Saturday, January 12, 2013

Crossing the River Part 2: The Stick Dancers-Romanian Căluşari and Their Bulgarian Counterparts

Posta Romana - 1977 - danser 40b

Romanian postage stamp 1977, from Wikipedia Commons

Today's post is about a ritual dance which takes place on both sides of the Danube, River of Many Names.  The Romanian Căluşari  and Bulgarian Kalushar share several things in common:  the performers are all male, they wield sticks while dancing, and they wear white costumes with bells attached to the lower legs.

There is a story behind the Căluşari and it has to do with horses and fools. The word Calus means "little horse" in Romanian, and it can also refer to the stick used to keep a horse's mouth open. The Calus dance is a springtime ritual performed around the time of Pentecost, forty days after Easter. (There is also a winter version, done around the time of the New Year in the Romanian region of  Dobrogea.)

The first video is from Romania. The sequence of the dance is as follows: walk, then some fancier footwork with stamps (how Romanian!), then it gets downright frenzied.  It's no surprise that most of the performers are young men.  The fool in the middle provides the comic relief. He's the guy wearing red and yellow...the dancers gang up on him as he tries to "whip them" into submission.  This is the Romanian version of slapstick comedy.

You can see the Bulgarian version of the dance, Kalushar, in the next video. Notice the similarities in the white costumes and the sticks; the music, is of course, different; (although it does sound very similar to Romanian folk music) and the dancers wear red masks.

There is also a man in the middle; he looks like he plays the role of the mute instead of the fool. He covers his eyes while the masked men dance around him and perform all sorts of acrobatics. 

After the Kalushar dance (it finishes at 4:00), the ladies join in and the group performs a suite of dances from northern Bulgaria, one of which involves a fire ritual (at 7:50).  The entire video is worth a look, it's very good.

For more information on the Căluşari, read these two articles. The first one primarily deals with Căluşari in Romania, although there is a mention of the ritual being performed, with different variations, in northern Bulgaria and in Serbia.

Wikipedia describes a connection between the Căluşari ritual and Morris dancing, it's an interesting read.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Crossing the River: Music From the Romanian Region of Dobrogea

For more about the Vlach people and their dances read:

Romania is a country not usually associated with bagpipes, but they like them just as much as the Bulgarians. There the instrument is called a "cimpoi" and there's even a dance named after it.

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