Part of the fun of Balkan dance is learning the rhythms. People who are accustomed to "western" music often find that Balkan dancing and the assymetrical rhythms take a little getting used to.
Many years ago, I took a band class in school. Nearly all the music was in common time signatures, such as 4/4, 2/4, 6/8, and the occasional waltz (in 3/4 time). I found the waltz intriguing because it has an odd number of beats in each measure. When I first heard a rachenitsa from Bulgaria, I was totally smitten, by both the sound and the rhythm. It was beautiful and different!
In the Balkans, musicians like pieces with odd meters, such as 7/8 and 11/16, although in the villages, they played by ear, and sheet music to them was a foreign concept. They didn't let little things like quick-slow beats concern them, and the dancers had a lot of room for improvisation. If you're into music theory you may find this link of interest.
One of my favorite dances is the kopanitsa, popular in Bulgaria and Macedonia. It has 11 beats to the measure. It's one of those rhythms that's a little tricky to internalize. The accent is on the 4th beat.
I have internalized the kopanitsa to the point that at a Bulgarian event I went to last year, no one got up to lead the dance. Whatever possessed me at the time commanded me to lead, and I did. Before I knew it I had about 50 people dancing in a line behind me, many of them exchange students from Bulgaria. The song lasted about 10 minutes, and I was exhausted when the music ended. This is the poem I wrote about the experience:
Dances often cross borders. Here are two dances from Serbia in 7/8 time which look and sound like Bulgarian rachenitsa. There are two versions of 7/8 rhythm: the rachenitsa is "apple apple galloping."
The drummer is amazing, he's playing and dancing at the same time. How many people can do that?
For more on the rachenitsa (the national dance of Bulgaria), read:
Here is the other version of 7/8 rhythm, which makes for a completely different dance, the Lesnoto or Pravoto. This dance is from Macedonia. The beat is "galloping apple apple."
One of the first dances I learned many years ago was this lively Serbian number, Niska Banja, which is in 9/8. (This time signature is also used in the Bulgarian dance Daichovo Horo).
Niska Banja is a very catchy drinking song. This link will take you to the lyrics, and an English translation, so you can sing along :)
This is a Daichovo, also a 9/8 dance, (quick-quick-quick-slow). Although the first beat has the accent, the fourth is the longest.
Since music is related to math, and since many people who take up Balkan music and dance are often math and physics people, here is an unusual take on that subject:
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