*a Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.
The following four paragraphs (all in italics) are copied from the definitive book in English on Romanian dance, Romanian Traditional Dance by Anca Giurchescu with Sunni Bloland, 1995, Wild Flower Press, Mill Valley, CA. The first three paragraphs describe folk customs which may be extinct (or at least for which I can find no YouTube evidence), but are included to give context for the ritual described in the fourth paragraph, which YouTube evidence shows is very much alive.
The final passage rite in the life cycle is the funeral. Dancing in the funeral ceremony reinforces the ancient belief that death is a transition from this world to a world beyond – one which shares the same attributes as life on earth. The worlds of the living and the dead represent two dimensions in a universe in which indestructible bonds exist between ancestors and their descendents, according to this world view. The funeral ceremony has three distinct stages: parting, transition, and integration of the dead with their ancestors. (Van Gennep, A 1909). The parting is the period between the moment of death and the removal of the body from the house. In Transylvania, Moldavia, and Banat, wake dances take place during the three nights that the corpse is in the house. Performed during this period are dramatic masked plays, dances such as Chiperul, (the pepper) — an ancient ritual purification dance performed around a fire ( j. Vrancea) — and party games and dances from the common repertoire (Stahl, H. 1939 vol. II: A.G.and C. Ertescu, 1974). A humorous and crude dialogue in the style of commedia dell’arte ensue between the mourners and people masked as the devil, a priest, a doctor, a bride and groom, and, most significantly, an old man and woman. The latter two masks symbolize the presence of the family’s ancestors just as they do in the wedding ceremony. These dances are no longer performed for their original reasons but survive purely as diversion during the long nights of the wake. (Ertescu, C. 1968; Pop, M. and Ertescu, C. 1967).
The mourning period that follows coincides with the notion that the soul of the deceased takes a long journey before reaching his ancestral family in the world beyond. Dance is very important during this long transition period — the interval between the burial and the moment when mourning is allowed to cease, usually one year later. It used to begin with a men’s circle dance which was performed around the grave immediately after the body was interred. This virtually extinct ritual dance existed only in Banat, however. There it was believed that the circle of the dance provided magical protection for the dead against all harmful influences and wicked spirits which could possibly penetrate from the outside. For the living it magically neutralized the supposedly contagious effects of death by containing the dead in their graves.
The ritual dance slobozirea jocului (releasing dance) or desjelit (cease to mourn), also performed in Banat and Oltenia, mark both the end of the soul’s journey and its integration into the great family of ancestors in the world beyond. This in turn signals the cessation of mourning and the reintegration of mourners into the normal social life of the community. The person who wishes to end mourning must dance either a Brîu or a Hora according to a special ritual. This involves stepping three times in succession on a white handkerchief placed on the floor by a woman who has no deceased in her immediate family. This action has the function of purification and separation.
One particularly interesting custom is still practiced during the transition period even today — that of giving a dance as alms for the dead. (A. G. 1972). In Banat and Oltenia it is called Jocul de pomană, a local variant of Brîu or Hora. It is performed three weeks, six weeks, six months, and again one year after the burial, usually close in time to one of the major calendar holidays or on a wedding day. A candle trimmed with flowers and handkerchiefs is given by the family of the deceased to the dancer who leads the line (a relative of the deceased), a dancer in the middle, and the last dancer. Two bottles of plum brandy, ring-shaped cakes, as well as bouquets of flowers are shared by all participants. Having started the melody and having received money from the family to play a dance as an alms, the musicians stop and shout, “Be this dance as an alms for [the deceased person’s name]”. All present reply “Bogdaproste!” (God bless you). This call-response is repeated three times. The power of Jocul de pomană and the energy expended in its performance establishes a nexus with the deceased which is intended to offer him the same satisfactions and pleasures which he enjoyed on earth, thereby insuring their continuance in the hereafter. Lighted candles carried during the ritual are meant to signify the presence of the dead among the living.
The dances used for this custom are usually the most common dances of the area – the same used for weddings and other celebrations. For more current information on these customs, see https://eliznik.me.uk/2020/02/13/dancing-for-the-dead-joc-hora-de-pomana/
There is a significant ‘Vlach’ population in Serbian towns near the Romanian border. Though the title Joc de pomană and Hora de pomană are used in Serbia for this ritual, other titles also include Ora de pomana, Ora d’e pomana, Oro dje pomana, Kolo za mrtve, Kolo za pomen, Kolo za secanje, and Pomen kolo. I found 17 Serbian and 9 Romanian YouTubes, (plus many other YouTubes of Romanian performing and music groups) so considering the much smaller Serbian population, I’d say the custom is more alive among Serbian Vlachs.
All I could find was this documentary – Хорото на мъртвите (Документален филм) – The Dead’s Horo
Nick Green wrote:
Thanks for citing us on Hora de pomana!
I can give you a little more information to correct the captions on the Mehadica video and Svinita video.
The dance they are doing is Brâu (the one the researchers call Brâul bătrân).
It is very closely linked to hora in terms of structure and usage as the community ritual dance, but is very different in the minds of the local as the melodies are quite different to the Hora mare and Hora mica in Banat.
The easy way to see the differences (apart from the music being brâul)
- Brâul is still normally a mens dance or at least started by the men.
- Brâul usually starts with the left foot and Hora with the right, BUT in Svinita Brâul has changed structure to a right foot lead and a change to 1011 pattern (sometime in the past 50years), and in Almaj valley the Hora quite often start with left foot!!!
As far as we can tell this is the reason in Banat that the custom is called Joc de pomana (the event is called Joc here and the dance is normally not Hora) whereas in other regions the event is called Hora and the normal dance is Hora.
Best wishes, Nick and Liz