Ceata ciobănească – shepherds’ group dances

The dance repertoire of the shepherding communities along the Carpathians is thought to be an older layer of tradition that interconnects the men’s dances of northern Moldavia through eastern Transylvania to the men’s dances of Mărginimea Sibiului in southern Transylvania.

Shepherd’s dances are (mostly) men’s dances and are either in “ceată”[1] formation (dancers are unconnected to each other, and dance in unison, in a circle), or as a chain dance in “shoulder hold” (Brâul, Sârba). Although the shepherds do not form a society that might be termed ceată, they dance is in the same formation as in ceată dance in customs and rituals elsewhere in Romania, hence the term ceată ciobănească is used for the shepherds dances.

In general ceata ciobănească or “Shepherds’ Corps Dances” are separated from the common cycle of dances at the village hora.[2] The dances are Bătrâneasca, Plopoșul, A mutului, Gătejul, Brânza, Siminicul and Pambrâul.[2][3] These dances usually include stamps in combination with spur-clicks, finger-snapping, and shouts which are frequently in syncopated rhythms and concordant with the music.[2]

Giurchescu[4] gives the typical features of the Shepherds’ ceată dances in east Transylvania as:

  • Primarily a men’s dance, however some are recorded as mixed dances.
  • The ceată formation in a circle.
  • The dancers arms held up (especially in the “walking” figures) and hand on hips (especially during the figures with jumps and spur clicks.[5]
  • Concordant to the melody.
  • Multiple beats from steps and stamps that have a force downwards and only a slight elevation from the ground giving the specific tropotit (trampling) character.
  • Typical motifs include elements of beating stamps, jumping and clicks with spurs, often in syncopated binary rhythm.
  • The dance is constructed from a walking or resting step, followed by figures, which are varied using characteristic elements, in a fixed or variable succession.

These dances were rarely performed by the 1950s and 1960s, when the regions (Dumbrava in east Transylvania, Întorsura Buzăului and Mărginimea Sibiului) were researched by Giurchescu, Bucșan, and Balaci, as the role of shepherding had declined in these regions. From the start of the 20th century the occupations changed as people went to work in wood mills in the Mureș valley and as forestry workers and in the villages shepherding was gradually replaced by agriculture. However, the shepherds’ repertoire was still danced at the traditional calendrical festivals: the ‘milk measuring’ (masuratul oilor) which takes place in the spring; the sheep festivals at the beginning of May and in October, and the fair at Pentecost.[4]


Giurchescu researched in the pastoral zone of the upper part of the Mureș valley up to the Căliman Mountains where these dances were once prevalent, in the villages of Dumbrava, Râpa, Șieuț, Gledin, Monor, Vătava, Săcalul de Pădure, Filea, Rușii-Munți, and Deleni.[4]

In the central south of Transylvania dancing in ceată formation is very common[6] in the villages of Sibiel, Sadu, Gura Raului, Poplaca and Rășinari in the Mărginimea Sibiului region, and also the region of Perșani (Țara Oltului) and the southern slopes of the Carpathians in Muscel region.[7]

The northern Moldavian and Maramureș men’s dances have similarities to these Transylvanian shepherds’ ceată suggesting some unity of dance tradition along the Carpathians.[2] Movements of population between Transylvania and Moldavia (pre-18th century) gave rise to “Transylvanian villages” in the shepherding communities of Neagra-Șarului, Dorna, Coșna, Șarul Dornei, Poiana Negri, and Poiana Stampei.[4]

Giurchescu suggests some traces of shepherds’ ceată dances are in the repertoire in the remote Vrancea regions of the southern part of western Moldavia[2], however this might only be the “leaping over sticks” dances such as Ciobănașul and Nătânga peste bâtă.

The upper Mureș region, Transylvania

Giurchescu researched and recorded the shepherds’ repertoire in Dumbrava village and a few other villages where she recorded the local repertoires; Bătrâneasca in Deleni, Bondreasca in Săcalul de pădure.[4]

This repertoire included five dances that can be considered representative of the Ceată ciobănească (shepherds’ group dance); Plopișul (poplar tree forest), Gătejul (small piece of wood), A Mutului (the mute’s [dance]), Bondreasca, and Bătrâneasca (the old people’s [dance]).[4] These dances have a common theme of walking (plimbări) based on a “123-stamp” pattern, followed by figures based on spur-clicks and jumps.

The other dances in the Dumbrava repertoire of shepherd dances are of different choreographic types. Brâul and Doiul are based on a 3-measure pattern typical for Carpathian Brâul. Ceaunul is a bilateral dance in shoulder hold, based on side steps and syncopated stamping patterns. Bozneasca and Șchioapa were considered to be later introductions as they are closer to dances from other regions, possibly through exchange during military service in the world wars. Cățeaua is a comic imitation dance from wedding parties. Crucea is a shepherds’ dance with leaping over crossed sticks and is not included in the notations.[4]

The separation between the shoulder hold and ceată formation dances in terms of motifs and themes is not clear-cut; regarding Dumbrava village although Giurchescu discusses the exchange between Brâul and ceată dances.[4]

A mutului and Căluș

Giuchescu proposed that dances A mutului (the mute’s dance) and Gătejul (small piece of wood) could have been components of a Căluș suite.[2] This is confirmed by Bartók who recorded A mutului (observed in April 1913) as part of the dance cycle in Idicel village in eastern Transylvanian and the transcription is titled “A mutului (călușeri)” and also documents Jocul fecioresc mutului in Râpa de Sus village.[8] The music notation for A mutului was also published by Aurelian Borșianu.[9]

Mărginimea Sibiului


Two variants of Siminicul were documented, firstly in Rășinari where the formation was a mixed group of six people in a circle, and secondly in Poplaca as a men’s dance in a semicircle holding by the shoulders. The version from Poplaca would not be included in Ceată ciobănească apart from the commonality in the steps with other variants of Ceată ciobănească. The different formation shows the flexibility in formation and the sharing of choreographic ideas in local dance practice.[7]

The dance consists of two main parts: a walking figure with simple steps, and stamping figures.[7] In the typical variant the stamping figure is performed by shouting counts for the number of repeats ascending to ten, after which the shouts count in descending order, on the last command the dancers stop abruptly at the end.[10]


Pambrâul can be performed in pairs of men in shoulder hold, or as individually in a circle. It has the same walking figure as Siminicul followed by syncopated steps and jumps. When documented in the 1960s Pambrâul was rarely performed in the Călușeri programme.[10] The name Pambrâul is an obsolete term for merino wool, maybe a reference to nobles’ clothes.[2]

Întorsura Buzăului


Balaci and Bucșan investigated the dance repertoire in Sita Buzăului in 1956 and in 1963 the villages to the north of Sita Buzăului (Voinești, Valea Mare, Mârtănuș and Brețcu).[11] In Ciumemic village Andrei Bucșan collected 30 dances, but only one dance, Brânza, can be classed as Ceată ciobănească.

The shepherds of Ciumernic used to dance Brânza in the evening around the fire, but at the time Bucșan researched it was only danced by the elders at parties. The dance has various figures performed on command.[6] The dance consists of two parts; the walking figure and figures performed in place include spur clicks (pinteni). This is fundamentally the same form as the Ceată ciobănească dances from Dumbrava.

Dance form

Title (location) Figure 1 Figure 2
Bondreasca (Dumbrava, Săcalul de pădure) [4] circling 123-stamp with stamp marking end of 4 measures. jumps with spur-clicks
A mutului (Dumbrava) [4] circling 123-stamp with stamp marking end of 4 measures. jumps with spur-clicks
Plopișul (Dumbrava) [4] circling 123-stamp in CW direction jumps with spur-clicks
Gătejul (Dumbrava) [4] circling 123-stamp slow jumps alternating forward pointing foot
Bătrâneasca (Dumbrava, Deleni) [4] circling 123-stamp
Siminicul (Rășinari, Poplaca) [7][10] 3-step pattern moving round circle to right stamping motif
Brânza (Sita Buzăului) [6] circling 3-step pattern variations with stamps and spur-clicks
Pambrâul (Rășinari) [10] circling 3-step pattern, syncopated steps and stamps jumps in place


  1. Note: Ceată in Romanian refers to a group that gathers for a common purpose. Societies of men that traditionally perform carols, customs and dances are known as Ceată. Typically organised dances performed by ceată societies are danced in formations where the dancers not connected to each other, and dance in unison, in a circle or in lines. Confusingly, the Romanian dance researchers refer to this dance formation as Ceată even if the dance was not in the repertoire of a society called Ceată but was the formation of the dance in other contexts such as at weddings, parties or festivals. In translation Anca Giurchescu used the term “corps” (as in corps de ballet).
  2. Giurchescu, Anca & Bloland, Sunni (1995). Romanian traditional dance : A contextual and structural approach. Mill Valley, California: Wild Flower Press.
  3. Balaci, Emanuela & Bucșan, Andrei (1969). Jocuri din Transilvania de Sud - monografie coreografica. Brașov: Casa Creației Populare Brașov.
  4. Giurchescu, Anca (1963). Jocurile ciobăneşti din satul Dumbrava. Revista de Folclor Anul 8 Nr 3-4, pages 60-73.
  5. Note: Pinteni in Romanian, for the steps that include the sound made by the metallic spurs when the heels are closed sharply (meaning spurs, etymology from old Slavic пѧтьнъ).
  6. Bucșan, Andrei (1957). Jocuri din Ardealul de Sud. Bucharest: Editura de Stat.
  7. Bucșan, Andrei (1971). Specificul Dansului Popular Românesc. Bucharest: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România.
  8. Bartók, Béla (1967). Rumanian folk music. Volume 1: Instrumental melodies. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  9. Aurelian Borșianu (1922). A mutului. Izvorașul, vol 3, nr 2, page 4.
  10. Balaci, Emanuela & Bucșan, Andrei (1969). Jocuri din Transilvania de Sud - monografie coreografica. Brașov: Casa Creației Populare Brașov.
  11. Catrina, Constantin (1998). Însemnări pe marginea unor culegeri de folclor muzical din județul Covasna. Revista Angvstia 3, pages 271-274 Cluj-Napoca: Muzeul Naţional al Carpaţilor Răsăriteni, Editura Carpatica.
Published on 12th July 2022