Dick Crum on Dance Categories

My apologies, I have lost the attribution – don’t know how I got this article, only the note: “Looks like it was written in the 1950’s or 60’s” However it was written (or spoken) by Dick Crum. Anyone who knows the source, please tell me! dondancing@gmail.com

Dick Crum on Dance Categories

“I would like to, today, very briefly, take a look at a map of Europe and share with you some of the things, that I realized on these three trips that I was fortunate enough to make to Europe, in the manner in which the folk dance movement differs there and here. I find that in most cases, people are very surprised at the actual differences that do exist. Now in Europe, take the word “Folkdance;” you have to be very careful when you use it, because it doesn’t mean the same thing as it means here. Just as when you say “bread,” it doesn’t mean the same thing to an American as it does to a European.

I would like to categorize folk dancing in four different ways, in the way it’s approached in Europe, and if you’ll pay close attention to me, I think I can give some ideas that might give you some thought. They sure provoked plenty of thought in me. And the way I’d like to categorize this is the level at which people dance in Europe and I made an arbitrary selection of these four categories.


The first category is what I have termed (just for today – this is not going down into history as a term) the “original village peasant dances.” These dances are the anonymous and spontaneous creation of the people. They’re the ones you read about but very seldom see. They are the ones that express the heroism, that express the longings, that express the topographical character of the country. They’re the dances that are, for the most part, very simple, or if not very simple, are complicated for very specific reasons that can be easily interpreted in the psychological set-up, the national character that everyone talks about. These are the dances that you go to the village and see done spontaneously without a leader, without records, without a syllabus, under one of the trees on a Sunday afternoon. The people have danced it since they were young and don’t remember when they learned it, who taught it, and don’t care, and don’t know how many steps they are doing. They just do it, and so beautifully, and we go over there and spend two days trying to learn it and can’t.


The second classification – we’re going up now and heading toward formality – are the “dances of the formal village group.” This is a new phenomenon for many countries in Europe, but an old one in others and here is why I want you to really think about the dances you know and see if this doesn’t describe a lot of them. There began in Europe as far back, well as far back as 1850 in many of the countries, especially the northern countries of Europe, a movement based on a feeling of nationalism among these countries to formalize these dances, and people went out into, say, the Ziller Valley and watched people doing the Ländler that is so familiar over there in Zillertal. People were doing various figures that no one was doing outside the valley or if they did similar figures they did them in a different way. And there was a given time somewhere between 1850 and now when Zillertaller Ländler was danced, that all these specific steps were put together into a sort of set sequence and the people of the Zillertal began to do this at various programs throughout the year which had patriotic significance, and this dance then became sort of solidified. It was no longer a dance [of] the first category mentioned. It was no longer the village dance that somebody would do without a syllabus, and without a director, and didn’t have to practice. Now it had already been set in a pattern, and this dance has come down to you, today. Of course, a hundred years do a lot of things to these dances, but they have been fixed. In other countries, nobody ever thought to standardizing any of these dances until as much as maybe ten years ago [1948]. Some didn’t get started until after World War II taking all these village dances with all their improvisation and so forth, and putting them into a set pattern. When I refer to these “formal dance groups,” they are those dance groups formed in a village where a conscious attempt was made to take all these basic dances done in a village and do them in one way, so that they would be good for exhibition by the village folk.


The third category is the “stylized type dances,” and these dances are the type, well, for those of you who saw Moiseyev, I think that would be the best example of this stylized business, wherein the actual footwork is not considered. In other words, the whole character of the people, the style of their music, their costuming, and so forth, is presented in a way that is lifted onto sort of an international basis in accordance with world-wide taste. In other words, they do not “photograph” the dance, as Moiseyev says, but they present movements, moods, music, and these things, in a way which is unmistakably belonging to this nationality, although the dance was never done that way in any village. These three main categories you find all over Europe.


Now what happens in the United States? Well, various research people go over to Europe, or many people during the past fifty years have come over to the United States, and bring dances of all three categories. Some people have brought over the dances of the village. An example of this I think of right now are the Banat orchestra people in New York City who do some of these things such as Veliko kolo and Malo kolo. Nothing has been done to these dances; they’re done exactly as done in the village. Other people have brought over these set dances, and we’re very fortunate to get them, in which a lot of variations of dances from the villages were put together in a way that was adaptable and easily done, and such things as there are a lot of figure dances. I wouldn’t want to try to go into all of them. And then, you have such dances as the stylized dances which we don’t have too many of. We see Moiseyev. We see various ballet troupes interpreting dances such as various mazurkas, and so forth, that you see in the ballet. A lot of these dances come to the United States, they are all presented to the folk dancer and are called folk dances by us. Now, some of the problems that are involved here that people don’t often realize, is what I think is very important. [emphasis mine, DB]. All three types of European dance are very important and are valid as art forms, each in their own particular category, but they get here and the general folk dance movement is not so much, really, interested in this and in most cases doesn’t realize the background, and you can’t, of course, expect a beginning folk dancer to read books on dance theory. So, in numerous occasions, we find that someone will say, “Well, that isn’t the way it was done in the village.” And you see that right away there is a little electric shock that goes between the two people engaged in that conversation, and the idea is, of course, that it isn’t. It belongs to the second category. You can always say this the next time you get into one of these involvements, “Oh, that’s a ‘second category’ dance.”

What Dick was talking about is one of my primary concerns. Recreational folk dancers, and I am one, dance primarily for our own pleasure. We don’t dance because we feel a duty to preserve and protect a particular culture, but we do like this kind of dancing because it is not our culture. The music, footwork and social organization satisfy us in a way our own culture does not. We get to “step outside” for the time being, and in the process indulge ourselves in a fantasy of another time and place. Or, it may satisfy our desire to belong to more than our own parochial boundaries – we become citizens of the world – a world in harmony; dancing together. There are many more reasons for the popularity of recreational folk dance, but all are our reasons, and therefore the circumstance under which the ‘foreign’ dance was originally performed is of little interest to us unless it supports our reasons, our fantasies. We are not particularly concerned what Category a dance is in as long as we like to do it. If we like it, we’ll like it more if it has a story we like, and if it doesn’t, we tend to make one up.

All of this is perfectly natural and seems harmless when we think of dancing for our own pleasure. However, some of us get pleasure also from showing others what we do, and/or teaching others so they can join us or ’cause we like to teach. At that point we’re no longer just enjoying ourselves, we’re representing another culture – we’re assuming the mantle of educator by showing another person what we’re claiming is a dance of another culture. At that point we have a responsibility to represent that culture accurately. And precisely because it is not our culture, it is easy for us to misunderstand what it is we’re teaching or being taught.

Often recreational folk dance groups categorize dances only by their country of origin. Because they are ‘folk’ dance groups, the assumption is that all the dances in the group’s repertoire are ‘folk’ dances of the ‘village’ variety; Crum’s Category 1. Categories 2 & 3 get rolled in with Category 1, thus conflating ‘folk’ with entertainment based on folk material – what the Bulgarians called ‘arranged folklore’. [For more on this subject – click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/begin/how-balkan-folk-dances-are-made-arranged-folklore/ ] More experienced dancers within the group may well know the background of a dance, but they’re not always there to explain the details. There should be a simple way to encode the category of a dance into the name of the dance. For Crum’s categories, a simple 1, 2, or 3 after the name, in parentheses would do, like Kalamatianó (1), Orijent (2).

I have a somewhat different system, which would categorize Kalamatianó (L), and Orijent (2G) or simply (2). For my system, see https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/a-real-folk-dance-what-is-it/

L: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/a-real-folk-dance-what-is-it/about/

1G: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/a-real-folk-dance-what-is-it/1st-generation-dances/

2G: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/a-real-folk-dance-what-is-it/2nd-generation-dances/

My website currently shows YouTubes of 77 L dances, 53 1G, and 77 2G. By spending some time watching the L’s, then some time among the 1G’s, then the 2G’s, one begins to get a feel for the differences.

Without some kind of categorization along the lines of Crum’s 1, 2, & 3, or my L, 1, & 2, recreational folk dancers are seriously misleading themselves and more importantly others as to the nature of a ‘folk’ dance. This is what I think Crum was getting at – what he thought was “very important“.

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