Getting Into The Swing Of Things

I realise it has been almost 2 months since my last post, so I would firstly like to apologise for keeping you in the dark, and for this post being very long! I have been doing a lot of work and making good progress with the YARP since my last post. I feel as though I understand the history of the Jota better now (as far as we know anyway), have done some research into the theory of dance being a form of identity, and conducted my first interview last week.

In terms of the history of the Jota, we will never know the exact origins of the dance. There are many theories about where it came from, some say it has Arabic origins, others say it is similar to Greek dances and others Celtic. However, it is not unusual for there to be a debate over the origins of a folk dance. Because it comes from a rural community in the past there are no living oral or literate memories of the traditional dance, so we can never know for sure where it came from. I recently read a book which talked about the idea of “the tradition vs. the revival” which said exactly this, and then went on to say that a lot of folk dances were revived at some point or another and made famous in dance halls, consequently it is this revived form of the dance that we know today and think of as traditional. The Jota was revived in the 19th Century and taken to Madrid by two men Lapuente and Sola, it then became extremely popular all across Spain and this is the Jota we know today.

Looking into the history of the Jota, and also trying to determine why flamenco is more popular, I stumbled across an interesting book which explained that both dances dominated in the 19th Century in Madrid and spread to other regions of Spain, however it was during the 20th Century that everything changed. During the Spanish civil war, Franco wanted Spain to be one nation, with one culture. “Baturrismo” (people from rural Arag├│n) was given negative connotations during this era, whilst “flamenquismo” flourished. I am not sure why it was given these bad connotations but it is obvious that Franco chose flamenco as the dance of Spain as one nation. This was mainly due to it being a great form of propaganda, and also invited tourism to the south of Spain. In the 1960s there was a boom in tourism in Andalusia so many people from other countries saw flamenco performances whilst on holiday there, and took it back to their countries. It therefore became internationally famous and continues to be a stereotype of Spain today.

Many people I have talked to here, have strengthened this idea, saying that flamenco is merely more popular as more people go on holiday to the south of Spain. One woman told me that it is not necessarily more “Spanish” than the Jota, it just comes from a different region where more people go on holiday, and another girl said the same and added “No one comes to Zaragoza”. ┬áWhen I asked my interviewee┬áabout this, she told me that she believes flamenco is more famous as it is more of a show; the clothes, the music etc are very much for the tourist audience and it has become a big spectacle!

However, she also said that it resembles what it is to “be Spanish” – open and active, which in her opinion the Jota doesn’t. This confused me as the Jota is a very fast-paced dance with lots of jumping so surely that shows them as active? ┬áA quote that has stuck with me from my research is this from Gerhard Steingrass who said that flamenco is a “product of a Hispanicized Andalusian culture or of a Spanish culture replaced by Andalusian”. So, is the national Spanish culture and the “Spanish image”┬áactually a nationalized form of Andalusian culture? Is it just related to the people of Andalusia?

It seems that since Franco’s death, there has been a fight for regional identity. In extreme cases such as the Basque country and Catalonia, there have been fights for independence from Spain. But in the majority of regions they simply want to have their own distinct customs and traditions opposing the nationalist┬áideas of Franco. Since the end of the dictatorship, each region has its own government, which has the power to preserve and promote the culture of its region. In Arag├│n, two years ago the Jota was deemed Bien de Inter├ęs Cultural – ┬áItem of Cultural Heritage which needs to be protected. It seems that most regions in Spain are holding on to the things that make them different to all other regions. My interviewee told me that she believes these regional identities and variations are important as they enrich the country, Spain is a very diverse country and each region is different. She also said that when you think of Arag├│n, you think of the Jota so it is something that is a big part of the region in terms of their culture and their identity.

A couple of people have said that if the Jota died out it would be bad, and one girl went as far as to say “people would die”. Not many people dance it now, but there are performances in fiestas and there are Jotas on the local television every weekend, and it is a big part of Arag├│n. My interviewee said that “even though we don’t dance it, it is still ours”. She went on to say that most young people will choose more modern dances such as hip hop over the Jota and so less and less people dance it, but there are always some people who love the Jota and want to maintain it. She doesn’t dance it as she doesn’t think she is good at dancing, and another girl said she danced it when she was younger but stopped as she didn’t like it. I think it is like any other dance; it all comes down to personal preference. The Jota seems to be more for an audience now, performed in festivals celebrating the customs of the region and in the lessons we are constantly told “al p├║blico” – face the audience. Some people are very proud of the Jota and live and breathe it, but others just dance it for fun.

I am finding it difficult to decide how many people to interview. I want to interview a range of people (young and old, people who dance it and others who don’t) but I need to get a balance so that my project is not biased. I have asked the dance teacher if I can interview her and she said yes, but should I ask more people from the class? Is it better to give them questionnaires? Would I then have to ask more people who don’t dance it? Everyone will have a different opinion about the Jota so I don’t want to interview too many people! Any advice about this would be really helpful! But for now, things are slowly coming together!

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