Horehronsky Čardáš

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.
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.  Here’s an example – the closest I could find to a “pure” peasant Čardáš .
Since I have deliberately excluded couple dances from my workshops, that also excludes most Hungarian, Czech, & Slovak, many Transylvanian, and some Serbian & Croatian dances. Fortunately, Horehronsky Čardáš  doesn’t seem to be that kind of Čardáš – maybe it isn’t a Čardáš at all.  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.  Perhaps that’s what kind of Čardáš this is.
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 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 an architecture unlike any other country.  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.
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.
Here’s an example of something closer to what probably occurred in ‘the village’. There’s 3 dances shown here – it’s the second “Do Kolesa” I’m referring to.
Notice the costumes – how the skirts fly!  I’m convinced the girls danced that way on purpose.  It’s built in to their skirts.
Inline image 1
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 dancing for an audience, 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.
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.

For song lyrics, translation, and singable English translation, see To Ta Hel’pa (Horehronsky Čsardáš) under Music


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