Last Sunday, I found myself in the Classics Quadrangle of the University of Chicago, barefoot, shivering with cold and adrenaline, and standing on the shoulders of someone I had met barely ten minutes before. It was the inaugural practice of the Castellers of Chicago, a new club that brings an old Iberian folk tradition to the UofC campus. With the casual introductions over, UofC fourth-year Sarah Carl explained, “When you’re on a castell team you can’t have issues with personal space because you have to get very close.” I nodded along with a handful of other interested students, and, following her instructions, we dispensed with our inhibitions and regard for physical boundaries. Comforted by Carl’s assurance that “you don’t need to be athletic in the normal sense,” we were climbing all over each other within a matter of minutes.
Since the late 18th century, castells have served as living monuments of national pride and communal identity in the Catalonian region of Spain. Castells, or human towers, are traditionally made in stone-paved plazas during local festivals. Townspeople of all ages and builds come together to create impressive structures up to ten tiers high, the height of a five-story building. Over time, castells came to symbolize social cohesion.
After spending a year abroad in Catalonia, Carl decided to start a castell team at the UofC. While living in Barcelona, she joined a team in order to learn about the Catalan language and culture in a more hands-on way. “It was a wonderful resource to integrate myself into the local culture and meet friends,” she says. Now back in the U.S., Carl wants Castellers of Chicago to be granted official Registered Student Organization status, which, according to Carl, would make it the second castell team to be established at an American university, and the first to be founded by people of non-Catalonian origin.
Carl is looking to recruit many more castellers, so Sunday’s practice was just the first step. “Building castells is so much fun, and it’s a really good way to bring people together,” Carl says. “Let’s see how well we can do this.”
The Castellers of Chicago currently meet every Sunday at 4pm in the Classics Quadrangle. Learn more about the Castellers of Chicago from Sarah Carl’s bilingual blog at makingpineapple.blogspot.com