Romanian dance ensembles, Romanian folk dance

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Early village folklore performances

The performance of village folklore for an audience within the boundaries of present-day Romania, can be traced back at least to the late 16th century. The earliest documentation refers to the performance of ritual căluşerul dances in front of groups of noblemen in Transylvania. The Hungarian poet Balassa Balint, who spent many years in Transylvania, watched căluşerul dancing at the crowning of Prince Rudolf in 1572. The Hungarian Daniel Dosza, writing in the nineteenth century mentions the performance of a căluşeri dance in 1599 at a festival organised by Sigismund Bathony, near Alba Iulia, in honour of Beatrice, the oldest daughter of Mihai Viteazul. This ‘căluşeri’ dance, was performed under the command of the village chief Baba Novac, a Muntenian nobleman. Franz Iosef Sulzer describes a căluşerul performance in 1781-2 in Geschichte des Transalpinischen Dacians – Walachische Tanze und Lieder.

In mid 19th century Transylvania, village ritual căluser dance motifs were adopted for staged performance as part of the drive to reinforce Romanian nationalism by urban elites who regarded these as symbols of national identity’  Visits were made to villages in southern Transylvania, where the căluşeri ritual was still a living tradition and the dances which formed part of this ritual were recorded, and subsequently re-choreographed in Braşov ‘for performance by urban dance ensembles as a demonstration of Romanian identity’. These newly choreographed dances were then taught in villages throughout Transylvania including area where this tradition had died out, and during the following hundred years new local variants developed, some of these possibly being revived from latent repertoire due to the new found interest in this material.

The performance of non-ritual (social) folk dances was first mentioned in documents from the late 18th century. Records from Csíksomlyó (Şumuleu Ciuc), in Transylvania mention the inclusion of a Hungarian dance in a school play in 1773. This process of including Hungarian dances in school plays in Transylvania continued in the first half of the nineteenth century as part of the drive for developing a national “style”.

Village groups

There are records of the existence of organised village folk dance groups in Romania by the mid 19th century. For example, in south west Romania, the village of Sânnicolau Mare, Bartok’s birthplace, had a folk group by 1858, and the village of Borlova in the Banat mountains had a ‘formaţie de căluşai’ (ritual dance group) by the beginning of the twentieth century, and by the interwar period a ‘formaţii de dansuri mixte’ (group performing dances from the social dance repertoire) and in Moldavia the village of Fundu Moldovei records a performance by its folk group in Vienna 1908.

In the interwar period photographs of folk dancing in the villages that were visited by researchers from the Gusti Sociological School of Bucharest, can be seen in Niculescu-Varone’s 1938 book Jocuri Naţionale Româneşti. These pictures show an organised group dancing for a seated audience.

List of villages?  1925 Goicea Mare, Dolj, 1926 Ruşetu, Brăula, 1927 Nerej, Vrancea, 1928 Fundu Moldovei, Suceava, 1929,1932, 1933, Dragoş, Braşov, 1930, Runcu, Gorj, 1931, Cornova, Besserabia, 1935-6, Sant, Bistriţa-Năsăud

In July 1935 an International Folk Dance festival and conference was organised in London by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Participation was restricted to European teams, and the the căluş group from the village of Pădureţi, judeţul Argeş was selected to represent Romania. This was the first time that a Romania group had travelled abroad to represent their country, thus taking their (slightly cleansed and choreographed) village ritual tradition onto the international ‘stage’ where they won first prize. The thirteen Romanians created quite a stir in London with their ritual performance, which they refused to do until a supply of fresh garlic was located. According to the  ‘The Times’ music critic, the audience were delighted but slightly uneasy and afraid.

Two years later, at New Year, a folk dance groups from the village of Fundu Moldovei, in northern Romania, also travelled to the UK for the EFDSS new Year folk festival at the Albert Hall, in London. In 1939, Amice Calverley from England travelled to Romania and made a forty-five minute film of performances by village folk groups from both southern Romania and Moldavia, and a folk dance club from Bucharest.

These folklore groups were and still are centred on the village culture house. The concept of culture houses in Romania, which was similar to that of village halls and community centres in the UK, dates from the late nineteenth century, with the numbers increasing during the early and mid-twentieth century. In interwar Romania many culture houses were founded under the King Carol’s Cultural Foundation (Fundaţiei Culturale Regale Principele Carol) and by 1938 around 2000 village culture houses existed. During the Communist period this network was extended to every village and town in order to provide ‘education of the masses’. In 1956 a state-funded Casa Creatiei Populare (House of Popular Creations) was set up in each Regiunea to oversee the activities in these culture houses, which included folklore production. Each centre employed a regional choreographer whose role was to make provision for every town, village, factory, trade union or children culture house to have an organised structure of folklore activities.

Urban folk ensemble

The present folk ensemble framework in Romania has its roots in the post Second World War Soviet phenomenon of organised professional and amateur folk ensembles. These were established throughout Eastern Europe in this period, based on the model set by the Moiseyev ensemble from the USSR.

The Moiseyev Company’s first tour to Romania was in 1945. The company did twenty seven performances, visiting Bucharest, Iaşi, Constanţa, Cluj, and Timişoara. The performances were attended by over 33,000 people. During the tour the Moiseyev dancers also attended performances given by Romanian amateur groups and professional ensembles including the ballet company of the State Opera, the Army Dance Ensemble, and the National Confederation of Labour’s company.

In Bucharest, a number of dance companies and folk orchestras were founded in the years immediately following the Moiseyev tour. The most prominent of these were Periniţa ensemble de Sfatul Popular al Capitalei which opened in 1946, and Doina al Armatei ensemble and Ansamblul UTM (Cununa Carpaţilor), both founded in 1947. The Romanian Folk Ballet Ciocârlia was founded in 1949.

In this period from the late 1940s to the early 1950s professional orchestras and over forty professional dance ensembles were founded in Bucharest and in the main towns of each of the fifteen Romanian Regiunea (administrative regions). By the early 1960s students groups existed in the university towns of Bucharest, Cluj, Iaşi and Timişoara.

During the 1950s and early 1960s village culture houses were set up as well as many amateur dance groups, and orchestras. By 1951 according to Cassini almost on million people were taking part in organised amateur folklore activities, divided into roughly 42,000 groups.

Around 1960 the Romanian National Professional Ensemble Rapsodia Româna, was established in Bucharest, which included the Barbu Lăutaru Orchestra and dancers from Ciocârlia and Periniţa ensembles.  Rapsodia Româna, first toured to the US in 1962.

The organisational structure of town, village and trade union culture houses provided the professional dancers and choreographers with a fully employed career structure, as opposed to the vocational position of folk dancers in the West.  


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© Eliznik2009, Last updated Feb-09