Southern Romanian Căluş

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Ritual Căluş and Căluşeri map

Calus dancers, Gaesti 1997

Calus dancers, Gaesti 1997

The Căluş of southern Romania, also found with the northern Vlachs of Bulgaria and Serbia, consists of a suite of separate dances, each with its own name, melody and ritual purpose which were danced at Rusalii. The features characteristic to Romanian type group 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

The figures (mişcare) are combinations of stamps, heel clicks, springs and leg rotations. Particularly in the Muntenian variants, these are structured with a beginning element, middle element and an ending element, with the middle element most often changing to create different figures. The staged versions have combined these dances, concentrating on the impressive mişcare steps. The oldest documentation is musical notations from Ioan Caianu (Latin: Johannes Caioni Hungarian: Kájoni János; a Transylvanian Franciscan monk and Roman Catholic priest, musician, folklorist of Vlach ancestry) in the 17th century.

The translation of Căluş is most often "pony or little horse", which would be Căluţ or Căluşel in Romanian. Căluşar or Căluşari refers to the dancers of Căluş. An alternative derivation of Căluş refers to type of stick used to keep the horse's mouth open.

There are three existing variants of the Romanian Căluş:


The dance has a higher stage of evolution and is a major source of the figures used in dance ensemble choreographies. The Muntenian tradition includes the mute character who does not speak, wears a hideous mask and uses obscene actions.  In some places ritual plays are also performed during which the the mute character is killed and brought back to life. There are several distinct dances grouped round a Căluş dance followed by Sârba and Hora.

The dance suite from Pădureţi, in Argeş is: Plimbarea, Băţul (the stick), Calu (the horse), Crăiţa (the Marigold), Chiserul, Florica, Hora Căluşului and dances with imitative features:  Raţa (the duck), Cătrăniţa, Ungurescul, and Băţul.

Oltenia and northern Bulgaria:

The dance aspect is less developed and maintains a closer association with ritual. This has resulted in the tradition dying out as the ritual becomes obsolete the dance does not continue as a performance spectacle. The mute character is not in found in Oltenia.

South west Oltenia, Banat and Serbia:

In this variant the group also has two or more female characters, the Craite (queens) played by young girls. The Banat tradition has now disappeared. This has links with the Serbian girls’ custom Kralice or Kralicari.

There are also indications that Căluş once existed in:


In Moldavia the ‘corps’ type dances have virtually disappeared from the customs. We might propose that they did once exist based on Dimitrie Cantamir’s description of Căluş in Moldavia in “Descrierea Moldovei” written in 1679. However, it is not clear which area of Moldavia this describes and it could refer to the known traditions of the Braila region. There are a few remains of corps type dances and mummers within the Christian nativity plays of Irozi (derived from Herod) and Vârfirm (derived from Bethlehem). The corps type dances can also be found in the social dance repertoire in Moldavia and Transylvania. In Moldavia they are know as Trilişeşte, Ţânţăroiul, Leuşteanca and Păduresţul and are particularly well represented in the north.


See the section on the Căluşeri

The northern Bulgaria Kalushar (the common transliteration from Bulgarian) is believed to be an introduction by settlers of Romanian origin between 16th and 18th centuries. Căluş can also be found in Dobrogea due to demographic displacement.

A de-ritualised version known as Căluşul de Iarna (Winter Căluş) is part of new years rituals found in Mehedinti and Braila. Both use asymmetric rhythm as opposed to the standard Căluş dances. In the village of Gropeni, Braila, the tradition was discovered in 1972. Lads between aged 11 to 19 perform it formed into groups according to age, but the past only boys over 17 took part. The dancer’s faces are covered with piece of cloth, similar to the historic description by Dimitrie Cantamir. Custom starts on 1st day of Christmas and in past continued to New Years Day morning. The dance has a single motive and the 7/16 dance melody is of same type as the ‘goat dance’ of winter festivities. In the village of Hunia, Dolj, (near Mehedinti) this tradition was discovered in 1958. On the 5th-6th January young bachelors perform the complete Whitsum căluş, with the dance suite: Calul, Crăiţele, Ropota, Floricica, Hăp sus, Hora de mâna.


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© Eliznik2005, Last updated Nov-07