*a Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.
For historical, cultural, and geographical background of the Moldova region, click here.
Text in this article is largely excerpted from the landmark English-language book on Romanian dance; Romanian Traditional Dance, by Anca Giurchescu with Sunni Bloland, Wild Flower Press, 1995. Excerpts are in italics.
Dances of Eastern Moldova
The 3 eastern counties, Iași, Vaslui, and Galați,
Giurchescu: This zone includes the plains and low hills which lie between the Siret and Prut rivers in eastern Moldavia. An older stratum of the traditional repertoire has a close affinity to the mountainous areas of Moldavia while the southern sector of eastern Moldavia, including j. Galați,, seem to be an extension of the traits specific to the Danube Plain. The divergence of the repertoire in this zone is due to an accelerated and distinct evolutionary pattern along with the strong influence of the semi-cultivated dances which flourished in the eastern Moldavian zone prior to the turn of the century. The numerous variants of the Turning Polca type or of the Set Walking and Turning Couple Dances are either local adaptations of the well known and widespread polka type or else indigenous creations based on the polka model. Local people consider these dances part of their traditional inheritance and call them by the generic term Polcuțe (little polkas).
Among the group dance types, (such as Hora mare dreaptă, Hora pe bătaie and Corăgheasca) the Common Sârba and Sărba with Commands are the most frequent. The periodic alternation of sequences of fast, small running steps with stamping steps and stamps in place accented on the up beat, with sharp interrupting pauses between the two, give these variants their “rhythm dominated” characteristic. In j. Iași, the originally small-group turning dance with stamping steps of the type Tărăneasca (locally called Ruseasca) is generally performed in couples. In j. Vaslui, Hora is also often performed in couples while Sârba is danced simultaneously in a semicircle, small circle, and in couples.
Among the local current repertoire of 15 to 20 dances, only Sârba, Hora, Ruseasca, and variants of the Turning-Polca types are commonly performed at the Vilage HORA. The remainder are preserved only as part of the latent repertoire. At dance events the current repertoire alternates in cycles with standard ballroom dances. The traditional fund also includes dances belonging to the shepherd’s repertoire, for example, Leaping over Sticks, Masked dances, plays, processions for the New Year celebration are still very much alive in this ethnochoreographic zone.
Dances of Western Moldova
The 3 western counties, Neamț, Bacău, and Vrancea,
Situated between the east Carpathian chain and the Siret River, this plateau region has dance characteristics that are closely related to those of the Carpathian milieu. Specifically these traits are derived from the men’s corps types from northern Moldavia. In the extreme western portion of the zone, near the mountains, the back and forth wanderings of shepherds has encouraged the interpenetration and melding of dance characteristics from both the Transylvanian and Moldavian slopes. Variants of the Turning Polcă type from eastern Moldavia and types from the Muntenian sub-Carpathian area have also penetrated this zone.
The typical village repertoire contains 18 to 25 dances of which 10 too 12 belong to the traditional fund. The series of dances are performed in a suite beginning with the Hora, followed by the Sârba, and ending with the small circle couple dances such as Ruseasca in j. Neamț, Ardelenește in j. Bacău, the Hora pe bătaie type, variants of the common Sârba with stamping steps, and the Brău type called Corăghește are most important to the local repertoire.
Couple dances are beginning to compete for popularity with the older group dances. The couple dances are lively and are taking on the dynamic force of the group dances by incorporating stamping steps. In the same area, especially in j. Bacău, the old practice of masked dances and processions for the New Year have undergone contemporary adaptation and is still vital. Especially interesting are the groups of Irozi who, costumed in women’s skirts and carrying sticks or swords, accompany the bear mask.
The southern part of western Moldavia called Vrancea “country” was quite isolated up to World War II. As a result, a rich tradition of rituals related to the life cycle, most notable the performance of masked dances and plays at the wake prior to burial, was preserved up until the mid-1960’s. Variants of the Shepherd’s Corps Springing Dances and the skill-dance Leaping over Sticks may still be seen even today. The Brâu (De tare or Burjucu) of this microzone is related to that of northern Muntenia though here it is performed as a solo dance of high virtuosity accompanied by versified shouts. The most frequent dance throughout Vrancea is De doi [for two], a variant of Breaza, but performed in a variety of formations including couples, threesomes, and the linked group. An interesting example of two dances merging into one is Jumătate de joc (half-dance) the first half of which is a Hora the second a Sârba.
Dances of Northern Moldova
The 2 northern counties- Suceava and Botoșani
The 2 northernmost counties- Suceava and Botoșani are similar to Bucovina – Romanian territory taken by the Austrian Empire in 1775 and only partly returned. In fact, Suceava consists mostly of territory formerly called Bucovina.
With regard to the structure and mode of dancing, this part of Moldavia possesses a strong affinity to Maramureș and the inter-Carpathian region in northeastern Transylvania. The dance of northern Moldova is also closely related to the mountainous areas of Muntenia and southern Transylvania. All these affinities suggest an ethnochoreographic unity along the Carpathian chain.
There is greater vitality in the dance tradition of the north in comparison to the central and southern parts of Moldavia, and the repertoire of approximately 25 dances is broadly represented at the most important dance events. Although the Village HORA, locally called strînsura (gathering), is no longer organized on a regular basis, dancing still plays an important role in the social and artistic life of each community, especially at rugă (Patron Saint’s Day), at weddings, and all important holidays throughout the year.
Traditionally each community organizes its dances into a fairly fixed suite according to a pattern: an introductory Hora mare, followed by a series of mixed or men’s group dances, (for example, Trilişeşti, Arcanul, Sîrba, Usăreasca), succeeded by set couple dances of various types, and almost always closed by the rapid, small-group circling dance țărănească (Ruseasca).
As mentioned in the description of eastern Moldavia, couple dances of the polka type penetrated the local fund in the second half of the 19th century, increased in popularity, and developed into a large number of variants. At present they seem to dominate every dance event. The most popular are the little polkas or Polcuțe and turning couple dances such as Bătuta de doi that are derived from the most popular group forms and which incorporate vigorous stamping steps.
Among the group dance types of the traditional fund are the Hora mare dreaptă variants, such as Hora bătrînească and Hora din Bucovina with their moderate tempos and “elegant” easy swaying movements in 6/8. These qualities imply, hypothetically, the presence of a refinement process via the cultivated milieu. In contrast, variants of the Hora pe bătaie type in syncopated rhythm are very vigorous, requiring much energy and vitality for their execution. The Sîrba category is represented by the Fixed Form and by Sîrba with Commands types. Of this large and still vital category the best known variants are Arcanul and Coasa, which incorporate imitative gestures.
you can see something like this at almost any wedding or holiday in rural Bucovina