European walking dances

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Possibly from the 15th century couple dances began to develop and spread outwards from central Europe. At this time in history the Polish empire was the strongest influence in Eastern Europe probably spreading fashions in dances of the nobility. The "walking" dances are performed in a crescent of couples with a lead couple, the dancers move round the dance space with walking steps in an anticlockwise direction side by side with their partner.

Examples are found from Scandinavia through east Europe, Moravia, Slovakia, Poland and Transylvania. The Polonaise of the gentry is thought to be developed from the peasant dance Chodzony (from chodzic = to walk) which was traditionally used to open important celebrations and ceremonies. The Starodavny (old, old dance) of Moravia consists of walking followed by turning. This blending is also seen in the Polska from Sweden where the promenade has been shortened into the försteg which precedes the turning steps and in the Ganglåt. The Gangar (walking) of Norway has remained a purely walking dance. In Denmark the earliest references are from 1580 Danish moral book where is tells that it was decent to move slowly forward without "unbecoming turning round". This indicates the walking dance was established but the turning dance was not accepted. Also the Guild rules in 1600 give penalties for too much turning. The name Polskdans only appears from the early 18th century.

This form of dance reached as far as the principality of Transylvania but not to the Ottoman ruled areas of Wallachia, Moldavia and Hungary. The Romanian versions are thought to have come from the Transylvanian nobility (mainly Hungarian) and this would seems likely as the distribution is predominantly in the northern areas of Transylvania Hungarians feudal rule. Those in Transylvania are know as the Purtata family of Romanian dances and the Hungarian Lassú (the slow) in Szek plus the Kettos of the Gymes Csangos.

Melodies of the medieval processional couple walking dance remain in western Transdanubia.


© Eliznik2005, First issue 2002, Last updated Aug-06