Author Archives: Nick

Ethnography: presented as bounded geographic zones

Țara Oașului ethnographic zone

The concept of ‘ethnographic zones’ can be argued academically to be flawed in many respects in terms of cultural parameters and the reality of geographical borders. However geographically based cultural zones remain a concept that insiders use to position music and dance in terms of people’s locational identity and locational dependent ideas in music and dance styles.

Traditional ethnography

When considering ethnography of rural ‘traditions’ and ‘customs’ it is common to document the location of the observation. In some cases a ‘tradition’, or a particular version of a folk artefact, is attributed to that location, but more often ethnographers look to make a relationship to the wider area around the location in order to identify some predominant parameters that are similar. Thus ethnographic researchers have for a long time used the idea of “ethnographic zones” as some type of bounded group of settlements that are in some way united by ethnographic data.

I suggest the terms cultural cohort or identity cohort to refer to social groupings that form along the lines of specific constellations of shared habit based in similarities of parts of the self.

Turino 2008:111

In the case of rural traditions the geographic region has long been the focus of attention as cultural elements appear to most closely relate to their geographic neighbours. This can be the case as agricultural peasants in the past mostly only travelled a limited distance, so life was based on the local, and influences from urban fashion were only slowly adopted.

Outside the study of rural traditions, geography is not necessarily the prime factor. For example popular music and rock music is most often grouped by the “decade” indicating that a time period of a number of years close to ten is an appropriate scale. Or when studying a dance phenomenon such as Argentinian tango or “international folk dance” these are trans-national scenes in ‘urban’ contexts of cultural cohorts[1].

Border and identity

The critical focus of investigation from this point of view becomes the ethnic boundary that defines the group, not the cultural stuff that it encloses.

Barth 1969:15

The understanding of borders is best understood following Barth[2] and his conception of ‘identity’. There are situations where the people internal to a region (insiders) ascribe to a certain identity, and there are situations where outsiders describe the others by an identity, but these may or may not relate to clear cultural differences or any clear geographical boundary.

Some ethnographic zones can be relatively clearly defined on the basis of a natural boundary, political boundary or ethnic separation, but more often in reality there is a continuum from one ethnographic zone to the next zone. For these reasons the Romanian ethnographers often use the term “interference zone” which in reality allows any area to be a mix of the adjacent areas.

Please note that our interest on ethnographic zones is the culture of peoples with an ancestry in speaking limba română (a form of Latin left in southeast Europe from the Roman times) and the other geographically co-located ethnicities. We are not implying or referring to the complexities of current “nation state” politics, particularly the concepts of ‘Romanian’, ‘Moldavian’ or ‘Vlach’ as terms that are used in various national political agendas.

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.

Welcome to our website

The name ‘Eliznik was based on an amalgamation of the authors’ names which they had previously used for dance teaching booklets and notes.

This website has two parts: the reference ‘fixed pages’ and the newer Blog. These are interlinked through the context dependent menus on the left sidebar, so posts will have links to related reference pages, and references pages will have links to posts.

This Blog is divided into three subject areas:

  1. Ethnography – our continued research and interest in the customs, music and dancing in the Balkans
  2. Academic – subjects from the perspective of academic study
  3. Photos – the latest uploads

History

The “Eliznik” web pages (www.eliznik.org.uk/), an English language website based in the UK covering Romanian music, dance, and costume, were first uploaded to the worldwide web in May 1999. Since that time the site has expanded to over 700 pages.[1]

The main sources used were Anca Giurchescu and Sunni Bloland’s book on Romanian Traditional Dance, Tiberiu Alexandru’s Romanian Folk Music, and Petrescu and Secoșan’s ‘Romanian Folk Costume’.