Sunday, July 25, 2010

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa

Today we explore the national dance of Bulgaria, the rachenitsa. This is a dance with many variations and lends itself to creative improvisation. Back in the day, men and women met and mingled at dances; and seldom were both genders allowed together unsupervised. The village dance was the place where men showed off their fancy footwork to attract the ladies.

Bulgarian music makes extensive use of time signatures with odd numbers and is an interesting combination of rhythms.

Dancers learn Bulgarian/Balkan rhythms as a combination of "quick-slow" beats. The person teaching the dancing will have the students clap the rhythm before teaching the footwork. The point of this is to feel comfortable with the beat before learning the dance.

To get an idea of the rhythm of the rachenitsa, say the words "apple apple pineapple." The time signature is in 7/8, for you music theorists out there (7 beats to the measure, the eighth note gets the beat).

Here's an example of a rachenitsa from a Bulgarian teaching video. This is the couple version of the dance Shopska Rachenitsa, and at the end you'll see why this is a dance with a sense of humor :) This reminds me of a courtship dance, which it probably is:

Rachenitsa comes in many "flavors" and because of the diversity of the different folklore regions of Bulgaria, there are lots of them. Here is one on my favorites, by the composer, Petko Stainov, of a Thracian rachenitsa for orchestra, which sounds more like classical music than Bulgarian folk, but beautiful nonetheless:

This last video is a dance called Brestaska Rachenitsa, which is rachenitsa for the rest of us, performed by a group from the United States. These are people who dance on Friday (or any other night of the week), for fun and exercise, like myself.

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  1. "Apple apple pineapple" This is ingenious!!!
    Once again, great breakdown of the rachenitsa styles! I didn't even know there were so many types of the most basic dance!

    My dance teachers always said that the most important thing is to catch the rhythm. As long as you are "in the rhythm", even if you are not doing the steps exactly, you will always end the combination with everyone else. And with the horo, it is important to move in the right direction and at the right pace; otherwise, you bump into others.

    So, beginners, no worries if the steps seem too complicated. You simply need to feel the music.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Zikata!
    Feeling the music is what counts and I know that from experience.

    I remember the "apple apple pineapple" from the Balkan classes I took many years ago, and that helped me to internalize the rhythm of the rachenitsa, as well as some of the other dances with complex rhythms.

    I learned horo by following behind the line, once I was comfortable with the steps and the direction I would join the line at the end.

    I'll never forget the night I was in a room full of Bulgarian students at Mt. Holyoke when Lyuti Chushki played a kopanitsa. I just got up and danced without even thinking about it, and before long, everyone joined hands and followed me. (I was worried about running out of energy, the dance was so long!)

    Here is a poem I wrote about the experience: