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Norvald Nilsen (Norway)

Living folkdance and the liberal free market

Nilsen, Norvald: ”Living folkdance and the liberal free market”, ...

Many foreign dances are used/performed in North-West Europe, in the United States and Australia. Much of this dance material has come (and comes) from countries and regions in the North-Eastern part of the Mediterranean and South-East Europe. This market requires constantly new repertory of dances, thus instructors from countries like Greece, Bulgaria , Rumania, FYROM, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia are invited to give courses. These instructors can be divided in two categories:

- Those who are more or less honest and faithful to this culture. They present dance material that is representative for their country and many of its inhabitants.

- Those who present dance material of doubtful cultural origin. They furnish children and adults with a distorted picture of folk culture amongst people in the inner Mediterranean countries.

Most of these dance courses are held by the International Folkdance Clubs, as in our part of Europe. But since dances from this milieu leak out into our school system, also our children and youth will, sooner or later, meet this dance material. This kind of material on folk culture will of course influence their views of other peoples.

There is a lot of money (hard currency) in this market and many instructors are trying to get their share. It could be important (or a temptation) to find (or make/invent) “popular” or “nice” dances in an attempt to be invited again, to “actualize” oneself.

What does this market want? Many participants in this milieu are not very educated in, or aware of, what they are dancing. What do they want?

Definitely not couple dances, since the majority of participants are women. They want collective chain and round dances. We will now proceed to look at five categories of dances from the Inner Mediterranean area, and see which dances are reaching this international market.

1. The easy dances, the most common ones

These dances are the most common ones in the countries we in the International Folkdance Clubs import dances from. More than 90 % of the dances from the Balkans are of this type. Almost all of them are danced in an open circle with a leader, and with great room for improvisation. They can be grouped in subcategories like the ones below (see Lisbet Torp: Chain and Round Dance patterns, Copenhagen 1990).

- Dances with sequences over two bars of music.

- Dances over three bars of music.

- Dances over four bars of music.

Many of our members will say that these dances are too boring for use in a club. They are not challenging enough to give club members pleasure. Even if they are very representative of the culture of another nation, for many of our members it is more important to give the body and memory a workout.

Others will claim that it is important to use these dances in schools, not least for the purpose of giving children a more truthful picture of a people and its culture.


Sta tria/Gaida - Greece

Hasaposerviko - Greece

Kasap - Turkey

Syrtós (Kalamatianós)/Sirto/Kasapsko - Greece/Pirin/FYROM

Kolo - Serbia

Cucuk - Bulgaria

Kopanitza - Bulgaria

Kotsarí - Greece

Halay - Turkey

Sirba - Rumania

Tsourápia/Hromatista/Daitsjovo horo/Cocek - Greece/Bulgaria/FYROM

2. The not so easy dances

These dances are also representative of local people and culture, and are well suited for use in clubs and schools. They are danced by many persons in the milieus we collect them from, and give a good picture of a folk dance culture. Most of them are danced in an open circle with a leader, often with room for improvisation, and there are enough of them for both educational work and club use.

But it is necessary to verify (and re-verify, as people’s own culture is not fixed and locked, it is changing in a continuing process) [2] them from primary sources, that is from the people themselves, from the “owners”, and in co-operation with local scientists [1], e.g. on video, and to be willing to clean up non-serious dance material that has been presented as genuine or authentic. There is a lot of unverified dance material being used in the Norwegian and Nordic school systems, even in school textbooks, and in the education of teachers of music and gymnastics. These dances I will label as “Nordic” variations of genuine foreign dances. And I am sure we will find the same situation in USA, Germany and Austalia.


Haniótikos - Greece

Tik - Greece

Tsamikos - Greece

Paiduska/Paidusko/Baiduska - Greece/Bulgaria/FYROM

Eleno Mome/Eleni/Elenitza- Greece/Bulgaria

Levendikos/Poustseno/Berance - Greece/FYROM

Loveshko horo - Bulgaria

Berance - FYROM

Vlachoula - Greece

3. The not so common, even difficult, dances

These are often special dances for special occasions, i.e. seasons and celebrations, or dances asociated with historical occasions or specific geographical areas. These dances are not so representative, but they are still useful for clubs and education. They often represent a physical challenge, and of course we have to verify them too.


Yérikos - Greece

Ourmanli havasí - Greece

Ni ke dre - Greece

Baskovsko - Bulgaria

Sjetvorno - Bulgaria

Jeni jol - FYROM

Ovcepolska potrculka - FYROM

4. Suites and fixed-sequence dances

Now we have left folk culture and we have moved into the field of constructions. Category no. 4 is comprised of dances made for the International Folk Dance Movement or taken from stage versions in their homeland. Their starting-point was local people’s own dances, but patterns and variations from several villages have been put together into tour dances with fixed progression.

This dances satisfy many club members’ desire to execute dances with no need for improvisation. Such dances, which in their homeland’s context have a leader who by signs tells the group when to change dance figures, are changed into fixed sequence dances with predefined succession: “four times the first figure, two times the second figure, etc.”. They are often danced in a closed circle, and often also with the same music/tape every time, even if there are different recordings available.

Most of them are developed by male choreographers for female participants on a combination of dance-course and holiday, and they satisfy the demand as “challenging” for body and mind. But spontaneity and creativity are taken away, although the people on the course get what they want.

I do not see any major problems when using this material in the Folk Dance Clubs, provided members know what they get. On the other hand, these suites should not be used in school as “genuine” folk culture from an area. In my opinion we are better off using more time on the basic dance material, so that participants can have the opportunity to improvise within frameworks similar to those existing in the culture of origin.

As mentioned, many of these dances (as well as many in category 5) are collected from entertainment milieus in host countries. When a folk dance is moved from floor to stage, many alterations may happen to the dance:

a) The dance is taken out of context, and gets a new purpose. The dance has no longer just a goal in itself, but must be amusing and attractive to watch. The dance may be made frontal, opened up and stylized.

b) The dances and the dancers may be synchronized so that the group should look good, thus individual variations may be taken away. The diversity of ordinary people may disappear.

c) Dance versions may be made to be in synchrony with the music, even where asynchron timing is an important part of the dance. Sometimes the instructors even record new and special music to suit the choreography (especially in Bulgaria).


De strigat - Romania

Hangurile - Romania

“Zorba” - (USA?)

Hasapikos (fixed versions)

Kitka ot Gela - Rhodopes/Bulgaria

Paiduska (e.g. over 16 bars of music)

Tai tai - Greece

Rumanian suite

Serbian suite

Oj devojce - FYROM

5. Dance compositions

This last category is, fortunately, not so widespread as the previous ones. But we have a lot of such dances within the International Folk Dance Movement, and in the education of gymnastics teachers i.e. in Norway and the Nordic countries. These dances are even more a result of some instructors’ stress for re-actualisation and promotion in the market, and the people get what they want. Even local seminar arrangers (some of them in Greece, Bulgaria, Rumania, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey etc.) take part in this corruption, and are developing new suites and compositions in order to actualize themselves, and in the hope of securing new tours. Loyalty to living folk culture may be up for sale.

They often use a popular song, and this composition also often gets a name from the song/lyrics. These dances do satisfy the demand for something “challenging”, and the choreographers tend to be members of entertainment groups in their homelands. Many persons in the Folk Dance Clubs are not aware of this connection, or don’t care. If these dances reach school children as “an example of a people’s culture”, it becomes a real problem. Use of this material contributes to the label of “non-serious” on our milieu.

As mentioned above, many of these dances are very popular in the Folk Dance Movement around the world. In my opinion this category of dances should be removed from the clubs, and definitely prevented from being used in schools. There are so many suitable and useful dances (especially in categories 2 and 3) that we have sufficient to choose from already. This is also related to who is in position to define what it is to be “clever” at folk dancing.

My conclusion is that especially teachers and producers of school textbooks must confront these issues and clear them up. The folk dances we use in Norwegian and Nordic schools must have their root in the ordinary people of those lands we are taking/borrowing the dances from. It all has to do with faithfulness to culture, and cultural integrity and heritage.


Horo stin amo


Syrtós Gerakina

Never on a Sunday


Ludo mlado - Bulgaria

Cungur mi cuka - FYROM

Vrni se vrni - FYROM

Garoon - Armenia

Trendafilko - Bulgaria

Egejsko oro - FYROM

Misirlou/Never on Sunday - USA

Tsamikos (16 bars of music)

Imate li vino - FYROM


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Norvald Nilsen



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