For many Christians in Kolkata, Christmas Day festivities customarily culminate in some cheerful capering on the dance floor of the Goan Association of Bengal’s (GAB) annual Christmas dance — or with breakfast on the kerb at Chinatown in the decades the dance went on till the wee hours.
A scene from the pre-pandemic era: It’s 9pm on Christmas Day. The cobblestone pavements that run along the road just behind Raj Bhavan are abuzz with folk dressed to the nines — women in sky-high stilettos, gentlemen looking as sharp as ever in bow ties and waistcoats, and young teenagers donning their Sunday best — all on their way to the Goan Association of Bengal’s Christmas soiree at The Calcutta Rangers Club clubhouse. A long-standing tradition.
After a break in 2020, the dance that boasts something unique, quite unlike any other dance gala in the city, is back on December 25.
So, what is so special about this festive jamboree? My Kolkata takes a look.
(L-R) Janice DeDonker, Blance and Mark Rodrick, Bruno Sequeria, Gloria and Ryan Francis at the dance in the 1960sLygeia Gomes
The spirit of Christmas
The first-ever GAB Christmas dance is believed to have been held in 1965 and has ever since captured the spirit of the festival beautifully.
The walls of the colonial Rangers clubhouse (now modernised to bridge the gap between millennials and nonagenarians) keep the spirit of Christmas intact, year after year. The dance serves as a common meeting point for the near and far on Christmas Day. It’s where loved ones wish each other a spirited “Merry Christmas!” with warm hugs and kisses, old friends catch up on the highs and lows of the past year and everyone, yes everyone, is on the dance floor, busting out a move or four.
An unparalleled ebullience rules the night.
Iona Pacheco, Errol D’Souza and Brian and Aruna Gomes have grown up attending the GAB’s Christmas danceLygeia Gomes
“At one point in time, our dance was the only dance gala on Christmas. And it was an exciting experience! We got to meet everyone at the dance. I used to attend the show with 23 of my cousins and we’d have a great time,” smiles Tony Braganza, who’s been a regular attendee since its inception.
“We’ve sneaked in a couple of times, too!” he adds, with a hearty laugh.
Amigos, Minstrels and Crest
Music is an integral part of Goan culture. Naturally, a host of musicians are always present at a Goan tour de force, taking it up a notch effortlessly.
In the 1960s, the dance was set to the tunes of the one and only Amigos — featuring Tony Fernandes on the trumpet and trombone, Joaquim (Kim) Fernandes on the saxophone, Lionel Gomes on the piano, Francis Vaz and Desmond Lobo on the drums, Tony Rego on the double bass and Chad Bronchus on the guitar. The ensemble filled every nook and cranny with jaunty rock ‘n’ roll numbers – perfect for a waltz, foxtrot or jive.
(L-R) Tony Fernandes, Joaquim (Kim) Fernandes, Lionel Gomes, Francis Vaz and Tony Rego of the AmigosLygeia Gomes
The next generation of musicians that played here were The Minstrels, comprising Augustine D’cruz on the tenor sax, Edwin D’Cruz on drums, Patrick and Warren Caszo on the guitar, Martin Colaco on the trumpet and Edgar Saldanha on tenor and alto saxophone.
“We loved playing at the Goan dance because it went on till 4.30 in the morning! We would cover artists like Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, Engelbert and Tom Jones. I remember one Konkani song, Claudia, was always a solid hit,” said Edgar Saldanha, proud member of The Minstrels for 22 long years.
Recently, popular Kolkata band Crest, which has Jeffrey Menezes on the piano and vocals, Subhalakshmi Sen (Mishti) on percussions and vocals, Sudipto Sarkar (Johnny) on bass guitar, Nigel Gomez on the drums and Steven and Stafford Rebeiro on vocals and guitar, have been bringing the house down with covers of old-school numbers by Little River Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Pink Floyd, The Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder and America.
The highlight of every Goan Christmas dance is undoubtedly the mando sessions.
Mandos are traditional Goan songs, sung on every occasion, from feasts to festivals. The silly dance moves that go hand-in-hand with the mandos are real crowd-pleasers. Gentlemen whip out their handkerchiefs and ladies their sultry moves, while dancing to the melodies of Xhou Xhou Joana and Aum Saiba Peltori Vetam.
An unchanged aspect of the dance is every attendee’s attire and participation on the dance floorJenna Vincent/Facebook
Apart from the band, members from the community also take on the ol’ ivories during these jam sessions. In the early days, the late Anto Menezes, Tony Menezes and Anthony Fernandes would sing the ebullient tunes. Now, the baton is in the hands of Hector D’Almeida, Derek Fernandes and Alisha Alexander.
“Mandos unite everyone at that dance and is by far the most popular session. The white hanky is always on standby! It’s all very nostalgic,” smiled Derek Fernandes, the president of the Goan Association of Bengal.
The mandos are routinely followed by The Birdie Dance and the Hokey Pokey, which see close to 400 people shaking a leg.
Get set, go
The other popular segment is the games. Organisers get creative with games like ‘Lucky Spot’, which crowns the dancer dancing at a lucky spot (chosen prior to the show) on the dance floor. Other games include ‘First Couple on the Floor’ and ‘Best Jiving Couple’ which encourage all those twinkle toes at the show to get their groove on.
“I have attended the Goan dance every year since 1967, except the year my son was born and during the pandemic when it wasn’t held. Last year, Christmas didn’t feel complete without the mingling and merriment of the Goan dance,” said Patricia Fernandes, a member who regularly takes home the coveted ‘Member Who Brings In The Most Guests’ prize.
Her ticket number on the attendee list this year? No 1.
Behind the scenes
The GAB committee for the year 2019-2021Jenna Vincent/Facebook
The secret to the success of GAB’s annual Christmas dance is the committee, which works meticulously (and quietly!) for each event, making sure it’s a grand success. “We’re eagerly looking forward to shaking a leg this year. All Covid-19 protocols will be followed to ensure that we all have a great time in a safe environment,” said Derek Fernandes.
To book tickets for this rollicking event on December 25, call 9836428208.