To me the most important folk dances are the ones you’re most likely to encounter when dancing with “the folk”. If you met a Bulgarian on the street could you dance with him or her? (Note: Not all Bulgarians are folk dancers, though probably a higher percentage than Americans who are square dancers).
The following is an attempt to compile a short list for the 20 or so countries and/or peoples I study (Assyrians, Kurds, and Roma have no sovereign territory) – covering the Greater Balkans, Anatolia and the Levant. I’m showing the list as partial and incomplete because that’s the state of my research. It will slowly be filled out. To qualify for the list I consult the written opinions of qualified authorities, and verify their current status with YouTube examples proving that the dance is what I call a Living Dance. Dances with colored lettering contain links to the posting and may be clicked; you will be taken directly to the article. I welcome your suggestions and comments.
ALBANIA, KOSOVO – GHEG; TOSK; Pogonishte (S,Q,Q,), Valle (T-6)
ASSYRIA – Sheikhani, Khigga
BOSNIA & HERCEGOVINA – Kolo (T-8)
HUNGARY – Csárdás (T-4)
LEVANT – Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria – Dabke (Debka)
MONTENEGRO – Oro (Eagle)
SLOVAKIA – Odzemok (1st Generation – no Living dances)
UKRAINE – Khorovod
PAN-BALKAN – The following dances are basic footwork patterns that span so many boundaries they can not be considered the dance of any one country. Pajduško (Q,S,), The Taproot Dance (T-4, T-6), Devetorka, (T-9A), Devojačko (S,S,Q,Q,S,), Čoček, Choral, Čoček Solo,
International/Recreational Folk Dance groups (IFD’s/RFD’s) often have hundreds of dances in their repertoire. Generally, these dances have been accumulated in a haphazard manner. The group may sponsor a workshop by a recognized expert, who teaches several dances in a weekend – several of those dances will be “keepers” and added to the repertoire. A few members attend a workshop elsewhere and bring home their favourites. An influential member has a favourite country and brings in more of those dances. Occasionally someone in the group decides which dances are no longer popular and the list is culled, only to swell again.
An IFD group near me lists 500 dances in their repertoire, and I suspect that’s typical. Of those 500 over 200 are from the 5 Balkan states of Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, & Greece – I suspect that’s common. By searching examples of these dances on the internet, I have come to realize that many if not most dances listed by IFD’s as being from a particular country are not presently danced in that country, at least not under the name known by the IFD.
If you’re a newcomer to folk dancing it may not matter to you whether a dance is from Greece, Bulgaria, or someone’s imagination, and it may not matter whether anyone in Greece or Bulgaria is presently performing that dance. But if you’re reading this post, I suspect it might. Maybe you’ve been asked to a Greek wedding and you’d like to bone up on some Greek dances. Maybe you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria and you’re hoping to dance there. Maybe a relative is dating a Serbian or has a school project on Romania, or a neighbour has moved in from Macedonia and you want to find out a bit more.
If your club has 40 or so Macedonian dances, where to begin? How do you separate the essential from the merely popular? (Please don’t get me wrong – popular is important – some of my favourite dances are merely popular.) Most countries have dances they consider “national” dances – that is, dances that are known by most of the people in that country, or are most representative of a particular region or subgroup. Often the list is quite small.
If you are an experienced dancer that has some influence on your club’s repertoire, I would ask you to consider whether these dances are on your group’s dance list, especially if your club is purporting to represent the dances of the country mentioned.
John Uhlemann wrote: I know there has been controversy over American’s assumptions about [what] is done in North Macedonia to slow 7/8 music (divided 3+2+2), and the use of the word “lesno”; however that basic dance, done to various rhythms and different names (sta tria in Epirus, Greece, pravo in Bulgaria, etc.) is, in fact, done in Slavic Macedonia. In some areas (and in neighboring Pirin district Bulgaria) they do ширто – širto to the same music. Both should be added to the list. By the way, the Macedonians in our area do lesno to all the usual songs, and, no, they did not learn it from the local folkdance clubs.
I would also add to your list a heading for Pontic Greeks – a large diaspora, and both here and in Greece (where they now reside), they ALL do tík and dhipat omal, along with the basic 3-measure structure everyone does in the area.
I certainly agree with your exhortation to include these dances in the repertoire of every IFD group. Sometimes it is just a matter of finding appealing music – it is out there, and of better quality than your average mp3 of a cassette of a 45rpm pirate of an original 78rpm disc that I have heard in some clubs.
Don replies: Thanks, John, for your usual informed comment. I appreciate your taking the time to add to the fund of knowledge I am trying to assemble. The list is by no means complete, but as I have written about (and possibly created) the controversy surrounding the term ‘Lesnoto’, it makes sense to add the dance to the list. The trouble is, if not Lesnoto, what do we call it? Or should I list several names? Any suggestions?
As to the Pontic Greeks, I agree they are a rather separate community within Greece with their own dances. However the original purpose of the “Most Important” article was to focus on dances known by all, or at least the vast majority, of the members of an ethnic ‘nation’. The list is kept small deliberately, so beginners, tourists considering visiting a foreign land, and leaders of folk dance groups have a simple focus of attention.
On the other hand, the more I learn about the countries I cover, the more I realize this is a simplistic notion. Someone visiting Transylvania will likely see very different dances from someone visiting Dobrogea, as will a visitor to a Pontic village in Greece. I want to expand focusing on regions instead of countries, however I want to complete the country article first.
John replies: Thanks for your thoughts, as always.
My Macedonian friend (the only “ethnic” who associates with both the ethnic community and IFDA) tells me that although some of them know the name “lesno” as used to connote the all-purpose 3 measure dance (which they call pravo when done to 2/4 music, even in the republic of Macedonia), most of the parishioners of his church call it by the song title requested of the band, and then everyone does “what you do” to those songs. This is true for a lot of dances on your list, of course.
Our IFD group in St. Louis does several of the Pontic dances, and, much to the surprised amusement of the locals, got up and did them at the Greek church when a visiting musician (hired by the church to play for their Pontic community when the “regular “ band of the evening took a break) played them. Again, it is all about the music. I reviewed these dances with our group some years ago, and did not use the rather raw recording the teacher used, but some of the newer bands that play authentically, but with modern recording techniques and instruments (you haven’t live until you’ve heard a Pontic lyra with an electrical pickup, accompanied by sythesizer, electric bass, and traps: it’s hair-raising).
Finally, we need to have a name for the basic step for what North Americans call “Mezöségi”. Although there are village -specific variations, some quite difficult, the basic couple step if done by Romanians and Hungarians from all over the area – I’ve learned 2 from the Florescus, and several from various Hungarian teachers. In Hungary, they don’t even like the term “Mezöségi”, since it refers to a large area, and any given band will play only village specific material (e.g. the variant that most Americans know is best referred to as “Magyarpalatkai Tancók”.
Anyway, I look forward to you next blog,