Culture /

The Italian Old School Disco: Le Balere

“is that place where you forget the hardships of the week, the problems, the daily thoughts twirling lightly between waltzes, stolen glances and good wine.”

What if the Balere have definitively supplanted the discos?

And Milan was the new home of LISCIO (a form of slow dance, the name literally translates to smooth)?

I wouldn’t want to venture too much, but it seems to me that among the millennials (the generation of those born between 1980 and 2000, to which I belong) going to Balera is no longer taboo. Rather, there is a new “dancing tribe”!

Rows of lights hanging like festoons, timeless music and ageless couples gliding along the dance floor. Ladies and gentlemen this is La Balera, the old-fashioned recreational place that today satisfies everyone: grandparents, managers, fashion victims, housewives, and even fascinated youth. The talented few dance alongside those who have two left feet and clumsily throw themselves on the floor.

“The word liscio joins with the word optimism” argued Raul Casadei, an original Romagnolo, the undisputed king of liscio in Italy and a legendary man not only for those who frequent the dance halls.

And the Balera is precisely the place – a large hall with bar service used as a dance floor – where the lighter group dances, forms of tango, and cheerful, light music are on display alongside the more formal ballroom dances. A mix of waltzes, folk and popular music that continue to unleash, entertain and make entire generations fall in love.

La Balera is that place where you forget the hardships of the week, the problems, the daily thoughts twirling lightly between waltzes, stolen glances and good wine.

The people who love liscio and dance halls seem to appear wherever there is a desire to dance.

In Italy, dance halls spread, especially in the North, in the most central areas in the first half of the 20th century. It was quite difficult to build fixed structures dedicated for dancing and entertainment, it was easier to simply improvise a mobile structure, with a sheet to rest on a central pole and panels of wooden planks that fit into each other as flooring. Simple places, intended for simple people.

The first Italian dance hall was opened by Carlo Brighi in 1910 in Bellaria on the Romagna Riviera: the Capannone Brighi (later better known as “Salone Brighi“). The Romagna Riviera undoubtedly characterizes the Balera in the Italian collective imagination, imprinted as a social and cultural place that attracts people with a cheerful and social disposition.

Liscio is the music that makes families leave the house, that brings even the children to clubs, it is “the other musical genre”, the one that, in short, mobilizes the silent majority, the genre that contrasts pop with more niche music.

And yes… Because liscio is joy, liveliness, and energy for those who dance. And if, like me, you were not of the generation who grew up ballroom dancing  and had never experienced it live with grandparents, uncles, parents, or relatives, no fear: everyone in the dance hall, without distinction, are dragged to the dancefloor, one way or another, for one dance or another. And truly, it’s never too late to learn!

There are no hierarchies or status symbols on the floor. La Balera is democratic, the dance is democratic. And (re)unites everyone. Young and old, rich and poor.

In Milan the liscio (or lissio for the Milanese) is danced at the Balera dell’Ortica, a historic venue in the suburb of Ortica (near Lambrate) where the railway Dopolavoro (an association for the free time of workers in 1925) once stood. It gave cultural oxygen to a very fervent neighborhood which in recent years has been completely abandoned. Here every day the railway employees came to dance seven out of seven days to the sounds of a jukebox. Enzo Jannacci, was the general practitioner of this neighborhood and knew its intrinsic charisma well… and then nothing more, for 15 years it remained abandoned to itself. And then, about ten years ago, management was passed to the Di Furia family (balere experts) who brought it back to life. 

What changed? The food, seeing as the Di Furia family is partially from Abruzzo — the cuisine is home-made, inevitable are the arrosticini as well as the bolognese sauce and the torta della nonna that is served at the end of every meal.

The proposal is vast: dance evenings with live music, dance courses, bowling alleys, vintage markets and many other initiatives in recent times have made this, once again, an iconic and unmissable place in the city. 

I have organized several of my birthday parties here. 

Singing and dancing with euphoria always reigns supreme.

Do you now also dream of opening a Balera soon? 

What can I say? Let’s hope everything goes liscio.