• 2021.05.12
  • Blog Liguria – Popular Folk Dances
Today I would like to speak about Ligurian folk dances and the challenge they are facing during these hard times and perhaps in modern times altogether.
It is probably a common problem not only for Ligurian dances but for folk dances all over Italy and perhaps in other regions of Europe and the world too.
A friend of mine practices (or better practiced before Coronatimes) typical Ligurian folkloristic dances.
She is worried that her dance group may split up during this period of absence although they are trying to keep it alive by having lessons through online live platforms and they also do training sessions outdoors whenever the weather allows to do so (and keeping a safe distance among them).
Furthermore, they hope to return performing live together and on a stage soon.
She told me it’s very challenging because this kind of folk dances require contact and they would require couples to dance together but, given the fact that most dance couples are not couples in real life (meaning they are not husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend) they are not allowed to touch and dance together and therefore simulating steps and dance moves is very hard.

She also told me that, besides the current Covid-19 situation and subsequent restrictions, even before 2020 the dance groups were having problems; indeed, if they cannot find young people willing to learn these traditional songs and dances, her group and many other folk dance groups risk disappearing forever because youngsters turning to dance nowadays take up other more exotic dances such as salsa, tango or line dance rather than local popular dances.
Overall, she thinks that Genoese folk music tradition is at serious risk of ‘extinction’ and her folkloristic group, founded in the 20s, risks turning into a memory of the past together with many other groups that no longer exist.
Young people see these dances as outdated and ‘funky’ or ‘funny’ so they do not wish to participate in these shows and learn these dances. They either don’t appreciate this music or feel ashamed wearing traditional clothes during the live shows so the result is that tradition gets lost.
And it’s always a shame when tradition gets lost.

She said that most people in her dance group are over sixty years old and if there is no generational change, with the arrival of new members within a few years, there is a real risk that these dances will remain only a pale souvenir of the past. The youngest member is in her thirties at the moment and the members of the folkloristic group always danced with enthusiasm but sad to know that most of them cannot perform some of the most complicated and physically challenging steps of the repertoire that would require younger and fitter dancers.

Such heritage is also made up of typical costumes, all still hand-made using techniques and knowledge that, once upon a time, were known by every Genoese family and that now are carefully preserved to pass on the tradition of such costumes only for folk dances and regional events.
My friend says it is not even easy to find costumes or tailors who know how to make them. Costumes for women in particular are complex costumes that are difficult to make because they contain elements, such as a huge headscarf – at times up to 3 meter long/wide - which was once used to cover the heads of women to hide them like brides.
This headscarf is called mezzaro and the origin of this name and element is controversial.
Some say it is a habit imported from the Arab world, others claim it has Indian origins.
It is very colorful and usually showing images of nature like trees, plants, flowers, fruits or animals.

The dances themselves are various and different although the most complex ones are being abandoned for the reasons I mentioned before.
Most of them have many similar choreographic elements, such as the execution in a mixed circle around a man or a couple, the group running towards the center.
In some of them men and women are placed frontally, the dancer performs the dance with the first woman, holding her under the arm and then heading towards the second woman down the line in a succession of steps until you find yourself back to square one.

In the Giga, which my friend usually performs, four women and a man participate or, in its most complete form, two men who move symmetrically in the dance. The sequence of the people is the same as in the two-person version, with the difference that the dancers arrange themselves in a cross formation and in the four parts of the dance the men perform the dance with each of the women. The doubling of the participants makes the dance more complex and spectacular especially when the dancers perform the steps under the arm according to a precise pattern of diagonal and lateral movements that can change slightly depending on the music used because more than one folk song can be used for such purpose.

Let’s hope this tradition will not get completely lost but it will be safeguarded in theatres like they do for plays and operas.

Typical costumes for folk dances for women


  • Patrizia Margherita
  • Jobtranslator, interpreter, teacher

Although she was born in Italy, she is half Italian and half American and she has become a "multicultural person" who can speak five languages. She has lived and worked in the US, Brazil, Australia, France and the UK so she considers herself a citizen of the world. When she is not teaching or translating, she likes cooking Italian food, hiking and traveling around the world...She has traveled to 80 countries and counting!

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