The Călușari dancers of southern Romania (also found among some villages with Vlach connections in northwest Bulgaria) dance a suite of separate dances, each with its own name, melody and purpose. These were traditionally danced at Rusalii (50 days after Easter) as part of the Căluș healing ritual.
The choreology of some of the special dances specific to the Călușari is characteristic of the wider family of Romanian men’s group dances;
- walking (plimbări), or a basic step, in a circle moving anticlockwise
- complex figures (mișcare) performed in place
- The figures are formed from combinations of elements, often with a beginning-middle-end structure
The oldest documentation is musical notations from Ioan Caianu (Latin: Johannes Caioni; Hungarian: Kájoni János) a Transylvanian Franciscan monk, Roman Catholic priest, musician, folklorist of Vlach ancestry in the 17th century. The translation of Căluș is most often “pony or little horse”, which would be Căluț or Călușel in Romanian. An alternative derivation of Căluș refers to type of stick used to keep the horse’s mouth open.
The figures (mișcare) are combinations of stamps, heel clicks, springs and leg rotations. Particularly in the Muntenian variants, these are structured with a beginning element, middle element and an ending element, with the middle element most often changing to create different figures. The staged versions have combined these dances, concentrating on the impressive mișcare steps.
Regional variants of the Romanian Căluș
Olt region and Argeș counties (Muntenia)
The dance has a higher stage of performance evolution and is a major source of the figures used in dance ensemble choreographies. This tradition includes the mute character who does not speak, wears a hideous mask and uses obscene actions. In some places ritual plays are also performed during which the mute character is killed and brought back to life. There are several distinct dances grouped round a Căluș dance followed by Sârba and Hora.
The dance suite from Pădureți, in Argeș is: Plimbarea, Bățul (the stick), Calu (the horse), Crăița (the Marigold), Chiserul, Florica, Hora Călușului and dances with imitative features: Rața (the duck), Cătrănița, Ungurescul, and Bățul.
Dolj county (southern Oltenia), and northern Bulgaria
The dance aspect is less developed and maintains a closer association with ritual. This has resulted in the tradition dying out as the ritual becomes obsolete the dance does not continue as a performance spectacle. The mute character is not in found in Oltenia.
The northern Bulgaria Kalushar (the common transliteration from Bulgarian) is believed to have been introduction by settlers of Romanian origin between 16th and 18th centuries . Căluș can also be found in Dobrogea due to demographic displacement.
South west Oltenia, Banat and Serbia
In this variant the group also has two or more female characters, the Craite (pl. Craitele meaning queens) played by young girls. The Banat tradition has now disappeared. This has links with the Serbian girls’ custom Kralice or Kralicari.
In Moldavia the men’s group dances have virtually disappeared from the traditional customs. Dimitrie Cantamir’s description of Căluș in “Descrierea Moldovei” written in 1679 gives an indication that these dance practices did exist at some point in the past. However, it is not clear which area of Moldavia this describes, and it could just refer to one known tradition in Braila region. There are a few remains of ritual men’s group dances and mummers plays within the Christian nativity plays of Irozi (derived from “Herod”) and Vârfirm (derived from “Bethlehem”).
Călușul de Iarna (Winter Căluș)
A de-ritualised version known as Călușul de Iarna (Winter Căluș) that forms past of new year’s rituals was seen in 1972 in the village of Gropeni, Braila (southern Moldavia). It was performed by young men aged between 11 to 19 who were formed into into groups according to age, but in the past only boys over 17 took part. The dancer’s faces are covered with piece of cloth, similar to the historic description by Dimitrie Cantamir. The custom starts on 1st day of Christmas and in past continued until New Year’s Day morning. The dance has a single motive and the 7/16 dance melody is of same type as the Capra ‘goat dance’ of winter festivities.
Another de-ritualised Călușul de Iarna (Winter Căluș) was discovered in 1958 in the village of Hunia, Dolj. On the 5th-6th January young bachelors perform the complete Rusali căluș, with the dance suite: Calul, Crăițele, Ropota, Floricica, Hăp sus, Hora de mâna. The change of date is not without precedent as the Transylvanian Călușeri of neighbouring Banat and Hundeoara also generally take place around the New Year. It seems plausible that with the change of the date of the “New Year” some customs moved to the new date.