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Romanian Dance and Music

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Theodor Vasilescu

Romania Map Comments from Theodor Vasilescu regarding some of the threads that have passed regarding Romanian music and dance.

These are his comments, not mine (unless noted), and you may or may not agree with them. I am not here to defend them or to argue about them, just post them. He did read everything including my comments prior to my posting unless otherwise noted. They are his perspective and experience.

Hope you've found this interesting,
Susie in Corvallis

Romanian Dancers from International Folk Dancing U.S.A. P.S. If you look on page 242 of the International Folk Dancing, U.S.A. book by Betty Casey you will see a group of Romanian dancers. Theodor is the person on the far left. He says he has the original photo at home. The person next to him is Toni Antonov who was a Basarabian who escaped from the Russian occupation in 1945, then Cornel Zăgreanu, then Mario Tosca, the woman in between them was Ria (they couldn't remember her last name), and the person on the far right is Nelu Calateanu. The woman in between Toni and Cornel is Sultănica, again they couldn't remember her last name. They could clearly see the face of the woman on the far right in their minds, but just couldn't recall her name.

Theodor said his original teacher was Gheorge Popescu-Judetz. He said that Gheorge had been a military priest and studied with all of the peasant soldiers from the different areas and learned many dances from them. He was an excellent dancer and started the Romanian notation system.

Theodor had a cute story about Tosca, who was a dear friend to him. Mario came to get Theodor at his mother's house and rang the bell. Theodor couldn't get to the door and called to his mother, "It is Tosca." The bell rang again, and he called to his mother again. Her reply was, "No, they were playing folk music on the radio, not the opera."

–John Uhlemann

Part I – Theodor Vasilescu comments on Romanian dance and music


This was a song, with made-up verses that does not exist in traditional folklore. It was taught to schoolchildren as a song, but not as a dance. Dancing has never and is still not being taught in the primary school curriculum. A lu Nelul means "Nelu's Dance." In Romanian folkdance nomenclature we often come across dances named after the best dancer. For example: Brâul lu Toma (Banat), Dansul lui Vili (Maramureș), Caragheorghe (Muntenia). This is especially true for dances with many figures as Călușul (or Călușarii) or Brâul (Muntenia) or Fecioreasca (Transylvania). Also many figures in a dance may, especially those with many figures as mentioned above, bear the name of these best dancers. For example, A lu' Stan, A lu' Martin. In Dobrogea there exists a dance called Pandelașul, and its name comes from a common name, Pandele.

Someone remarked on this dance being in 2/4 but Theodor says there is no pandelas, to this rhythm, it is in 7/16. The fact the dancers were running in a circle makes it seem like it was a Ciuleandra or Fedeleșul. The movements of each person going around in his or her own little circle in a group is also called a Ciuleandra." Or circles moving around one another. (My comment: he just taught this movement in a dance I learned the other night, calling it a Ciuleandra. Plus I discussed the dance sequence known as Ciuleandra last year.)

Theodor has never heard of Alunelul Cunoscut or Alunelul Comun but he says that the simple Alunelul to the children's song is done all over the world. Theodor has recently heard a version of this produced in Israel that is very nice. A comment made that "in Oaș, the dancers have embellished Alunelul" is not appropriate since this dance is not known in the traditional dance repertoire of Oaș. Different forms of Alunelul are to be found in almost every Oltenian village and also in Muntenian villages.

The comment about "dancer's hands are either placed on neighbor's nearest shoulders, etc. . . ." He replies, not exactly. The simple joined hand position is used in Alunelul dances mostly, but they may also be crossed in front or back. The hand positions in Hora de Mână use mostly W position. He says that there is no ethnographic connection between, but it is possible to see similarities between Alunelul and Bulgarian dances such Tropanka. In folklore the borders are not limiting the traditional culture.

Part II – Theodor Vasilescu's comments on Romanian dance and music

The comments regarding the city intellectuals dancing 50 or 60 years ago brought a story from Theodor . . . Before the communist takeover in 1948 or so, in București, there were at least three folk dance associations at which there was live music and dancing. One group was called Alunelul, one was organized by YMCA (yes, that's right-the Young Men's Christian Association). It was from the United States and sponsored many cultural and sports activities. It was pronounced "imka," and the last was called Hora. You dressed in your dance costume from your village, if you had or purchased one that included "opinci" (pronounced opeench, and he says they looked much like those in Macedonia, although there are other styles of opinci according to the regional variations). You paid and received a ticket at the door. There was live music with "lautari" or violinist. There were breaks with drinks, etc. This was usually twice per week on the weekends. He mentioned the name of the organizers who were also instructors, such as Jean and Dumitru Buruc. They would teach dance, and others would do dance from their villages. If you didn't know the dance you got behind the line to learn, just like we do here. Theodor said that maybe this is where the person Larisa Lucaci danced. These groups may have promoted the simple Alunelul.

There were provincial groups from Banat, Moldavia, Bihor, Oaș, as well as other provinces from Transylvania, which consisted of the blue collar workers and others who held their own horas in the big cities such as Bucureťti.

After the communist takeover, the dance associations had to stop their activities. Instead each school had their own dance groups where they were taught choreography. This is not the same as teaching dances, because the purpose was purely for performance. The sports teachers were mostly put in charge. Their dance knowledge concerning the traditional dance was limited. (My comment: It brings back memories of my childhood when all physical education teachers taught science because they once took a biology class.) The comment about Sunni Bloland's notes: It is Noroc, (which means good luck), not Naroc. (My comment, I discovered that noroc is the thing to say after someone sneezes.) "Traian-Județ," is incorrect. It is the village of Traian in the județ of Teleorman. The village is in the middle of Teleorman although Teleorman borders the Bulgarian border by the Danube River.

Part III – Theodor Vasilescu comments on Romanian Dance and Music

Regarding Geamparalele: This dance is in 7/16 and the comment regarding couples dancing a Sârba using geamparalele format was incongruous, since the former is in 2/4. (An analogy would be watching someone doing a polka and saying they were doing a Waltz because the footwork looked the same – my comment.) It is found in many villages in Muntenia and in the south of Moldavia. In Dobrogea it is called Pandelaș, with identical rhythms and possibly even similar melodies. Geampara comes from "Tchiam para" meaning finger cymbals. They were used in 19th century Romania to accompany 7/16 songs, melodies, or dances. Other dances to this rhythm are: Jocul Zestrei (dowry dance), Vlășcencuța (a dance found in Vlașca județ in Muntenia), Jocul Caprei (the goat dance), Pandelașul, and Zlata. The Tatars and Turks in Dobrogea have dances with the same 7/16 rhythm. In Moldavia, former Basarabia province of Romania, the same rhythm is found in Ostropațul, which is similar to Geampara.

Zlata is a Muntenian dance. Zlatari, that is, "the gold jewelry makers," that is, Roma. Zlatari has been generalized in the Romanian language to refer to the "nomadic" Roma, although it really isn't proper terminology. This dance is based upon how the Romanians think the Roma dance. The steps include some "Rom-like" steps. A couple of others in Romania are Țiganesca (in 2/4) and Ca la Ușa Cortului (in 2/4) literally meaning "at the door of the tent." (Speaking of Roma, Theodor says that Nicolae Feraru is one of the best who plays cymbolum).

Many names in Balkan countries dance repertoire show that the peasants believe they are dancing "like" others. For example a Serbian dance called Mađarac (Magyar meaning Hungarian) is a very Serbian dance since the dance does not show any resemblance to Hungarian style. Hungarians have a dance called Olahás, which means Romanian, but it is done in a very Hungarian style.

In Moldavia there are two traditional wedding dances in 7/16: Jocul Zestrei, the dowry dance, and De Trei Ori pe După Masă – "three times behind the table."

Speaking of weddings, and the hair grooming:

At every wedding this means the change of the social status of the bride. The girl leaves her group of unmarried girls and steps into the social group of married women. This requires a change in costume and in her hair arrangement as well as her entire behavior. In Oaș, it takes a very long time to arrange the hair in a multitude of braids. (Theodor taught a dance sequence in 1992 at the Stockton Folk Dance Camp, Danțu Mireșei with the first part being a walking dance to a song while the bride's hair was plaited.)

Part IV – from Theodor Vasilescu

Romanian Dancers The comment stating that 3+2+2 in Învîrtita is rare and very wrong. Many syncopated Învîrtita in the south, middle, and northwest of Transylvania are in 7/16 and 10/16 (4 + 3 + 3). Also, he says it is incorrect to say the "Kalotaszeg region." There is a Hungarian village of Calata, but this is not a region (consult a map). (My comment: An analogy would be to say that Oregon is in the region of Corvallis. Again this is Theodor's perspective.) Between 4+3+3 and 3+2+2 is enough of a small difference. It seems that musicians use 4+3+3 as being more exact, but the relation between the two (long + short + short, 3 + 2 + 2) and (long + short + short, 4 + 3 + 3) is in the first case long is 1/3 longer than the short and in the second case long is 1/4th longer.

My comments: I know this sounds confusing, but Theodor also bemoans the fact that in the United States many of the dancers don't know the musical rhythms. He says this is not the case in Europe when he teaches. I thought you would appreciate this, considering the discussion on rhythms and the difficulty in long and short or quick and slow. Since I have had no musical training and that is a very painful childhood story for me, I am just beginning to learn the rhythms. I do want to understand them, but in the vein of quantum physics, I found having to solve the matrix for a distorted, displaced, anharmonic oscillator in my photophysics class in graduate school a bit tougher than Newtonian physics, that is, F=ma. We slow objects fit into the latter category, and I guess that's where I'm at in the rhythm learning situation at the moment. I appreciate teachers telling me, and I have had good lessons with Michael Ginsberg and Steve Kotansky at dance camps. Plus the emphasis on 9/8 last time in Vancouver, British Columbia. Theodor was going over rhythms with me while we were driving to Portland. Teaching to beginner dancers is a different matter, but I digress . . . Since this discussion I am going to try to talk in 2s and 3s more and pay more attention.

A funny observation for me: In the notes someone mentioned the village of MIT and Theodor said he had never heard of the existence of this village. This didn't mean it didn't exist, he had just never heard of it before!

Part V – Theodor Vasilescu's comments on Romanian dance and music

Theodor's comment regarding the "vioara cu goarna" (the violin-trumpet hybrid). It is used in Bihor and Banat, NOT in Maramureș.

Theodor says it is true that there are weddings in villages in Romania every Saturday. He is not happy regarding the lack of communication between the tourist office and the festival organizers. But, that seems to be the case at the moment. He says that every year the Ministry of Culture of Romania publishes a guide to folk festivals, but that Liviu Cernaianu and Lascar Stancu are not in the Ministry anymore.

Regarding Brâu: It is a Romanian word of old origin since it is to be found also in the Albanian language which is of iliro-trachian origin. The ancestors of Romanians were Northern Thracians, that is, Dacians. It means the decorative pattern on houses, rooms, costumes, so it also means a "line" of dancers, and it also has the meaning of something that is decorative around the waist. My comment: When we were discussing this, Theodor pointed to the stenciling I have at the top of the kitchen wall and said it would also be called "brâul." The Albanian word is "bras," sounds like "brahss".

Comments on the Csango: They are very good preservers of Romanian costume and dances from Moldavia. Their ethnic origin is not yet established. Most of the Csango villages use the Hungarian language but their traditional culture, music, customs, and dances are of Romanian origin.

Regarding Busuioc (Basil): On New Year's Eve it is a custom for girls to put it under their pillows in order to dream about their future husbands. During New Year's day services Orthodox priests take a bunch of dried basil, dip it into sanctified water in a container they hold, and make a cross over the entire group. They also touch the forehead of each person who goes up to them after the service.

Busuioc is used in many customs such as Calușari, and Dragaica (girl's customs). Theodor described to me a bit about Dragaica. On St. John's Day (June 24th, supposedly the day of his beheading), is the Day of Sânziene (sounds a lot like St. John according to the local pronunciation, Sint Jan). The people are afraid that in this day the bad girls' malevolent spirits will manifest themselves. This belief is based upon the story of the woman being responsible for the death of St. John. The unmarried girls make crowns of yellow flowers, Sânziene flowers, that flourish during this time of year, so that the bad power of Sânziene will be lost. The girls try to throw their crowns over the house. If the crown goes over, the girl will be married in a year. If the crown goes up onto the roof, they will have to wait a bit longer to marry. If the crown comes back down on the same side, it is a bad omen.

Part VI – Theodor Vasilescu comments on Romanian dance and music

In the Căluș, it is restricted to men's dancing (from the Latin colussio meaning "closed"). This is a brotherhood with secret practices. The head or chief of the group is "vătaf." He has perfect power over them. This dates from the Roman colonization and is still practiced in countries that were colonized by the Romans, south of England (Morris), Portugal, Spain, Italy, Southern France, and Romania. Even the Aromanians (Vlach) practice the same custom. (My comment regarding the last thread about Aroman and Valch and this is not something Theodor has read because they flew out today. I will just tell you that I understood him to say that they are the same ethnic group.) Călușarii is in two forms in Romania, one in Banat and Transylvania, and the other in Oltenia/Muntenia/Dobrogea. In Moldavia Dimitrie Cantemir, a scientist and king of Moldavia, mentioned it in the 17th century. But now in Moldavia it remains only in the south.

The customs remain the same but the styles of the dances are different. In Transylvania, they are slower and heavier in the movements. This is probably more tied to the original movements by the Romans since this area was occupied by the Romans first. In Muntenia/Oltenia the movements are much faster with more stamps, more dynamic. The costumes and traditions can show a strong resemblance to those of Morris dancers (white shirts, red or colored diagonals, white trousers, bells on the legs, adorned hats, sticks and swords, the way of marching around, and having a chief, etc.). Romanian călușari groups use busuioc as an apotropaic, that is, to ward off all evil.

Theodor told me an interesting story regarding Căluș. When he was quite young, he was in a dance group that had traveled to Stratford-on-Avon, England. They were sleeping in the train, but he awoke and saw a group of Morris dancers walking along. He woke everyone else, and they all thought they were another Căluș, group. So they got out of the train and went to watch them, and one of the dancers commented, "But they are not playing the correct music!"

And Finally regarding "cetera:" It is the word for violin in Maramureș, and all of Transylvania. "Scripca" is used mostly in Moldavia and it is used in a somewhat pejorative form as for a bad player. "Higheghe" is not used for violin or could be a very local, village usage. "Zongora" is used only in Maramureș, and in Oltenia as a folklore instrument. In Oltenia it is called "Țiteră." In South Romania, "Țiteră" is a very simple instrument made by peasants themselves. (He made a drawing that looks like a simple box shape with strings over the top and a hole in it. Like an Autoharp shape – sorry, I don't know instruments, but I think you understand what I mean.) The children used to make their own with wire and use a pen to move over the strings (reminds me of a steel guitar player) using a turkey feather to strum.

John Uhlemann responds

One of the disadvantages of email is that you cannot tell when someone understands you or if you understand them. Mr. Vasilescu's comments were interesting, since they represent the Romanian scholar's point of view, but I wish he had commented on the tendency for peasants to call dances what they wanted. Dick Crum used to say that what was called Alunelul in one village might be called Trei Pazește in another, with similar mixing of music. The Pandalaș in Amara was indeed done in 2/4 and consisted of a circle moving as a unit. I was as surprised as perhaps Mr. Vasilescu would have been by both the music and the dance, but that's what they called it. Similarly, their Sîrba/Sârba consisted of 1-2-3s done continuously in a circle, the same step they used for Geamparalele (in 7/8) when they did it as a circle (1/2 of the wedding party did it as a couple dance in the centre of the circle). Except for the bride's family (which was from Daneș, in Transylvania), everyone was from Amara. One runs into the same problem with the terms Învîrtita and Ardeleana, which do not have a single archetypal rhythm or dance structure.

This presents difficulties for the dance collector. Do we "correct" the nomenclature used by the locals, assuming that what is seen is a corruption of the original, or report it as witnessed. I am not just setting up a straw man here: we all do a little of the former from time to time. I remember being at Balkan camp some years ago when a man from northern Greece, recently come the the United States, was invited to lead "Marinam" which he had done in his village. The dance had recently been taught by Joe Graziosi, so we all knew it. The man consistently began the dance in the "middle of the measure," even when the dance sped up and the beat was clearly in the familiar q-q-S-q-q (i.e., he began on the "S"). When the dance was repeated the next day, we went back to the way Joe had taught it, assuming that the man was not used to the music/context in which he had been asked to dance.

On the other hand, this list is full of discussions about regional variations in dances and musical styles for Greece, Bulgaria, and Macedonia, but not of Romania.


Printed in Rosin the Bow, Vol. 5, No. 9, Autumn 1955.

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