Strangers gather outside the Urbino’s Palazzo Ducale. Hands rise and fall. Rise and fall. Legs move from side to side. Side to side. The people don’t know each other, but they’re dancing.
Each summer Urbino hosts the Festival Internazionale di Musica Antica (International Antique Music Festival). During the 10-day celebration the narrow streets and the piazzas of this Italian hill town fill with music and dancing from Renaissance, medieval and baroque periods.
On this Tuesday night about 50 people crowd next to the Palazzo Ducale to meet one another and enjoy a night of dance. This session attracts anyone interested in making new acquaintances with a similar interest in the ancient arts. Every other night at 10:30 any person is welcome to join in on a lesson in different styles of dance.
“There’s a community of souls,” says Mariella Rizzi, a writer. This year marks her first time at the festival.
This community stretches across national boundaries, religions and races. Participants are connected by a love of the arts. In the dim light outside the palazzo the people leave behind their inhibitions.
“I guess they all want to go back to their childhoods and forget their troubles and they can go into this dreamlike state in this city,” Rizzi says.
This small town in the Marche region of central Italy, steeped in Renassaince traditions, is a favorite destination for anyone seeking culture.
“People come from all over the world,” says Hans Haas, a Renaissance dancer at the festival. “It’s a very famous festival.”
Like most of the people in front of the palace, he came to form connections. “It’s a way for people to meet each other,” he says.
During the event he held up his digital camera and captured the moments, immortalizing the night.
It’s easy to meet people since most of the dances require participants to switch partners so often that at times it seems that every person in attendance has danced with everyone else. Between steps new partners introduce themselves to one another.
Haas says that most of the people dancing at the moment are either musicians or dancers following the festival. The dancing session provides a more intimate setting for those looking for kindred spirits.
“It’s a rare passion to have,” Rizzi says about their interest in ancient music and art.
She was encouraged to attend by friends who have been coming to the festival for 20 years. “My friends told me I should come out, because I was heartbroken,” she says about a break up. It must have worked because at the moment she seemed carefree.
“Here I feel a community,” Rizzi says.
This community, of course, has a leader. Paula di la Chamera stands at the front of the crowd. Her gray hair is pulled back in a low ponytail. Her glasses hang on a chain around her neck. Throughout the night she pulls them up to her face to see the buttons on the CD player, which is set on full volume.
For the last 20 years she has been teaching dance.
“Most of all, I really enjoy seeing people meet each other–they feel good together, they enjoy together, they laugh together,” di la Chamera says.
One student in particular is impressed with di la Chamera’s ability to share her knowledge with others.
“She can teach large masses of people,” Haas says. “It’s amazing. It must be very difficult.”
Her task is all the more difficult when traffic control is added to her list of responsibilities. “Machina! Machina! (Car! Car!),” she bellows a few times during the night to warn people of oncoming cars.
As cars slowly creep through the crowded street, passengers sometimes shoot inquisitive looks at the dancers who move precariously close to their vehicles.
“This is the best place that we have found so far,” Haas says about their location in the street.
As dancers whirl by, they count their steps aloud. “Sei, sette, otto. Sei, sette, otto. (Six, seven, eight. Six, seven, eight.)” Some glide in and out of their steps without trouble; others struggle not to trip over their own feet.
The evening closes with a promenade set to a medley of American tunes , the first of which is “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. People hurry under bridges formed by arms. They all travel around in an intricate pattern that could make anyone dizzy. Haas leads the crowd along with di la Chamera.
People stumble and collide but this is not about perfection. Everyone is clearly here to have fun and that’s exactly what they’re doing.