There are many legends concerning the origins of this dance and the origins of its name. Most tell the tale of WW2 refugees being seen performing the dance, but due to language barriers the viewer couldn’t find out the name of the dance or the origin of the dancers, so the viewer called it Yugo, as it resembled Yugoslavian dancing. Thanks to determined research by Ron Houston, including contributions from eight others, a clearer picture has emerged.
From the Folk Dance Problem Solver, ©2002 by Ron Houston: “In late 1945, Hiug (pronoiunced HOYkh) Hofman (a Flemish Belgian, hence, the single “f”) and several of his Flemish dance group, including Jan Wouters, were invited to a displaced persons internment camp in Mechelen, about 24km south of Antwerp, to demonstrate folk dances and to lead recreational dancing. Hofman, ever the avid researcher and collector, asked the internees to share one or two of their dances. Some of the Yugoslavs there showed the steps of a dance which Hofman labeled Joego (Flemish/Dutch spelling of the Slavic prefix meaning ‘south’ or ‘southern’). According to famous folk dance researcher and teacher Ricky Holden, who interviewed Wouters again in 2002, the Yugoslavs knew quite well that the dance was Jewish – they never claimed it was Slavic.”
That explains how the dance got the name, and gives a clue to its origin. Houston also discovered an article in the Oct 1967 issue of Viltis, writen by Vyts Beliajus, wherein he describes a 3-part Hora, which he called Hiney Lo Yanum (Hineh Lo Yanum – beware, several unrelated dances have the same name), which bears some resemblence to what would later be called Jugo. Vyts says he learned the dance from American Zionist Youth groups, published it in his 1940 book Dance and be Merry, and guessed it had been around since about 1930, possibly earlier.
In 1953, Miriam Lidster taught Hiney Lo Yanum at Stockton. She added the subtitle (Horra Variation), and changed the steps slightly.
- The plot thickens with a tale of record label numbers. By 1953, Folkraft records had issued #FK1122 – Hiney Lo Yanum, a 26-bar arrangement which Lidster used to teach her (Horra Variations) dance above.
- Around 1961, Olga Lubitsky, phys ed teacher at Hunter College, CUNY, persuaded Folkraft Records to use Lidster’s dance description, now relocated as “Mid-European” for Track A-1 of a newly issued album, Folkraft FK LP-12, Israeli Folk Dances. The track’s title, Hora and Variations (Triple Hora). The music was a 48-bar arrangement by Hiug Hofman’s VDCV (VolkDansCentrale voor Vlaanderen – Flemish Folk Dance Organization). This is the recording still used today.
- Folkraft also issued FK 337-010a, Romanian Hora (Triple Hora), and
- FK 010x45a, Romanian Hora, (Triple Hora) – all three (Triple Hora’s) using the same music. Folkraft included various instructions with its records – none of which seem to be close to what is being danced today.
How the footwork to what we know today as Yugo emerged from its various sources remains a mystery. However, Ron Houston observes that by the time Huig Hofman presented his version of Jugo (Joego) at Stockton in 1968, similar versions had been presented at Ogelbay Institute in 1961, Kentucky Dance Institute in 1964, and Blue Star Israeli Folk Dance Camp in 1966.
- I could find no YouTubes of dancers self-proclaimed as Jewish doing either Yugo or Hineh Lo Yanum with this choreography. (Lots of other dances called Hineh Lo Yanum exist.) I could only find 3 YouTubes of recreational dancers doing Yugo, and all had captions in Italian. These YouTubes show the same general footwork as Hofman’s description above, with these notable exceptions:
- In all three, Part C moves to the left, and has a leap-hop pattern (two steps on each foot – 2 beats = R,R, or L,L, easier on the knees!) instead of one leap per beat (R,L,R,L,)
- In all three, Part B has a noticeable dip after the 5th step.
- In the third YouTube only, Part A starts to the left. This agrees with the dance description presented at Ogelbay, 1961.
CONCLUSION: We still don’t know much about Yugo. What we know is this: The only connection the dance has with Yugoslavia is that the only time it was seen performed, in 1945, the performers were Yugoslavian refugees (in Belgium.) However, they acknowledged the dance was not Slavic, but Jewish. We don’t know if the Yugoslavs demonstrated the dance as a whole or as an assortment of step patterns.
We don’t know if there was accompanying music. We don’t know where the 48-bar melody associated with Yugo came from, only that it appeared around 1961 on a recording by Hofman’s VDCV band. Most Jews in Yugoslavia were Sephardic, and their music and dance patterns are derived from Spanish, Arab, Turkish, & Greek traditions. The music for Yugo is closer to the music of Ashkenazic Jews – the Yiddish Jews of Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, where a major dance pattern is the Hora. Some Serbs, especially those close to the Romanain border, were familiar at that time with Romanian music and dances.
The dance moves of Yugo are closer to Ashkenazic traditions (hora) than Sephardic. They are in three parts. The first record released of the 48-bar music associated with Yugo was labeled Hora and Variations (Triple Hora), a later release of the same music was called Romanian Hora (Triple Hora). When Hofman taught Joego at Stockton in 1968, the record he used was by his band, labeled Romanian Hora (Triple Hora), so Hofman must have concluded the dance was Ashkenazic Jewish/Romanian.
There existed in 1930’s USA a dance by Zionist Jews (many of whose ancestors were from Romania) called Hineh Lo Yanum that was considered a 3-part Hora. The music was quite different from Yugo, but the steps had some similarities, even though the dance was 26-measures with a shoulder hold, as opposed to Yugo – 48 measures with a front basket hold. There appears to be no other evidence of the existence of this particular Hineh Lo Yanum, its ancestry or survival – no way of knowing if it was brought from the ‘old country’ or invented in the USA. The front basket hold is more common in Yugoslavia than Romania, and that hold was not associated with the dance until after its name was changed to Yugo and its origin was thought to be Yugoslavia. Many of Yugo‘s now-standard steps did not appear before 1961. So there may or may not be a connection between the 3-part Hora named Hineh Lo Yanum and the 3-part hora named Yugo.
Clearly, there is a Jewish ancestry of some kind in Yugo, if only because its original presenters said there was. Beyond that, nothing is certain.