This section summarises the various variants of men’s group dances found in Moldavian New Year customs, ranging from the customs that are predominantly dance based and have the more complex dance forms, to the customs that regularly have some form of group dancing, and the dance customs that are less common.
There are many different New Year customs in Moldavia, in particular the very common Capra (goat) zoomorphic tradition and many versions of the “folk theatres”, although neither of these regularly have organised group dancing.
In the New Year customs there are zoomorphic characters (goat, stag, bear, horse etc), other masked characters and unmasked characters. All of these can be an individual character or part of a group which might be termed as Ceata, Jieni or Juni, and these groups’ names can be derived from the leading principle mask of the group such as ceata caprei (the goat group) and ceata ursului (the bear group), or Malanca in the case of large conglomerations of masked characters in northeast Moldavia. The term Trupa is of urban origin and was widespread in areas around the cities.
The ugly and the beautiful
When considering these groups of characters there is a clear distinction within Romanian customs between the “organised” and the “noisy rabble” which could also be described as the “beautiful” and the “ugly”. This differentiation is maintained in the individual characters within the customs, the “ugly” being masked and the “beautiful” most often unmasked.
The “ugly” masked characters also can form a ceata but when they dance in a circle the movements are not in unison or in a fixedstep pattern. The nearest to an organised group of ugly dancers is the Ursii drummers accompanying the Cerb in the Cucuteni region of Iași county.
We see that this theme flows through into co-ordinated group dancing within customs. There is the organised “beautiful” in unison dance group and the more freely interpreted “ugly” dancing. There are some customs that have the organised group dancing around the zoomorphic figures or as an additional item in the cycle of the custom activities, and there are some customs that are predominantly the group dance.
The “beautiful” dancers
In Romania, unison group dancing of the “beautiful” unmasked characters is very common, whereas in neighbouring countries the “ugly” masked characters more often take the role of the primary group. The most typical group dance is circling the dance space using a 3-step (count 1-2-3), very often to 7/8 music (short-short-long) rhythm that is universal among the old zoomorphic traditions.
Many of the groups of “beautiful” characters have a military connection, often representing a foreign military group. The Arnăuți from central west Moldavia are named after the mercenary “arvanites” soldiers from the period of Phanariot rulers. The Hurta tradition in the village of Bosanci and Bumbierii of Bucovina parody the Austrian military dating from the period of opposition to the Hapsburg rule. The Turcii (Turks) of Heci dance with clashing sticks accompanying the Capra character.
Ofițeri (officers) characters wearing Romanian military uniform or local peasant costume and holding a stick or sword are found in charge of the Căiuți. The Căiuți dancers can be in either local costume or military uniform. The Ofițeri can have their own dance as a small group of four, for example at Gârleni in Bacǎu region, and in Ciuciulea, Glodeni region where the four Ofițeri dance around the horse character.
In the case of the villages around Hârlău/Cotnari in Iași region the Ofițeri wear local costume, hold long shaft hammers, and blow a whistle whilst dancing around the Cerb character. The dance is simple, only a 3-step (1-2-3) pattern to 7/16 rhythm common in many Moldavian traditions.
Irozi(i) (the Herods) are a common character in customs throughout Romania, often associated with the dialogue in Christmas theatre, but they are also the term for one of the ceată dancing groups in Moldavia.
In the Bacău region Irozii perform a simple dance within the customs that include groups of characters dressed as bears. The dances of the Irozii suite are performed to the rhythm of a whistle blown by one of the dancers, the rhythm being set for each dance. The dance structure is very simple, usually repeating the step motif and sometimes with full turns by the dancer. The Irozii dancers wear a costume of a white shirt, a hat with ribbons, ribbons crossed across the chest, women’s skirts over trousers and hold sticks or canes as props. The number of Irozii is an even number of dancers up to 10 or 12, accompanied by drummers using very large diameter hoop drums and led by a chief.
The dancers of the Irozii in Bucovina go house-to-house at New Year and typically perform the men’s group dance Pădurețul, sometimes followed by Trilișești or the chain dance Arcanul. They do not hold a prop or stick. These dances are considered to be linked to the strata of Carpathian shepherds’ dances and cross over between the New Year’s customs and the social dance context.
Villages of Buruienești and Frumoasa
Most of the traditions in Moldavia have a number of examples in a region, or are similar in choreographic constructions. There are some dance traditions from single locations that are clearly a men’s group dance but do not fit within the above general categories.
In Buruienești, Neamț region (the group known as Artisții Buruienești) and in Frumoasa in Bacău region, bordering Neamț region, there are New Year dance customs which are two facing rows of dancers performing vigorous steps and hand movements.
The “ugly” zoomorphic characters
Capra – the goat
Capra (the goat) custom is considered to the oldest form practiced across Romania in many different variants. The longer evolution has led to many different forms of Capra with very different characters attached to this custom, including the “ugly” and the “beautiful” as two groups in the procession, or other animal masked characters to the extent that in some locations the bear character is in the foreground.
Historic mentions of the goat custom date back to the 17th century. In 1656, the Swedish ambassador visited Iași and described the goat custom in which the dancing ended when the goat was shot by an arrow and in his “Description of Moldova” Dimitrie Cantemir (1796) devotes a paragraph to this custom.
Typically in Romania this custom involves a single dancing Capra. There are very few examples that include some form of coordinated group dancing.
Cerbul – Iași region
In Iași county, approximately between Roman, Pașcani and Iași, the goat character is replaced by Cerbul, the stag. This form of the custom is not known in the neighbouring zones or the more isolated and remote parts of Moldova which suggests this a local adaption and not a preservation of an ancient custom. Cerbul custom is also found in Făget (in the northern end of Banat towards Hațeg), which is the only other area in Romanian that has Cerbul. This connection is suggested to be via population migrations into Banat from Moldova.
Căiuți and Calul – horses from north Moldavia
Although there are versions of this custom where the Calul or Căiuți characters are in the centre with an organised group of dancers circling them, in general this tradition is now dominated by the dance performances of the Căiuți.
The Moldavian Caiuți, as ritual masked characters, have become largely a dance for entertainment. This leads to a wider repertoire of dances, most often in a line or two rows. This includes both dances related to the custom and additions from the local social dance repertoire such as Polca, Rața and the infamous Alunelul.
The Căiuți (little horses) tradition dominates in the north east of Moldavia. This tradition ranges from the dancers holding a likeness of a horse’s head in their hand, to the head being mounted at the dancer’s waist, which can lead to a full-frame horse like an English hobby-horse, to a more recent urban tradition where the crown on the horses head dominates and the dancers are dressed in shinny long gowns.
Ursarilor (group of the bears) and the ceata Cerbul from around Cucuteni, Iași region, are organised groups of men that accompany the Cerbul. The group of bears beats the rhythm for the Cerbul on drums in a similar way to drumming found in other Capra traditions, but the Ursarilor circle the Cerbul in coordinated movements that include phrases of head dipping, jumping and kneeling in place. The drummers have two straps of bells across their body and are closer to the rowdy, noisy, non-unison groups of customs. They can be masked or not masked, they normally wear blue or red trousers and a red shirt, the red symbolises blood of life and the blue the sky, plus a pointed hat with ribbons attached and a symbol of the sun in the centre.
Choreographic form, motifs and music
|Irozii (Bacău region)||circle||3-step in circle, figures||3-step, turns||7/8|
|Ofițeri (Hârlău/Cotnari)||circle||3-step in circle, pairs||3-step||7/8|
|Ofițeri||4 officers in circle||figures||sword clashing, changing places||2/4|
|Villages Buruienești and Frumoasa||two facing rows||simple sequence||vigorous steps and hand movements||2/4|
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