Asymmetric rhythm dances in Romania

Asymmetric rhythm dances in Romania

Asymmetric or uneven musical rhythms are rare in western classical music, and western rock and popular music, but are not so unusual across Europe in the older forms of traditional dances; the Springar and Polska of Scandinavia, Slovak songs and dances, Albanian dances, Slavic dances from Macedonia, Bulgaria is particularly well-known uneven rhythms, Anatolian dances of Greeks, Turks and Armenians, and Romanian dances and songs.

Bulgarian uneven rhythms are formed from combinations of near exact two and three count beats, but wider European dance music is not so metronomic. Even melodies that are not technically considered as asymmetric such as the slow Hore from Oltenia and Bucovina are normally notated in 3/8 but are actually played towards 5/16 (3+2). Traditional Romanian Colinde (pre-Christian carols) can have unpredictable combinations of long and short beats.

Danubian asymmetric rhythm dances

Romanian musicologist, Constantin Brăilou, termed these rhythms as “aksak” using Turkish medieval music terminology, but only the term is borrowed and it does not indicate a Turkish origin for these dances. These rhythms use beats of unequal length, the long beat being around 1½ times the length of the short beat.

There are many features of Romanian folklore that are common to both the Romanian and Bulgarian sides of the Danube. These uneven rhythm dances are part of this shared tradition.

Asymmetric dance rhythms are used in the southern regions: southern Moldavia, Dobrogea, Muntenia, Oltenia;

  • Rustemul has two beats, short-long, usually written in 5/16. The timing is not perfectly in 5/16 (2+3), sometimes it will drift nearer to 3/8, and in some areas it loses the asymmetry, becoming close to 2/4.
  • Geampara has three beats, short-short-long, written as 7/16 (2+2+3), and is found in Dobrogea and the Danubian plain in south east Romania.
  • Șchioapa is notated as 9/8 (2+2+2+3) but has a four beat rhythm; short-short-short-long. The southern Moldavian Șchioapa, southern Transylvanian Hodoroaga and East Serbian Vlach Sokcili have a musical rhythm of 5/4 (2+2+2+4) and similar choreography.
  • In Dobrogea 9/16 (2+2+2+3) has all 9 notes played, is known as Cadâneasca and closely resembles the Bulgarian Daichovo.
  • There are some compound rhythm dances from Dolj county in southern Oltenia, such as Tepeșul and Dianca.

Transylvanian asymmetric rhythm dances

Many of the dances within the Romanian repertoire of Transylvania have stretched beats which are difficult to notate, but are mostly divisible into four dance counts.

  • Purtata walking dance:
    • Transylvanian plain Purtata dances are based on two slow beats per measure, with much stretching and hesitation in the music.
    • Southern Transylvanian Purtata are danced to their local typical music in 7/8 (3+2+2 ) or 10/16 (4+3+3).
    • De-a lungul (along the way) dances in eastern Transylvania are danced to slow and stretched 10/16 (4+3+3) or 11/16 (4+3+4) music.
  • Învârtita from southern Transylvania, including the Mureș region and westwards to Sălăj and Cluj regions and in the Banat plain, is danced to an asymmetric 10/8 (2+2+3+3) rhythm.
  • Feciorește from Southern Transylvanian is adapted to the asymmetric nearly 7/8 rhythm.

Banat Brâul

The many Banat Brâu dances have fixed choreographies with a musical rhythm is 2/4 or asymmetric 7/8 (3+2+2). This “long-short-short” rhythm (notated either as 3+2+2 or 4+3+3) is counted in three from a dance perspective, with the first count being a bit longer. This links closer to the Balkans, similar examples being Žikino from northeast Serbia, Chetvorno from west Bulgaria and some melodies used for versions of Maleshevka on the Bulgarian/Macedonian border region.

Moldavian Capra dance

In Romania the 7/8 short-short-long (2+2+3) rhythm is widespread particularly through Moldavia with the Capra custom as well as for a social couple dance with called figures known by various names such as Spic de Grâu or hop și alta or Kecsketánc (Csango minority). It may be that the 7/8 (2+2+3) rhythm has been around the Black Sea regions from early times.

Published on 9th June 2018, last modified on 15th April 2023