on, drifting into ecstasy.

And they danced

What I was looking at is old, as the books will tell you, older than Christianity and probably celebrated by the ur-Celts and, who knows, those before them.  The Catholic Church, wary of anything heathen, soon appropriated the feast, naming it after John the Baptist who was born, according to tradition, six months before Christ.  It is then, a midsummers night festival.

She who dances

On either side of the arena of people two men held up flaming torches, a reminder of how the festival had been celebrated in centuries past – giant bonfires through which the dare-devils of the community would leap.  Next to the piano accordions and the lady beating the drum were two girls holding colourful maypoles which also have distant echoes in history.  This feast is celebrated each year in different ways from Eastern Europe to Ireland, and it is enormously popular in francophone Canada.

The maypole, echoing over             millennia

I think of other folk dancing that I have seen, of my intense joy, especially too, as this is an experience that is not mediated – the Klopse of the Western Cape, Bulgarian and Russian folk dancing, Zulu dancing and the sacred folk dances of Korea.   That stays with me.

Under the harvest moon

Can you believe it?  At the height of the festivity, the evening clouds thinned and a full harvest moon glowed over us.

©  Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

8th July, 2017


Wikipedia :  Feast of St John


Photographs and drawings – mine







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