Men’s group dances in customs and rituals

The term Ceată

Ceată in Romanian refers to a group that gathers for a common purpose. The same word is used in southern Slavic, чете, and also in Turkish, çete. Bucsan[1] argues that ceată could equally have derived directly from Latin, coetus, which has the same meaning of a group.

Societies of men that traditionally form to perform carols and other customs are known as Ceată, but also Jienii or Junii meaning youths, Irozii meaning the Herods and other local names.
The majority of customs with Ceată type dances form part of the New Year celebrations. The Căluș are unusual in taking place at Pentecost, Rusalii.

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 in other contexts such as at weddings, parties or festivals. Ceată can also refer to the noisy rabble characters, the drummers or an assembly of all the other participants that do not dance in formation and unison.

The ugly and beautiful characters

In Romanian customs there is a clear differentiation between the “beautiful” characters who are unmasked and the “ugly” characters, these being masked characters and zoomorphic characters (the main zoomorphic character in Romanian customs is the goat Capra, but other common ones are bears and stags).

In general the Ceată type organised dances are performed by the “beautiful” and unmasked characters. In southern Romania and Transylvania the Ceată type dances are only performed as part of the Căluș and Călușeri customs, whereas in Moldavia there are many other New Year customs that include dancing. The “ugly” characters, especially those with masks and large bells, are common throughout southeastern Europe, but rarely have an organised unison group dance.

The horse – Căluș, Călușeri, Căiuți

The three main dance centric customs are named after the horse, Romanian cal from Latin caballus.

  • Danubian Căluș, is a health custom performed at Pentecost (called Rusalii in Romania derived from the Latin festival). The common English translation for “horsemen” is grammatically incorrect, the exact derivation to cal+ is not clear, but the word also refers to a piece of wood used in a horse’s mouth. The dancers are called Călușari.
  • Transylvanian Călușeri is a predominantly New Year custom still common in the southern region of Transylvania, but was far more widespread in the 19th century. In some locations the Călușeri dance at local festival days, and from the 19th century nationalist revival in Transylvania a choreographed version of the Călușeri dances became a performance in ballrooms and festivals. The term Călușeri appears to be a Transylvania dialect version of Călușari which is consistently used since the start of publications in Transylvania.
  • Moldavia Calul and Căiuți (the horse and the little horses) are a New Year custom from northern Moldavia. The custom has become largely a dance for entertainment. The dancer represents the horse-rider and holds a stick with a representation of the horses head. Often this horses head has become attached to the belt of the dancer and in some cases the representation of the horse and rider is the same as a European frame hobbyhorse.

New Year customs in Moldavia

In Moldavia there are other customs that are dance centric, and some where the dancing group is additional to the central theme of the custom.

The dancing groups are Irozi(i) (the Herods) or have a military theme: The Ofițeri (officers) often wear some form of Romanian military uniform, whereas the Arnăuți are named after the mercenary “arvanites” soldiers from the period of Phanariot ruler, and Hurta and Bumbierii of Bucovina parody the Austrian military.

The leader – vătaf

The leader in Căluș and Călușeri and other groups is known as the vătaf. This term was used from the Middle Ages in the Romanian regions for a leader of soldiers, servants, courtiers, guards etc. as well as the leader of groups in customs. The source of the word is unknown, however a similar word is noted in Ukrainain, ватага[2] and Bucșan proposes the root is Latin for priest, vates.[1]

Holding a stick or other weapon

In the custom context it is most common for Ceată dancers to hold an item; in Căluș and Călușeri a long stick, in Căiuți a representation of a horse head, Irozii in central Moldavia hold a short stick, Ofițeri might hold a sword or long shaft hammers, and the Arnăuți hold a mace. The Transylvanian dance with long sticks is called De bâtă (meaning for club/bat) and is clearly related to the Călușeri dances. However, Călușeri in Banat and many teams from Hunedoara do not hold a stick or another prop. In Bucovina dancers do not hold a prop in the customs Irozii and Bumbierii.

dances in which the weapon is a simple accessory, not being absolutely mandatory for the development of the theme.

Bucșan 1976 [1]

In the Romanian men’s dances that use a stick, these are only used as props, in contact with the ground during figures and are only held up when moving.
In general the dances do not perform fighting movements or clash the props, although clashing can be seem in some traditions that hold swords such as Hurta from Bosanci.

European customs

This custom complex of the Căluș, Călușeri, Calul and Căiuți men’s group dances appears to be specific to the Latin language people of southeast Europe, and absent from the co-habiting Slavic or Hungarian peoples.

The only custom dances of similar form to the Romanian “Ceată” are the Rusalii dancers from an area of Macedonia (where Bulgaria, Greece and north Macedonia meet) where the dancers hold swords, dance in a circle, and form a society for the custom in a similar way to the Romanian Ceată. The best known are the Rusalii of Petrich (Bulgaria).

There is no direct linkage to the other categories of other European men’s stick dances; those that include stick clashing (such as Morris, Pauliteiros, Ball de bastons etc.), dances that imitate fighting (Croatian Moreska), solo dances or improvised stick dances (for example Hungarian Botoló, Pasztortánc), or hilt and point linked sword dances (such as English Longsword, Rapper, and similar traditions in Europe).

Choreographic form, motifs, and music

Various typical formations:

  1. Walking round in a circle, maybe with some variations or figures in place, using additional motifs of heel clicks and stamps.
  2. Traveling round in a circle, particularly around the main characters of the custom, using a 3-step pattern or syncopated step patterns.
  3. In a row, often with the leader in front, performing motifs with spur-clicks, stamps, jumps etc.
  4. In two rows, facing each other, performing motifs with heel clicks, stamps, jumps etc.

The first type of formation with walking in a circle followed by variations is typical for the dance centric customs of Căluș, Călușeri and Irozii. The choreographic structure includes alternating;

  • Walking (plimbări), or a basic step, in a circle moving anticlockwise
  • Figures (mișcare) performed in place.

This dance structure of alternating basic travelling step and figures in place is common to the Carpathian Brâul, common Sârba, ritual men’s dances and Carpathian group dances.

type names formation structure motifs music
Danubian Căluș Călușul circle led by vătaf, row with vătaf in front walking in circle, dances/figures syncopation, stamps, leaps, hops, spur-clicks 2/4
Călușeri (Transylvania) Banu Mărăcine, Marșul, Bătuta, Romanul, Romana, Căluțul

Including: De bâtă

circle with vătaf in centre column or two facing rows entry dance, resting step, figures hops, kicks, slaps to legs and claps, step hops, spur-clickss 2/4, 10/16 (4+3+3)
Căiuți (Moldavia) Calul, Jocul căiuților, Jocul căiuților, Intrarea-n casă, Jocul căiuților, Jocul căluțului, Bătuta etc circle, row, two facing rows separate dances jumps on both feet, jump closing feet with spur-click, stamping, three count pattern for entry into dance area 2/4
Irozi, Bumbierii, Hurta (Bucovina) circle walking in circle, figures syncopation, stamps,  hops, spur-clicks, step-hop, hops, sword-clashing (Hurta) 2/4
Irozi, Arnăuți, Ofițeri with Cerb (Moldavia) circle 3-step in circle 3-step holding weapon 7/8
Turcii (Heci) column simple sequence rhythmic sword clashing 7/8
Arnăuți (Moldavia), Customs from villages Buruienești and Frumoasa two facing rows figures bidirectional figure, “hand clapping” figure (Arnăuți), vigorous steps and hand movements 2/4


  1. Bucșan, Andrei (1976). Contribuţii la studiul jocurilor călușarești. Revista de Etnografie și Folclor, 20: pages 3-18.
Published on 10th July 2022, last modified on 26th November 2022