Just a 20 minute drive north east from Tavira through the sweeping uplands of the Serra de Caldeirão brings you to the quirkily named village of Faz Fato. After an exciting journey of hairpin bends and potential sheer drops from sea level to 250 metres you might need a drink at the bar and restaurant Retiro do Faz Fato. Having arrived at such an elevation, you could look down over the hills to Cabanas in the Ria Formosa National Park.
Fernanda, owner of the bar for over 30 years, was born aqui perto as she put it and has seen changes galore. Many of the younger people have moved out of the village and now that foreigners have moved in the community has changed. Some are seasonal visitors and others have settled here on a permanent basis but for all of them Fernanda´s bar has become the social centre for the estrangeiros as well as for the locals.
On nearly every Monday afternoon of the year, week in week out, you might hear strains of the kind of music that might make you think of the Southern states of the USA rather than the Algarve. Fernanda makes available a large upstairs room to a group, mostly women, who come along to line dance. The idea goes back over 6 years when Vivien West thought about running a keep fit class. Someone suggested that a more fun means of keeping fit would be line dancing. There is now a multinational community of Swedes, Dutch, English, Germans and Portugese wearing their cowboy hats and boots and dancing to the likes of the Hollywood Hillbillies and the Houghton Weavers.
Vivien warms up the group and goes over recently learned steps for the first 30 minutes and then Ellen Thomassen, a teacher by profession, teaches new dances for the following hour. Although Ellen has danced jazz ballet and ballroom dance, her line dance is self taught. After conducting her research on the internet, she practises until perfect and then takes the floor to teach the group. After 90 minutes, particularly in the blistering summer heat, the group then cools down with their friends in the bar. Fernanda is clearly happy with the quid pro quo.
The Faz Fato line dancers clearly enjoy keeping fit and keeping their brains active. All in all they have learnt 73 different dances so far from slower ballads to cheery boot stomping fast tracks. They have performed at Arte Viva in the Museu do Trajo in São Brás and more recently at the Dias de Santana (part of the Tavira Ilimitada initiative) and at private parties. The group and their friends also use the Retiro for dining out: Fernanda cooks local specialities to order and has goat stew and wild boar on her lista. The Group´s contribution to the community is not just local. The €2 weekly subscription from each member goes to the children´s charity Refúgio Aboim Ascensão in Faro.
The Faz Fato line dancers form one of the many groups scattered about the Algarve who use their time productively. Each dancer benefits on a personal level both physically and mentally, and as a group they bring benefit to both local businesses and charities. Such groups do not receive the publicity of such well funded programmes as the summer Allgarve, but at a local level their contribution to social cohesion is year round.