Celebrating 40 Years of Rancho

Folk-dance has been etched in local traditions for centuries, passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, these old forms of entertainment from the days before TV and social media are slowly becoming extinct. However, one mixed group of locals meet every week in Odiáxere to preserve the age-old tradition of rancho in the hope of conserving dances from the past. 

Dating back to the days of farmers in the countryside riding on horseback, rancho gives any hoe-down a run for its money. To learn more about this traditional dance, I met up with Luis  Morgado, the president of the Odiáxere Rancho to find out more. 

The Rancho Folclórico e Etnográfico de Odiáxere was founded in March 1984 by Luis Bandarra, Alice Compoa and Deonide Morgado, the cousin of the current president following the closure of the Lagos Rancho. During its forty-year history, the club has performed throughout Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, competing in festivals, appearing on TV and radio, and winning countless awards for its performances. 

The founders Luis Bandarra, Alice Compoa, and  Deonide Morgado
President Luis Morgado (right)

Meeting in the club headquarters just outside of Odiáxere, the fifty members of varying ages join together to rehearse their sets and, of course, have a good old chinwag throughout the night in true community spirit. 

Sitting in his office, Senhor Luis told me about his life in rancho, which started over forty years ago. “It is a way of life to preserve our cultural dances, which have been handed down throughout the generations,” he tells me. Having been president of the club for the past twenty-five years, his passion and expertise are evident in the countless array of trophies, plaques, certificates and awards from across Portugal and afar which adorn the walls and shelves of his office.  All have been presented to the club for their outstanding efforts.  

Early images of Odiáxere Rancho  

“Our aim is to meet every week to rehearse our performance as we have a constant line of events planned throughout the year,” Senhor Luis explained. He flipped through his calendar, showing me the numerous dates they will be performing up and down the country. “It’s not only about dance or preserving our traditions, it also makes for a great social gathering to meet new people from all walks of life,” he told me as we made our way to the rehearsal hall. 

When I asked what the future of rancho looks like, Senhor Luis replied, “We need more people, the women love to get involved but we need more men!” He assured me that “skill isn’t necessary, I teach everyone everything they need to be a good rancho dancer.” As the group of jolly dancers gathered, the musicians began to assemble, including two accordionists and a guitarist. They all played without a music sheet in sight – it is almost like second nature to them. As the waltz-like music picked up tempo, so did the dancers as they linked arms and swung around in unison, resembling a very polished barn dance. 

What impressed me was the costumes the group typically wore during their performances. Appearing as country folk, the men’s attire is a cross between a western cowboy and a South American gaucho, with chequered shirts, wide-brimmed hats and boots. The women appear as country maidens, complete with flowing dresses and a bonnet, typical of bygone days.  “Each rancho across the country has its own style,” Senhor Luis explained, as he took a break to show me several old photos featuring the rancho dress, which could easily be mistaken as a gathering at the OK corral. “The costumes are influenced by the farmers back in the day,” the president explained. 

Odiáxere Rancho has strived to keep its traditional dances alive, handing them down from generation to generation. But one of the club’s founders, Deonide Morgado, keeps the members in check, stopping the rehearsals every now and again to give constructive criticism and praise. 

As I watched the well-polished dances, one can understand the success that this club has created, not only for their professional rhythmic performances but also for their dedication to keeping rancho alive.

In recent years, the Federation of Portuguese Folklore has recognised the group for its preservation and community spirit within the municipality of Lagos. The club’s highlight of the year is the National Festival of Folklore and Ethnography, which the group has organised annually every first weekend of August for the past thirty-two years.  

A selection of awards won by the Rancho over the years

Once a form of entertainment performed by farm people in the countryside, the folk dance has now become a crucial part of Portuguese heritage and the heart of many communities across the country, gracing county fairs and competitions. With rancho groups scattered across the country, the Rancho Folclórico e Etnográfico de Odiáxere “is the only one preserving this historic rural tradition in the western Algarve,” Senhor Luis said with pride. “To continue, we need even more people, anyone is welcome. It’s a great way to have fun, meet new people and travel around the country.” I could see that I was being eyed up as a perfect candidate, and in all honesty, it’s a very tempting offer. 

Posting on their official Facebook page, the Odiáxere Rancho thanked everyone who has helped the group reach its fortieth anniversary. “On 17 March 2024, we celebrated 40 years of life. We thank all those who have contributed and continue to contribute so that this family continues its work in the dissemination of traditional culture through folklore and ethnography of the Algarve region, more precisely, the village of Odiáxere. We are the only active rancho on the Costa Vicentina and we will do everything to ensure that this cultural activity does not disappear.”

So if you’re looking at getting into the swing of rural country life dancing, why not join your local rancho, a dance filled with community spirit, history and dare I say it, you might just have a chance to look something like John Wayne or Calamity Jane. 

All images courtesy of Rancho Folclórico e Etnográfico de Odiáxere

Facebook: @Rancho-Folclórico-e-Etnográfico-de-Odiáxere


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