During my 38 years of folk dancing experience in IFD groups in North America, I’ve heard the consistent message that Lesnoto is a Macedonian dance, perhaps THE Macedonian dance. Lesno is Macedonian for “light or easy”; adding -to makes Lesnoto, “the light or easy one”. The dance can be performed to MANY songs. In fact Lesnoto medleys consisting of several songs are in IFD groups’ repertoires. The footwork is our old friend the Taproot Dance to the right – step, step, step, lift, step, lift.
During my 7 years of browsing the internet for native examples of folk dances, I have NEVER found an example of a dance called Lesnoto being performed in Macedonia. Not that the dance doesn’t exist – almost any YouTube of a Macedonian wedding (called a svadba) will show people dancing the Taproot Dance, usually in its step, step, step, touch, step, touch, form. I’m told there are alternative or more up-to-date terms for the dance, like makedonsko oro, bavno oro, bavnoto, pravo oro, pravoto, ramnoto, za ramo, etc. Well, I did find one makedonsko oro, but as it translates as “Macedonian Dance”, and other YouTubes called makedonsko oro display non-related dances, I don’t think the labelers are referring to the footwork as much as the event.
Same for Svadbarsko Oro, which translates as “Wedding Dance”.
Sometimes you can find the dance by searching song titles – the most popular being Makedonsko Devojče
Oops! I did get one hit Googling Pravoto, but it was subtitled Makedonsko Devojče!
Now there is a dance that looks a lot like a slow version of the Taproot dance, it’s common at Macedonian weddings, and it even uses the step, step, step, lift, step, lift, pattern we associate with Lesnoto. It seems to be primarily for men, and it’s called Gaida, which means “bagpipe”. Nowadays wedding bands aren’t often equipped with bagpipes, but they retain the traditional melody.
Some versions would be difficult for women in wedding frocks to do. This dance is also popular in Albania & Macedonian Greece.
So it’s not as if Macedonians are loathe to label dances at weddings. In fact, they name almost all the dances. I have a theory that Macedonians don’t have a name for their most common dance, because it’s so ubiquitous they don’t consider it a separate dance. They don’t need a name – it’s just what everyone does at weddings. Other sets of moves need names to distinguish them from this vanilla dance.
How then did we non-Macedonians come to believe their very common wedding dance was called Lesnoto? The 2001 Folk Dance Problem Solver quotes Dick Crum as crediting the pioneering dance collectors the Janković sisters, who learned the term lesnoto and some steps in Beograd, Serbia “in 1934 from a group of migrant workers (pečalbari) belonging to the Mijak tribe of western Macedonia.” The term spread among dance ethnographers for any of the 6-count (Taproot) pattern dances, and then to folk dancers who used it more narrowly. We non-Macedonians needed a name ’cause it’s not vanilla to us, so we latched on to the first one that was vaguely appropriate – lesnoto.
By the way, there is one non-IFD YouTube using the term Lesnoto to refer to the common Macedonian dance – and it’s from Belgrade!