Mândra or Mândrele is a dance from Oltenia region (southern Romania, predominantly Dolj county) and Vidin region (Bulgaria) in an asymmetric rhythm. I understand from local dance specialists that this dance was once more popular throughout Oltenia, but there are only three published dance notations and a number of musical pieces. In Romanian dance classification Mândrele is classified within the “Rustem” dance type due to the asymmetric rhythm of the steps.
Mândra means the “proud” girl or beloved girl and Mândrele is the plural form, the proud ones or the beloved ones. Mândra, the beloved, is a very common word in songs texts. Mândrele is also associated with the female mythological beings typical of the Carpatho-Danubian region euphemistically named Iele (they), Mândrele (Beauties), or Vântoasele (Windy Ones).
There is a related dance with a different choreology under the title Mândrele where the melody is in 6/8 but counted as 5 with count 5 being long (♪♪♪♪♩). There are other dances with similar names, such as Mândrulița, a type of Învârtita (Ciofliceni – Ilfov, and Hințeşti – Argeș , Odăile – Buzău, Câmpulung – Muscel.
The dance can by in the formation of either a semi-circle or closed circle with hands held at shoulder height. The dance is associated with girls, although Popescu-Județ mentions it can be danced by boys and girls in Băilești (Dolj), whilst Varone says in Vârvoru (Dolj) the girls hold each other by the little fingers. The style of the dance can range from spacious and simple in Segarcea (Dolj), undulating and gliding in Băilești, or fast and jumpy in Hunia (Dolj).
To compare the structure for the three documented versions I have used a basis of measures counted as “long-short” and the optional “hop” as an anacrusis (pickup beat) into the motif which follows the Romanian interpretation of Rustem.
The motifs are:
- Travelling – long step across behind, short step to side and slightly forwards, most often the dancers are facing partially against the direction of travel so it appears they are moving backwards. The last beat is often a pause or low hop as a preparation for the next motif.
- Single crossing step – for right foot start: step right in place, step left across in front, step right in place, optional low hop. This takes 2 measures.
- Double crossing step – This takes 4 measures.
- Step-hop or step-lift – Can be travelling prior to the “travelling step” or in place between “single crossing step”.
|Location||measure 1||measure 2||measure 3||measure 4||measure 5||measure 6||measure 7||measure 8|
|Vidin region||Travelling||Travelling||Travelling||Travelling||Single crossing||Single crossing|
|Goicea, Dolj||Single crossing||Step-lift||Step-lift||Double crossing|
|Moțăței, Dolj||Single crossing||Single crossing||Travelling||Travelling||Single crossing|
|Moțăței, Dolj||Single crossing||Single crossing||Step-hop||Step-hop||Single crossing|
In the Vidin region (Bulgaria) there is a single dance choreology with only minor differences. The structure is travelling around the circle facing slightly backwards using asymmetric steps (“long-short” or “short-long” depending on your perspective) for four measures and a two single crossing steps performed in place. The pattern is repeated in the opposite direction.
In Dolj (Romania) the three notations give very different combinations of motifs suggesting the title reflects a predominantly girls dance of the Rustem type, but does not relate to a single popular “dance” choreology as it does in Bulgaria.
It is clear the Dolj (Romania) dances and Vidin (Bulgaria) are related as predominantly girls dance of the Rustem type. However there is a distinct difference in that the dance in the Vidin region relates to a single dance choreology, whereas in Dolj Mândrele is a title used for a dance from this family of dances.
The understanding of the rhythm is interpreted differently by various authors. The Romanian choreographers and musicians notate the music and dance in 3/8 which can be rhythmically “three equal beats” or “long-short” for a measure. This allows the measure to be three equal steps, or the short step as an anacrusis (pickup beat) into the strong long step, thus the count is “&, one &, two”, an interpretation in common with similar dances such as Rustem.
From a Bulgarian perspective and as described by Giurchescu the rhythm is 5/16 “short-long” as in the Paidusko type of dance, so the short beat is considered the first beat of the measure, very often just a low hop. However, this does not easily allow for a measure with three nearly equal beats in the steps or melody.
The music and dance from the older videos from the Vidin region dance groups are close to the Romanian Rustem whereas the more recent videos such as “Fidankite” group from Vidin (2022) sound and dance more like a Paidusko.
There are three recordings played as a Rustem, for example the recording by Constantin Chisar. However the best known recordings (Ion Lăceanu, Gheoghe Zamfir) are musically arranged and at a slow tempo (in 3/8 rhythm) played by professional orchestras from Bucharest. The version by Ion Lăceanu is the recording used for the recreational “folk dance” choreography Mândrele (de la Obârșia).
My analysis of the rhythm using three Bulgarian examples and two Romanian examples suggests that the ratio of the rhythm is generally close to 5/16 with the “triplets” in the melody formed by dividing the long beat and a slight averaging across the measure, however the Romanian notations and professional orchestras appear to have “quantised” the rhythm to 3/8.
When considering the ‘single crossing’ motif, it looks like the start point of this motif is different in people’s minds. In Gamzovo village the dancers start the dance at the ‘step left across in front’ rather than the low hop suggesting this is the motif start in their minds, whereas Bregovo village the dancers appear to dance with the “hop” being the dominant start.
From a Romanian Rustem perspective the dance rhythm is “long-short” and from a Bulgarian Paidusko perspective the dance rhythm is “short-long”. Some melodies can be written in either, and others appear to be in “long-short”, so my opinion is that the dance falls into the Rustem category.