The custom or “ritual” of Căluș is/was practiced by village people in the lower Danube region at the beginning of summer festive period. As this custom pre-dates any political divide and has continued during many centuries of population movements and wars and empires, we are considering a lower Danube region, rather than the modern states of Romania and Bulgaria divided by the Danube.
The very many academic publications and articles on Căluș concentrate on the healing ritual that was practiced until recently. This a very interesting subject, covered in great detail (see for example (Kligman , Giurchescu , Vuia ), however, here we concentrate on the dance aspect of the custom, taking a regional view, and positioning this within the overlapping wider-regional customs complexes.
Căluș – placing this custom
Men’s group dance traditions have similar features across Europe. These include some form of a men’s society with a leader, dancing in organised unison, in a circle or opposing rows, without a connection between the dancers, often with a stick or sword as an accessory, and sometimes linked to a custom for health and re-birth.
Across the Romanian (Latin) speaking peoples the term, is taken from the Latin for horse – Căluș, Călușeri, Căiuți – and is broadly separated, as Bucșan says, between the Căluș at Pentecost in the lower Danubian farming communities and those that take place during the winter custom complex following the Carpathian mountain communities .
The translation of Căluș is most often “pony” or “little horse”, which would be Căluț or Călușel in Romanian. Dicţionarul etimologic al limbii romane (1914) gives a derivation of Căluș from the stick in the mouth of the horse, without any consideration of the parallel uses. Papaliagi, Viua and Bucsan propose a structure of Căl+suffix which is supported by the many regional variations of the name Calul, Căluțul, Căluoeanul .
The Căluș in the lower Danube basin is practiced at the beginning of summer in the period now known as Pentacost or Rusali (50 days after Easter). The villages in northern Bulgaria use the terms Rusali or Călușari interchangeably , reflecting a bilingual usage of Rusali from the Slavic term for customs at this time of year.
The leader in Căluș is the vătaf which is attributed to the old Slavic language term for leader , although Bucșan and others propose this term derives directly from Latin for priest, vates.
Căluș – dance
The choreology of some of the dances specific to the Căluș is characteristic of the wider family of Romanian men’s group dances;
- Walking (plimbări), or a basic step, in a circle moving anticlockwise
- Figures (mișcare) performed in place, either in the circle, line or column
- Complex figures are formed from combinations of elements, often with a beginning-middle-end structure
There are several distinct dances that are part of the Căluș dance options, generally followed by the dance Hora. 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 steps from the mișcare.
Central Muntenia – Olt and Argeș counties
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.
The dance suite from Pădureți, in Argeș county is: Plimbarea, Bățul (the stick), Calu (the horse), Crăița, Chiserul, Florica, Hora Călușului and dances with imitative features: Rața (the duck), Cătrănița, Ungurescul, and Bățul.
Danube valley – Southern Oltenia–Muntenia and northern Bulgaria
The dance aspect is less developed and maintains a closer association with ritual in the regions along the Danube (Dolj, Teleorman, Giurgiu, Pleven, Vratsa). This has resulted in the tradition dying out as the ritual becomes obsolete as the dance does not continue as a performance spectacle. The mute character is seldom found in west (Oltenia) and frequently in the east (Giurgiu).
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 . In the past Căluș could be found from Lom to Silistra, but now is limited to a few villages in the Pleven, Vratsa and Montana regions.
In the village of Hunia, Dolj, in addition to the ritualised Căluș at Rusali, in 1958 a de-ritualised Călușul de Iarna (winter Căluș) was observed . On the 5th-6th January young bachelors performed the complete Rusali căluș, with the dance suite: Calul, Crăițele, Ropota, Floricica, Hăp sus, Hora de mâna .
Căluș was also found in Dobrogea due to demographic displacement of people from Teleorman county .
Timoc – Mehedinți
There is unity in many aspects of cultural ideas between Mehedinți (southwestern Oltenia), Banat and Timoc (northeast Serbia and northwest Bulgaria). Vâlsan  and Bucața  describe a custom that includes a healing ritual that was practiced around Vidin, but there is no data on specific villages.
Giurchescu mentions that the name in the Mehedinți region is Crai (Kings from old Slavic ) where cured women were obliged to dance Crăițele (little queens) with the men . An example is given in Petruțiu  in the village of Flămânda with customs termed Crăițe and Crai. The same name of Crai for Căluș is used by the Romanian speakers (Vlachs) in the Homolje mountains of northeast Serbia .
This adds a complexity, which Bucșan discusses, of the sometimes overlapping Crăițele (little queens) women’s custom during Pentecost which is clearly linked to Căluș, but the connection is not exclusive .
In Moldavia the men’s group dances have virtually disappeared from the traditional customs. Dimitrie Cantemir’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 that was seen in 1972 in the village of Gropeni, Brăila (southern Moldavia), known as Călușul de Iarna (winter Căluș). This was a de-ritualised version that forms past of new year’s rituals. It was performed by young men aged between 11 to 19 who were formed into groups according to age . The dancer’s faces were covered with piece of cloth, similar to the historic description by Dimitrie Cantemir. 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 .
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”).
- Kligman, Gail (1981). Căluș - symbolic transformation in Romanian ritual, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
- Giurchescu, Anca (2004) Căluș - between ritual and national symbol.
- Vuia, Romulus (1922). Originea jocului de călușari. Pușcariu, Sextil (editor), Dacoromania: buletinul "museului limbei Romane", pages 216-254. Cluj: Insitutul arte grafice Ardealul.
- Bucșan, Andrei (1976). Contribuții la studiul jocurilor călușarești. Revista de Etnografie și Folclor, 20, pages 3-18.
- Marinov, Dimitar [Димитър Маринов] (1891). Народна вяра и религиозни народни обичаи [Folk Faith and Religious Folk Customs], Жива старина том 1 [Living Antiquity Volume 1]: pages 637-650.
- MacDermott, Mercia (1998). Bulgarian Folk Customs. London: Jessica Kingsley.
- Giurchescu, Anca & Bloland, Sunni (1995). Romanian traditional dance : A contextual and structural approach, Mill Valley, California, Wild Flower Press.
- Oprișan, Horia Barbu (1969). Călușarii - Studii de folclor, Bucureşti, Editura Pentru Literatura.
- Vâlsan, George (1918). Les Roumains de Bulgarie et de Serbie [Romanians in Bulgaria and Serbia], Paris.
- Bucața, Emanoil (1924). Românii dintre Vidin și Timoc, Cartea Româneasca.
- Petruțiu, Emil (1976). Forme traditionale de organizare a tinerețului: Căluşarii (Din material arhivei de folclor Cluj). Pascu, Viorica (editor), Anuarul Muzeului Etnografic al Transilvaniei pe anul 1976: pages 263-274. Cluj-Napoca.
- Ciuciumis, Silviu (mid 1980s). Roemeense Volksgebruiken, Stitching Doina.