Horehronsky Čardáš – Slovakia; Another Update

Horehronsky Čardáš (pronounced hoh-reh-HROHN-skee CHAHR-dahsh).  The title refers to a women’s dance from the upper Hron River (a region known as Horehron), which is pretty much in the center of Slovakia.

Horehron is the the upper valley of the Hron river, the dark orange region in the centre of Slovakia,

Slovakia is the eastern half of the former Czechoslovakia, from which it separated in 1994. Czechoslovakia itself was only formed in 1918 – before that it was part of various configurations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Slovakia lies at the extreme northern limit of my “Balkan” dance world. Indeed, no one, least of all a Slovak, would consider Slovakia a Balkan country. But I include it because (a) it was briefly conquered by the Ottomans, and (b) it was greatly influenced by Hungarian culture, producing a musical and dance style similar to more certifiably “Balkan” countries as Croatia, northern Serbia, and Transylvanian Romania. In fact all of these countries were, until 1918 within the territory of Hungary, and had been for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, Slovakians speak a Slavic language of the Western branch – related to Czech, Polish, Silesian, etc, and this kept them distinct from the Hungarians, as well as the Transylvanians (who speak Romanian), and the Serbs and Croats (who speak South Slavic).

Back to dance. Csárdás (CHAHR-dash) is the national dance of Hungary, and usually signifies a couple dance. It is considered, along with Flamenco, the most exciting folk “couple” dance in Europe, with infinite possibilities of personal expression – on a level with Tango but with more energy. Slovakia has many turning couple dances similar to Csárdás – some of which were developed before the Hungarian version.

Terchova, 1952.

Digression:

After I published this post, John Uhlemann wrote concerning the above YouTube: “the first example you gave is of a dance from Terchova. While in the political borders of Slovakia, Terchova is not in an ethnographic zone with any other part of Slovakia / it is Tatra Mountaineer culture – the same as The Góral folks in Poland. (Terchova is in an island of that culture a bit south from the border, in the Mala Fatra). Note the instrumentation, costumes, and the music in “lydian mode” (the so-called Highlander scale) – a major scale with a raised 4th, making it sound “out of tune”. Check out dance youtubes from the Podhale region of Poland to see what I mean. Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1k7ECTsSY4&pbjreload=10 – this is far from the best, but at 1:20 the dance starts and the couple turning step is the same as you showed. The old films from this region, from both sides of the Polish /Slovak border, are revelatory. These folks speak the same dialect – years ago I was on a raft on the Bialy Dunajec river, which is the border up there, and the raftsmen from each side would trade jokes at each other.”

Here’s an example of Slovak Čardáš as it is danced today – which is to say by Slovak folk dance enthusiasts..

Since I have deliberately excluded couple dances from my workshops, that also excludes most Hungarian, Czech, & Slovak, many Transylvanian, some Serbian & Croatian, and even a few Albanian, Greek and Turkish dances. Fortunately, Horehronsky Čardáš  doesn’t seem to be that kind of Čardáš.   There is another usage for the Hungarian term Csárdás, and that’s for a dance that progresses from slow to fast – as many Hungarian dances do. 

After publishing this post, John Uhlemann wrote to clarify why this dance is called Čardáš: ““Csárdás” is a dance rhythm using the so-called “Verbunkos” style, with the emphasis on every beat (until the fast part). Before that, most 2/4 dance music in Hungary was “tempo giusto” (as Bartók pointed out) – what some groups would call “ugrós” rhythm (think “olahos”). The Hungarian Karizázó (women’s circle dance) was present for hundreds of years, usually done to singing alone. The Slovak equivalent was the Karička (from the Indo-European root word for wheel) (think of the recreational folk dance “kalina”). Many of these were in Csárdás rhythm because that was the new style190 years ago, and there were many songs in that style. All the songs in that style could be danced as couple dances or using the same steps in the circle. Unlike Scandinavian dances (turning dances with an interlocking step that requires 2 people), Slovak and Hungarian couple dances are “circle dances for 2 people”, so in Slovakia, as in Hungary, the Karička could use Čardaš music for circle dances. I saw several such when I was at the Vychodna festival in Slovakia years ago.”

The source for Horehronsky Čardáš, Anatol Joukowsky, was one of the early “authorities” in the folk dance movement.  His book The Teaching of Ethnic Dance, was based on research trips he made in the 1920’s & 1930’s throughout Eastern Europe, when most ‘peasant’ dances were dying out. Although his book claimed his dances were observed in village settings, information on the sources of individual dances is lacking. Joukowsky was trained in classical ballet, became a principal dancer and most of his life he was a choreographer for ballet companies in Europe and California. Dances he ‘presented’ have a theatrical, even balletic feel, and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine he ‘improved’ what were originally folk steps.  

What we know is that Horehronsky Čardáš is choreographed such that it can only be performed to one particular record – a 1953 recording in grand symphonic style of the famous Slovak folk song “To Ta Hel’pa”.   Hel’pa is a town in the Horehron region, and the song tells of a girl who could have her pick of any boy in that town, but there’s only one she fancies.

Slovak folk songs have a characteristic architecture. Where we sing a verse, then a chorus, then back to the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc., (or A,B,A,B,A,B) some Slovak songs, and “To Ta Hel’pa” in particular, sing verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse (A,A,B,A,B,A). This form is the key to understanding the dance. The chorus (B) is always the same footwork, but the verse (A) section changes.

For lyrics, click https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-english-translations/to-ta-helpa-horehronsky-cardas/ and https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-singable-english/horehronsky-cardas-singable-to-ta-helpa/

For sheet music, click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/sheet-music/horehronsky-cardas-sheet-music/

Joukowsky says the dance is in circle formation for girls only.  Since ‘Čardáš’ usually means a couple dance, further suspicion is cast on its ‘authenticity’. However women’s circle dances are abundant in Slovakia, and most are of a more ancient lineage than the Čardáš.

Although Slovaks are immensely proud of their folk dance heritage, most wedding parties today feature polkas, waltzes, and other more modern dances. One only sees folk dancing on a stage. There the women’s circle dances are performed by large groups of trained dancers in beautiful costumes, going through elaborate choreographies. Here’s a couple of examples specific to the Horehron region.

Notice the costumes – how the skirts fly! I’m convinced the girls danced that way on purpose. It’s built in to their skirts.

Now let’s get down to our dance Horehronsky Čardáš.  The only examples of it in video are performed by hobbyist International Folk Dance groups.  After all, that’s who it was created for, and that’s the only place the dance exists..  All of them lack the precision and energy of ‘real’ Slovak dances, partly due to the way they’re filmed, partly because these people are not so highly trained, partly because they they’re not Slovaks.  I’m saying all this not to be critical, but because I still think this is a wonderful dance.  It’s a favorite of most groups I’m familiar with, and I think that’s because it feels so good to do.  It’s just that you wouldn’t know it watching these videos.

A different recording, somewhat altered choreography. London, England

There are twists in this dance designed to make the skirt swirl. Apparently it can be overdone. Women these days aren’t used to long skirts with many petticoats and tend to adopt belly-dance-style pelvic swivels when a simple pivot will do.

Detailed instructions can be found here: http://folkdancenotes.com/dancenotes/horehronsky.htm

Comments:

John Uhlemann wrote [Thanks a LOT, John!]:

Yes, Horehronsky Čardáš (thanks for spelling it correctly) is a choreography for American folkdance groups, but it is not defective because it is a circle dance from Women. “Csárdás” is a dance rhythm using the so-called “Verbunkos” style, with the emphasis on every beat (until the fast part). Before that, most 2/4 dance music in Hungary was “tempo giusto” (as Bartók pointed out) – what some groups would call “ugrós” rhythm (think “olahos”). The Hungarian Karizázó (women’s circle dance) was present for hundreds of years, usually done to singing alone. The Slovak equivalent was the Karička (from the Indo-European root word for wheel) (think of the recreational folk dance “kalina”). Many of these were in Csárdás rhythm because that was the new style190 years ago, and there were many songs in that style. All the songs in that style could be danced as couple dances or using the same steps in the circle. Unlike Scandinavian dances (turning dances with an interlocking step that requires 2 people), Slovak and Hungarian couple dances are “circle dances for 2 people”, so in Slovakia, as in Hungary, the Karička could use Čardaš music for circle dances. I saw several such when I was at the Vychodna festival in Slovakia years ago.

Finally, the first example you gave is of a dance from Terchova. While in the political borders of Slovakia, Terchova is not in an ethnographic zone with any other part of Slovakia / it is Tatra Mountaineer culture – the same as The Góral folks in Poland. (Terchova is in an island of that culture a bit south from the border, in the Mala Fatra). Note the instrumentation, costumes, and the music in “lydian mode” (the so-called Highlander scale) – a major scale with a raised 4th , making it sound “out of tune”. Check out dance youtubes from the Podhale region of Poland to see what I mean. Try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1k7ECTsSY4&pbjreload=10 – this is far from the best, but at 1:20 the dance starts and the couple turning step is the same as you showed. The old films from this region, from both sides of the Polish /Slovak border, are revelatory. These folks speak the same dialect – years ago I was on a raft on the Bialy Dunajec river, which is the border up there, and the raftsmen from each side would trade jokes at each other.

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