The oldest traditional dance still prevalent in Catalonia is the Ball de Bastons. Its origin is difficult to trace as there are different stories associated to it. According to some, it comes from the agricultural rites of prehistory whereas some opine that it originated from the Greek pirriques dances. However, there is a widespread theory which states its origin to be in the evolution of the antique dances of swords. Also, one of its first known dances was noted in the year 1151 during the banquet of the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV. Ball de Bastons were very popular during the 15th century. This dance of Catalonia is usually performed on a Sunday of the Easter on streets of the town and the following day in the country houses of the surroundings. It is accompanied by some musicians and one of its unique characteristics is that it is mostly performed by young children.
The dancers are volunteers from different villages and hence, each dancer has a different choreography. Before the dance, there are two rows with four dancers each, all facing each other. The dancers move without touching each other and hence, there should be enough space while doing these moves. In its initial position, each dancer stands with its feet together and legs straight and keep their arms stretched out holding the sticks in a horizontal paralleled position. The index finger is put between them. Dancers with blue ribbons stand at the centre whereas those with red ribbons are at the ends along with the flag bearer who wears an orange ribbon. A series of common elements of the dance are:
- ‘Passes’ are movements in which the dancers swing in opposite directions.
- The ‘sotacames’, an emblematic figure of the dance include pricking the sticks and passing them under a leg.
- The jumps are when the dancer jump to the air to hit another dancer.
Most of the melodies of the dance are based on the rhythm of 2/4. This is because of its musical instruments which include tabor pipe, shawm or bagpipes. Though the music is approximately a minute each of the short dance, they are usually melodies of traditional songs of the country. The knocks of the stick, sounds generated by musical instruments and jingling of the small bells are the central elements of dance between dancers. In accordance with these, the rhythm is followed by a melody performed by a small orchestra.
Each village represents a different costume or tradition. However, the common elements include footwear with seven ribbons, white trousers, overskirt, white shirt and handkerchief of colour tied on the body. Some years ago, the costumes consisted of a red overskirt with three white lines on it, some white stockings, a white shirt, the typical Catalan shoes, special short white trousers, handkerchief tied on the head, tapes on the arms and on the neck and red kneepads with small bells on it. Nowadays, some important changes have taken place in the costume of the dancers. These include a red band tied to the waist, white stockings, shoes with red ribbons and a white shirt. Girls wear a blue skirt whereas boys wear blue trousers.
Through its origin, Ball de Bastons was performed and executed exclusively by men. However, since the 1960s, women have participated in performing the dance. It had been observed that in contradiction to its past, Catalonian women are very well represented.