Sandansko Horo is a melody recorded by Yves Moreau in 1970 in Blagoevgrad, Pirin, Bulgaria, made by “a group of four musicians (2 tamburas, 1 kaval, and one tarambuka) who were playing sitting down under a tree. They saw that I was carrying my tape recorder and invited me over to sit next to them and share some of their food and home made rakiya and to feel free to record them.…One tune I had never heard was particularly interesting. It had an unusual combination of 9/8 + 13/8 (or 13/8 + 9/8)” The quote is from a longer quotation by Yves Moreau, reproduced in its entirety below.
Yves Moreau, in personal email correspondence, 2021: “I wrote in my original personal notes that one of the tambura players I had recorded was from Lilyanovo (not Liljakovo) a village NE of Sandanski and I probably deducted at the time that the dance may also have been popular in that region. As for Ograzhden, I only know that it refers to a mountain which straddles the border between North Macedonia and Bulgaria. It is closer to the town of Petrich and definitely not close to the Sandanski region which is further North. [But could the town be Gara Ograzhden, a village near Lilyano? DB.]
If I recall correctly, the two tambura players in the band playing «Sandansko» were definitely Rom. Greek bouzouki music was quite popular then among Bulgarian tambura players in the Pirin region who regularly listened to Greek radio stations and often played Greek pop and folk music at weddings and in restaurants to show off their quick fingering techniques. In my opinion, the B melody for Sandansko on my recording is more in that «Greek style» and was not originally part of the main melody.”
Many more versions of Sandansko horo can be found at the bottom of this post. For updated information on the music, see New Information, below.
Sandansko, the Dance
Yves Moreau introduced Sandansko horo at Stockton in 1972, and it was an immediate hit.
A video of Yves performing Sandansko horo and 19 more of his dances can be ordered from him at http://www.bourque-moreau.com/bali.html
On July 30, 2019, a discussion began on the eefc listserve regarding the origins of the music to Sandansko. The next day, Yves Moreau, to his eternal credit, wrote an extensive letter clarifying how he got the music, (and dance).
“During one of my many trips to Bulgaria to collect folk dances and music, I attended a folklore festival in Blagoevgrad in February 1970 which featured singers, dancers and musicians from the Pirin region. On the final day of the event, many of the performers gathered in one of the city parks for a big picnic during which there was some nice impromptu music and dancing. That is when I came across a group of four musicians (2 tamburas, 1 kaval, and one tarambuka) who were playing sitting down under a tree. They saw that I was carrying my tape recorder and invited me over to sit next to them and share some of their food and home made rakiya and to feel free to record them. They played some nice Pirin songs and dance tunes in 2/4 and 7/8 meter, many of which I recognized. One tune I had never heard was particularly interesting . It had an unusual combination of 9/8 + 13/8 (or 13/8 + 9/8) . At some point, a group of young people who were sitting nearby stood up and started to dance to this tune. I had never seen this dance before. I joined them for a while and did my best to figure out the sequence. I could not afford movie equipment at that time and could only write down in my notebook the steps and the sequence. After the playing and dancing, I asked one of the musicians what this tune/dance was called and he answered «Sandansko Horo» . I figured that it came from the nearby town of Sandanski where the tambura was very popular. The four talented musicians also mentioned to me that they were members of the professional State Ensemble «Pirin» based in Blagoevgrad.“
“I never saw this dance again or heard musicians play it during my subsequent trips to Bulgaria. I introduced the dance to recreational folk dancers at the Stockton Folk Dance Camp in the summer of 1972. I used the recording I had made in 1970. It was released on a vinyl 45rpm by Worldtone Records in New York as part of a series of 5 records which I used for my dance workshops. Besides Sandansko Horo, some of the other dances included Batuta, Osmica, Preskačanka, Sadi Moma and Starčeska Râčenica. The same recording also appears on CD Vol. 3 of my «Beyond the Mystery-Village music of Bulgaria» series. The dance quickly became popular among dance groups all over North America and is still danced to this day. Musicians also seem to enjoy playing it probably because of its challenging rhythm. A few years ago I made a search on Youtube and compiled dozens of clips of bands playing it with various musical instruments and styles from countries as varied as the USA, England, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Brasil, Australia, Greece, Taiwan and even… Bulgaria! This is when I realized that my original 1970 recording had made its way far and wide. In 1992, kaval player Theodosii Spassov and his quartet played Sandansko on a CD which Jaap Leegwater and myself co-produced and released in Bulgaria with Gega records.”
“It is only in the year 2000 that I heard the same tune again in the form of a folk song on a very nice CD featuring Bulgarian singer Pepa Koutcheva, a native of WesternThrace. The song was called «Ivan na Rada Dumashe» and the liner notes mentioned that it was a popular song all over Thrace!“
“Around that same time, Iliana Bozhanova introduced a dance to the song «Radi Le» which was in the same rhythm but with a different melody. Iliana told me that the song came from the Strandzha region (the very Eastern part of Thrace) and that there were several Thracian songs in this meter.”
“Melissa Miller’s e-mail confirms this information when she writes [in the eefc litserve – DB] about learning a song with almost the identical melody as the original «Sandansko» at the Mendocino Balkan Camp from Svetla Angelova, who told her that the song came from the region of Haskovo in Thrace. The steps to Ilyana Bozhanova’s dance «Radi Le» are however completely different from the «Sandansko» I had learned.“
“Many questions still remain : What is the real origin of the dance Sandansko Horo I learned in 1970? Pirin or Thrace? Why did I never encounter it again during later trips to Bulgaria? Did the young people with whom I danced it in Blagoevgrad in 1970 make it up? I know now that the melody and meter are obviously common in the Trakya-Strandzha ethnographic region. One of my theories is that possibly because of my limited knowledge of the Bulgarian language in 1970, could I have confused «Sandansko Horo» with «Strandzhansko Horo»…? A case of «lost in translation» ?”
CONCLUSION: Based on Yves Moreau’s letter to the eefc listserve, it seems the origin of the music and footwork to what Yves labeled Sandansko horo are uncertain. Yves never saw it again in Bulgaria, and I know of no one else who claims to have seen it, either. Similar melodies with the same rhythm can definitely be found in Strandja and Thrace, but not connected to footwork resembling what Yves saw done by associates of a Pirin performing group in Blagoevgrad. Until I know of evidence that the footwork represents a traditional dance, I’m labeling it a 2nd Generation dance. However, that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying this dance tremendously!