S* is for Song (and Melody)
*S stands for Song, a category I apply to part of the repertoire of recreational folk dancers. Songs are just that – songs, or sometimes merely melodies, that are well-known in their country of origin, but aren’t necessarily associated with any particular dance. They may be traditional folk songs, or pop songs written in the folk style, or ‘pure’ pop creations that are dance-able. People will dance to them, but there is no culturally agreed upon ‘traditional’ dance that is particular to that song, just as we don’t associate any particular dance with “Blowin’ in the Wind” or “Lady Madonna”.
When Serbians hear Ajde Jano, for instance, they think of the song – it has special meaning for them on its own merits. If they want to dance while singing, they will do any a generic dance they already know that fits the rhythm – usually the Taproot Dance T-6. Here’s an example. Serbians don’t know the dance Ajde jano that was created by Anatol Joukowsky for recreational dancers. However that is what recreational folk dancers think of when they hear the words Ajde jano – a dance with musical accompaniment.
With a relatively recent folk-pop tune Katerino mome, I’ve found at least 5 different YouTubes featuring 5 different ‘dances’ by Bulgarians, with 5 different versions of the song as a background. Bulgarians are not confused by this. Katerino mome is a Song – whatever dancing is done to it doesn’t alter its essential identity.
However, when a folk dance instructor teaches recreational folk dancers a ‘new’ dance, using, for instance, Katerino mome for the music, the recreational dancer often considers the dance and song as a package, and doesn’t distinguish one from the other. No matter if the instructor is careful to say the song was not connected to the dance in the ‘old country’, the recreational dancer weds the two, often going so far as to name the dance after the song, and then using the song’s lyrics to inject meaning into the dance. Katerino mome is a case in point. When Ventzi Sotirov introduced his ‘version’ of Arap to recreational dancers, though it was essentially the same Arap as that introduced by Dick Crum 40 years earlier, he used the song Katerino mome to distinguish it from Dick Crum’s Arap, which used Zajko kokorajko. Rather than seeing both Araps as variations of the same dance, recreational dancers preferred to think of them as two separate dances, due to the different music.
I think it is useful to separate music from dances, especially 2nd Generation* dances, which comprise the bulk of the repertoire of recreational dancers. Often the songs or melodies in 2nd Generation dances are traditional folk songs or melodies, even if they have modern arrangements. They’re certainly a product of the culture attributed to them, which is something that isn’t so certain when it comes to the dances. Most dances taught today are ‘arranged folklore’ made up by someone (hopefully) familiar with the dance traditions of a country, but ‘enhanced’ to fit the arrangement of a particular recording. But to call a 2nd G Anatol Joukowsky dance like Jovano Jovanke Macedonian, because it has Macedonian folk moves, belies the fact that no one in Macedonia has danced that particular combination. The 2nd G Jovano Jovanke fixed choreography only works with a particular recording that has an instrumental break of 9 measures. Macedonians likely don’t know Jovano Jovanke has a choreography, even if most Macedonians know the song.
So why don’t I call all 2nd G dances “songs plus choreography”? Theoretically I could, but I’d like to reserve the S category for a particular kind of song. Sto mi e milo, for instance, is claimed by both North Macedonia and Bulgaria, and is very well known both inside and outside as a Song. Recreational folk dancers have long loved the song, and there are a few fairly simple foot patterns that seem to have developed from the recreational woodwork. That’s fine, not much different from what likely happens in the ‘old country’. Except in the ‘old country’ everyone knows they’re dancing to a song, whereas recreational folk dancers often think they’re doing a dance whose name happens to have the same name as the song. Some songs are so well known, so meaningful as songs, that I believe their identity as songs should be enshrined.
There’s also the case of songs like Katerino Mome, where an existing folk dance – Arap – appears to be a ‘new’ dance due to the ‘new’ title – the title of a song. Katerino Mome deserves to be recognized foremost as a Song that coincidentally is sometimes paired with the folk dance Arap.
*2nd Generation dance. A dance that developed and was disseminated in a non-traditional way. 2G dances are specific – have a fixed format designed to correspond with the arrangement of a particular recording, whereas 1G dances are generic – have a shorter sequence that works with live music – where many different songs are played and arrangements vary according to the tastes of musicians and dancers. For more on the differences between 1st & 2nd G dances click here.