Lesnoto is not a Macedonian dance

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 [T-7U variety – see BEGIN}, 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!

COMMENT:

By Bob Leibman

Just happened on your website as I was looking for some things online. So, I am curious as to where you are located and do I know you. Somewhere in here I think I saw it as Don Buskirk? Since I have been at this for about 20 years more than you, I suspect I may have met you at some time. I live in Austin and have met with Ron a few times over the years.

I was caught by the title of your blog Lesnoto is not a Macedonian Dance and by now have seen a little bit more – taproot dance, and your T4, T6, etc. I need to look at it a bit more closely. I have a structural approach to describing many families of Balkan dances based on the number of weight shifts in each of the dance measures in the dance.

But on Lesnoto, it is true that several alternative names you mentioned might be used for the dance, although probably most frequently people will ask for a particular song to which they want to dance. Note that the “taproot dance” may appear in both 7/8 and 2/4 (and other meters) – though Lesnoto in particular might more usually refer to the 7/8 variant (more on this later). As you mention Dick Crum’s comment, Lesnoto – with the Serbian linguistic equivalent, Lako kolo, in parentheses – is #13 in the Janković sisters’ Narodne Igre v.1, published 1934. Interestingly it appears as one of six dances which they see as all being the same, all from Mijak villages.The dances are #10 Tropnalo oro, #11 Sadilo mome, #12 Janinke, #13 Lesnoto, #14 Popat hodi, konja vodi, #15 Gu, gu, Galeno bre. In fact, they say “the following are all danced the same way as also many other South Serbian dances.” (At that time Macedonia was South Serbia)

Now, Tropnalo and Sadilo as we learned them in the 60s are 12 measure dances similar to Potrčulka, still done in eastern Macedonia. But a given tune is sometimes used for dancing another dance in the same meter.

Also of interest is that they recognize dance structure as being danceable in different meters – i.e. the above dance
are not all in the same meter. Tropnalo, Lesnoto, Gu,gu are said to be in 3/4 and Sadilo in 3/8, Janinke and Popat hodi are in 2/4. Meters other than 2/4 were often described incorrectly (by current norms which were established a bit later than late 30s) So the 3/4 was likely 7/8, the 3/8 was likely 7/16). They do comment on the 3/4 vs 2/4 in that
beats 12 3 in 3/4 corresponds to 1 2 in 2/4.

Tropnalo oro is the only one they describe beat by beat, rhe others being essentially “see Tropnalo,”

They have a note after Tropnalo “This kolo is danced in winter on festive days. It is a mixed, men and women’s kolo. The dancers hold each other by the underarm (they hold the edge of the armhole in their neighbors’ vest (- arms crossed as in belt hold, but higher). The leader will let go of his neighbor from time to time and perform a turn to right (CW) in place.

After Janinke, they say “They dance and sing this as the first dance – as a call to dance.”.

Now they also list Lesnoto as #7 in their volume 4, published in 1948, fourteen years later than v. 1. This is the section of volume 4 which is devoted to dances of the Mijaks (Mijaci). They do not do another desciption of the basic dance, but they add the following note:
“The variant which we describe here differs from the previous to the extent that figures in which all dancers turn together, and figures of squatting, are inserted in the course of dancing at a signal by the leader. If all of the dancers are to make a circular turn to the right, the leader will make a quick,wide movement of his right hand (and the large red kerchief in it) about himself from left to right, to call for squatting, the leader will make a sharp downward move with his right hand. This way of performing these are new, however, it has a basis in the figures of individual turning and squatting of a dancer in the kolo according to his momentary feeling / this is the old way.”

It should be noted that they published the music for the Lesnoto in v.1, 1934, in a supplemental collection Melodies of Folk Dances, published in 1937. A second melody appears in v. 4 where music for all of the dances in that volume appear at the back. (Just to suggest that there are specific melodies associated with the dance as well as all of the other melodies to which one might do a dance of that type.

Vladimir Janevski, in Etnokoreološki Karakteristički na Makedonskite Narodni Ora (Po Izbrani Primeri).
says that according to Jovan Hadživasiljević in Kumanovska oblast, Južna stara Srbija, Beograd 1909 pp 393/397, among dances he lists for the Skopje area are Krstatno, Ramno or Lesno and Teško, Prao (Pravo), Povračano, Vraćano, Kl’ckano, Lisa, and Postupano. Note the 4 that refer to same basic structure. Janevski himself, uses Lesnoto as a “type” which is really its primary use these days. For example, Mihajlo Dimovski, a young ethnorchoreologist in the early 70s has an article in Makedonski folklor #11, 1973, in which he discusses “variants of the oro and oro/related songs of the type ‘Lesnoto’ in Struga and the Struga area.

Your blog really got me going, but it also relates to a relatively recent discovery (to me). I spent much time in former Yugoslavia and Macedonia specifically from 1965-1973 and was dancing here in the states from 1963 to the present, but it was only since 2002 since I began spending time in the Balkans again that I became aware of how 2/4 Lesno tunes and 7/8 Lesno tunes are dealt with in Pirin and Aegean Macedonia. Tunes in 2/4 are generally danced the same way in Bulgaria and Greece, i.e. Pravo, Za rame, etc,, but those in 7/8 are danced as Shirto in Pirin and Syrtos in Northern Greece. These are 4 measure dances, rather than 3 measure, totally different structures.

One last comment, I just looked a bit more at your taproot and the related dances in which I think Tx uses total weight shifts as x. (Maybe I am wrong). But if you look at all of the dancers doing a Lesno, depending on how much variation exists in a particular area – greater homogeneity in the dancing in some areas than others – in addition to several variations based on S S S _ S _ where _ is a lift, touch, etc, but non- weight/shift, there are often dancers who do additional weight shifts in those blank areas – S S SQQ SQQ or S S QQS QQS, etc. So if you look at the number of weight shifts in each dance measure you see

S S S _ S _ 211 but also S S SQQ SQQ 2 3 3 or even QQQQ SQQ SQQ 4 3 3, now look at parity (even or odd) and you see they are all Even Odd Odd or 011. I think this better reflects the greater number of possibilities. Note that this also includes basic Devetoriks. QQQS QQQ(S) QQQ(S) where the (S) are a touch, but no weight shift, or two very quick steps, 2 weight shifts. So 4 3 3 or 4 5 5, even odd odd 011.

I like what you were doing in showing relationships between various families, more by addition and subtraction, but I think you might find looking at parity of weight shifts per dance measure rather than simply the number of weight shifts per total dance phrase may offer more.
Hi Bob
Thanks for these informed and detailed comments. No, we haven’t met, (I’ve spent all of my folkdance life in the fringes of the Vancouver, Canada area) but I certainly know of you, have seen a brief introduction to your dance notation system, and have one of your record albums. My knowledge and experience are nowhere close to yours, so I’ll accept your comments based on your reputation. I agree my presentation is overly simplistic. My aim is not to be definitive so much as provide a broad general introduction, with emphasis on what’s happening today. I’m going to add your comments to the end of my ‘Lesnoto’ posting, and to the Taproot varities posting. Don I like what you were doing in showing relationships between various families, more by addition and subtraction, but I think you might find looking at parity of weight shifts per dance measure rather than simply the number of weight shifts per total dance phrase may offer more.

Glad I found your site and do let me know whether we know each other from some place or other.

Hope that I have put my reply in the correct place.

Bob Leibman

Hi Bob
Thanks for these informed and detailed comments. No, we haven’t met, (I’ve spent all of my folkdance life in the fringes of the Vancouver, Canada area) but I certainly know of you, have seen a brief introduction to your dance notation system, and have one of your record albums. My knowledge and experience are nowhere close to yours, so I’ll accept your comments based on your reputation. I agree my presentation is overly simplistic. My aim is not to be definitive so much as provide a broad general introduction, with emphasis on what’s happening today. I’m going to add your comments to the end of my ‘Lesnoto’ posting, and to the Taproot varities posting. Don

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