Alunelu (or Alunelul) is a Romanian children’s folk song and (possibly) dance, also a family of adult dances.
First, about the name. Everybody knows the Romanian word “Alunelul” means “Little Hazelnut”, but does it? There’s a scholarly German website Tanzrichtung “Of Dance” that makes a good case for another translation. Here’s the full text:
Google Translate does a fair job of making this comprehensible to non-Germans like myself.
To summarize, hazelnut in Romanian is actually “aluna”; the shrub (small tree) producing the nuts is “alun”. Adding “el” & “ul” to the end of “alun” is just the Romanian way of saying “the hazelnut shrubbery”. However, most Romanians call the dance “Alunelu” without the final “l”.
Some Romanians believe alunelu is a contraction of “A lu Nelu” In the landmark book Romanian Traditional Dances, by Sunni Bloland and Anca Giurchescu, the authors state “Alunelul is popularly translated as a diminutive of hazel tree. In fact it seems that the name is a contracted form of A lu Nelu, or “dance of Nelu” (dimunitive of Ionel, diminutive of Ion/ “John”) – “John’s dance”. The fact that in southern Oltenia Alunelu is still a dance, integral to the Câlush suite and that dances or “movements” of câlush are often named for a person, may indicate that the origin of Alunelu is indeed connected to Câlush.”
See the song lyrics:
1. Alunelu, alunelu, hai la joc, (note the word is Alunelu, not Alunelul)
să ne fie, să ne fie cu noroc! 2x
Cine-n horă o să joace
mare, mare se va face.
Cine no juca de fel
2. Alunelu, alunelu hai la joc,
să ne fie, să ne fie cu noroc! 2x
Joacă, joacă dead pe loc,
să răsară busuioc.
Joacă, joacă tot aşa,
joacă şi nu te lăsa.
1. Alunelu, Alunelu, to dance, to bring us luck!
Who dances the Hora, grow up. Who does not dance in this way, remains small.
2. Alunelu, Alunelu, to dance, to bring us happiness!
Dance, dance all over the place so that the basil grows.
Dance, dance the same way, do not dance or stop.
To dance “John’s Dance” makes more sense than to dance “Little Hazel Shrubbery”
In the early 20th century, (according to dance historian Ron Houston) the song Alunelu became a staple of the Romanian school system, a position it holds to this day. It is not known whether at that time a particular dance was associated with the song. A 1940 book on Romanian dance, Manual de dansuri nationale, by AL Dobrescu, discusses the Alunelul form of dance, but does not mention the song or a connection to children. Today there seems to be no fixed dance tied to the relatively fixed song. Choreographies seem to be linked more to the age of the children and demands of the stage.
In 1948, Romanian Larisa Lucaci emigrated to the USA, and became among the first to teach Romanian dances to non-Romanians. She produced a recording of Alunelul under Michael Herman’s Folk Dancer label, and supplied the choreography that IFD’ers know as “THE” Alunelul. She did not refer to it as a children’s dance. Here it is taught by Mihai David.
Today, if you Google “Alunelul dance Romania YouTube”, you’ll not find Lucaci’s dance performed by Romanian adults, but elements of her dance are found in choreographies for children.
Which brings us to how the song Alunelu became the dance Alunelul. In Oltenia, the southwest Danube Plain part of Romania, which is influenced by Bulgarian and Serbian dance, 2 major dance types are the Rustem (Quick-Slow, like Pajduško) and Brâu (“belt”) a fast 4 beats. Both are virtuosic fast-paced men’s dances, usually in short lines. A dance from the Rustem or Brâu families often gets the masculine nding Rustemul or Brâuletul, and it’s believed Alunelu, a subset of the Brâu family, got the same treatment, becoming Alunelul. There are many Alunelul dances from Oltenia (see Alunelul Batut).
Here’s a suite of Alunelul dances
So which came first, Alunelu the song or Alunelul the dance? Impossible to tell, as is whether or not there is a direct connection between the two. What is clear is that to a Romanian today Alunelu is a children’s song that may have some kind of folk dancing attached. To the Romanian who is interested in folk dancing Alunelul is a family of dances from Oltenia. That knowledge is shared with International Folk Dancers, but IFD’s may also know a fixed choreography called simply Alunelul that is unknown to Romanians of any age.