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Unesco honours Breton Fest-Noz

Night parties join cooking, tapestry and lacework on the List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

UNESCO has added the traditional Breton Fest-Noz dances to its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Unesco said the Breton cultural movement had gathered young and old together as it “preserved this expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes”.

Roughly translated from Breton as “night party”, it added that “Fest-Noz is characterized by an intense camaraderie among singers, musicians and dancers, significant social and intergenerational diversity, and openness to others. It is at the centre of an intense ferment of musical experiences and has spawned a veritable cultural economy.”

It also said that Fest-Noz was used as a way to bring outsiders into the community.

Some of the Fest-Noz dances date back to the Middle Ages and celebrate ancestral rural traditions, where families, friends and neighbours gathered after working together for evenings of dance and music.

Breton singer and instrumentalist Alan Stivell is credited by many with the rejuvenation of Fest-Noz with his celebration of Celtic music and traditions.

There are around 1,000 festoù-noz or festnozoù each year in Brittany, but there are others elsewhere in France, especially in Paris and Ile-de-France. Last month, 8,000 people gathered for a Fest-Noz in Rennes.

Fest-Noz joins a list that already includes French gastronomic cooking, Aubusson tapestry, Alençon lacework and its traditional horsemanship.
Photo: © Myriam Jégat, 2009

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