Many cultures have dances that are performed only by men. These often have ritual significance, although the ritual aspects may have been lost with time. Many some include fighting movements and demonstrate skill. Certain features of these dances are common across many continents; the dancers are not linked, move to the right, and are performed in a circle. These traits are probably too basic to show a fundamental link.
Dances including fighting and martial movements are found throughout the world. These may have been used for practising the precision and agility needed for combat, or could have evolved using these forms of movement for ritual purposes. European men’s ritual dances may be a derivative of such ideas having mostly lost the fighting aspect. Alternatively the use of a sword or stick may be derived from the symbolisms of power and status portrayed by the sword in ancient Europe.
The earliest documented sword dances are the Kourtes (Crete) and Salii (ancient Rome). These are attributed to promoting fertility rather than acts of fighting so are considered to be early examples of the fertility traditions that exist today. There are no other recorded instances in the rest of Europe although the widespread distribution of fertility rituals implies that these rituals may well have been prevalent.
These dances are still found across Europe in a number of basic forms, which have their roots in very ancient traditions, but may not be a continuous tradition at each location. Through history similar ideas have been re-used and transmitted in their new form. These may get combined with existing or later developments becoming the dances that can be seen today.
The European men’s dances derived from a ritual past have a number of common features that separate them from the social dance repertoire and other types of men’s dances, these being:
- performed by the dancers in unison
- dancers hold a stick or swords, but do not perform fighting movements
- danced by a group with a leader
- often there are a fixed number of dancers
- mostly still be linked to rituals, customs and other traditions
These are sometimes called "corps dances" or in Romanian Ceata de feciori. There are men's dances in Europe that do not fall into this category of "corps dances", examples are the fighting imitation dances such as the Morrisca of Spain and the solo or improvised stick dances such as the Hungarian herdsman dances.
The European men’s ritual dances are generally linked to beliefs in:
- spring fertility though the concept of death and resurrection
- providing good health and curing the unwell caused by evil fairies
- fertility symbolised by phallic representations
European men’s dances are often performed together with other customs and traditions, in some cases with the ritual significance being lost:
- mummers plays
- carnival & processions
- mid-winter carolling
- masked characters
- animal head representations
The dances in Europe can be split into a number of different basic concepts:
- East European: with a stick or sword as a prop
- West European: stick dances of the "Morris" type
- Hilt-and-point sword dances: dancers linked by their swords
In east European ritual mens' dances are found among the Romanian people of Romania and Bulgaria and with the both the Slavs and Vlachs of Macedonia. The Romanian dances use a stick which is either held upright out of the way of the dancing, or downward and used as a prop whilst dancing figures. The features characteristic to Romanian type ritual dances are:
- starting figure of walking (plimbari), or a basic step, in a circle moving anticlockwise
- more complex figures (mişcare) performed in place between walking steps
- figures are formed from combinations of elements, often a beginning-middle-end structure
In the Rusalii dances of Macedonia (east Macedonia and west Bulgaria) the swords are mostly held upright, although there is also a figure where the dancers are in two lines and clash swords as they cross over. The Slavic and Vlach ritual customs associated with the Rusalii in these regions have close similarities with the Căluş of the Romanians.
Men's group dances with the key features of the ritual dances are found along the Carpathians in Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia. The Carpathian variants such as Trilişeşti and Ţânţăroiul from Moldavia and Bărbătescul and De sărit from Maramureş include only the most basic features whereas the De bâtă, Haidău, and Fecioreasca of Transylvania are very close to the Căluşeri with the addition of more complex later developments.
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More than 20 visits to Romania: ethnographic tours, museums, festivals etc. between 1988-present
Record, tape & CD collection (~3000 titles)
Koprivshtista festival, Bulgaria: 1986, 1991, 1995, 2000
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