Emilia’s Last Dance

The decline of a one-of-a-kind musical genre

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the entertainment industry came to life in Italy. Emilia-Romagna, in particular, became a real leisure hub, with countless clubs and dance halls opening within a radius of just a few hundred kilometres.

Along with discotheques, ballroom dancing began to proliferate: this was in the wake of the success of Raoul Casadei, the most famous exponent of the genre. Many orchestras sprang up out of the blue. The Casadei Orchestra performed constantly, often outside the region: in just a short period of time, ballroom dancing, together with its accompanying music, become a mass phenomenon.

Decades after its golden age, however, the genre is in decline: the latest statistics speak of a turnover of just 20 million euros per year, 75% less than in the ’90s, when in Emilia Romagna it generated revenues of over 100 million.

The dance halls have gradually closed their doors (the most recent examples being the historic “Ciao Estate” in Piacenza and “Al Camaroun” in Bologna, which have been inactive since January 2019). The genre’s musical tradition has been heavily influenced by Latin American flavours, while the average age of the dancers has increased.

In Emilia-Romagna (and in some regions of northern Italy), ballroom dancing is still vibrant, but it’s mainly confined to recreational clubs for the elderly and the few surviving dance halls that cater to those generations that fuelled its boom. Yesterday’s bright young things, who today are in their sixties and seventies, are still on the dance floor: they are the last witnesses to the epic story of a cultural phenomenon that is perhaps destined to disappear.

This musical genre may be in decline but many people still hope to dance to it – and perhaps restore it to its former glory – this summer. This is in spite of the fact that the season is shrouded in uncertainty, on account of the Covid-19 emergency. Indeed, the negative effects on the tourism industry in the Emilia-Romagna region could be enormous.

( 2019 )