Transylvanian Călușeri

All the Călușeri dance traditions are within the men’s group dance category in that they are performed by a group of men, dancing the same figures and steps in unison, and the dancers are not connected by hands (or any other sticks or swords). Many traditions (but not all) include holding a stick which is used mainly for support or just held upward when needed, or placed on the ground while dancing.

The typical basic figure of dancing (moving) anti-clockwise, in single file, in a circle formation, is common to European group men’s dances. Each tradition has a number of dances which include specific figures. A characteristic trait of the Călușer dances is that the leader demonstrates the figure in advance to the rest of the group who then perform it a number of times. These figures (or ponturi) are often named after a vătaf (leader) [1]. The dance suite of the călușeri includes the dances Căluțul, Călușerul, Romana, Banu Mărăcine [2] with some alternative naming Marșul, Bătuta, Târnava etc.

There are few indications that the Transylvanian Călușeri dancing was part of a ritual, in the way that southern Romanian Călușari was until recently. Our personal view is that the southern Căluș is a case where a wider concept of a men’s group dance has been combined with a healing ritual and we cannot expect as ethnographers to link such a healing ritual to all forms of ritual men’s group dances.

The Transylvanian Călușari is part of the winter custom complex that is integrated into the winter cycle. Organised bands of men often known as Ceata de Juni who can be Colindarii (carol singers), Călușerii, or Dubași, retain their own institutional rules, criteria for membership, have a certain number of participants, group loyalty, and are organised in a hierarchy with a leader known as vătaf, a treasurer, and in some cases other roles [2].

There are very few references to dances in Transylvania before the 19th century. Costea collates these references [3], however it is far from certain what form of dance they relate to other than there was dancing practiced by men. Franz Sulzer of Vienna described a dance in 1781 where shepherds jump across sticks [7], although it is uncertain that this refers to a men’s group dance with sticks (i.e. Călușeri) rather than the pan-European dancing over cross sticks/swords/pipes. Until the beginning of the 20th century ritual Călușeri was still practiced in central Transylvania at Socolu de Câmpie in Mureș county [4]. There Is documentary evidence that the Călușeri was still practiced in the villages in central Transylvania east of Reghin [5] and west of Reghin [6].

The older form of the Transylvanian Călușeri is now only found in Hunedoara county, neighbouring Banat (Făget zone) and Alba county. It is performed between Christmas and the New Year and is sometimes also known by the name Căluțul (pony) or Călușerul (horseman). The shepherd’s dances A mutului and Gătejul may be remnants of an older Transylvanian Căluș tradition [2].

1850s dance of the elite salon

Căluşari from Săliştea, Alba, Romania – 1994

In January 1850 Transylvanian intellectuals Iacob Mureșianu (composer) and Ștefan Emilian (professor) at the house of George Ioan in Brașov created the idea of the dance named Romana.  This was presented as a choreography of the Călușeri dance Romana at the ball of  the association of Romanian women on 31 January 1851 [10]. During 1851 village dancers Ion Călușeriu and Simion Cicudeanu (Țâcudean) were brought from Luna de Arieș (Cluj county) to Brașov and they collected and refined these dances into a fixed form, with the structure concordant with the melody, and simplified movements to a slower tempo. From these they developed choreographies of the Călușeri dances Romanul, Bătuta, and Banu Mărăcine [3] which were first performed on stage in Năsăud. The composed Romana (or Romanul or later known as Călușerul in the urban context) consisted of 12 figures [8].

Romana and Bătuta were performed in the ballrooms of the city elite during the late 19th century as a performance item included in the programme of an event, or as a performance before social dancing commenced, very often as a sign of Romanian national identity, thus becoming a virtuoso dance in the spiritual life of Romanians [1]. By start of the 20th century, some 50 years after being choreographed, the enthusiasm had faded [9].


Călușari at Gura Râului, Sibiu – 1988

These dances spread through Transylvania via the Ceate de Juni (groups of young men) and were performed at town festivals and ballrooms to demonstrate Romanian national identity during Austro-Hungarian times. These dances spread back into villages where localised variants of these new forms developed without reference to the original custom, so the date for performing was placed at a time of local festivities. In the mid nineteenth century it is interesting to note that the ease of acceptance and wide range of local variants suggests that in many villages there were remnants of the former Căluș traditions in the latent repertoire [2]. For example in Grebenac (Banat serbesc ) the Călușeri are now part of a pre-lent organised village festival and elsewhere there are many references to performances at Rusali, Christmas and New Year events.

Derived men’s group dances

Some Transylvanian men’s dances appear to be derived directly from men’s group stick dances and use the same structure and concept as Călușeri. The De bâtă of central Transylvania and Bota in the upper Mureș valley continue to use a stick as a prop and in Haidău from Alba county the man uses his partner as the support [3]. One can also see exchange between Călușeri and Fecioreasca dances in central Transylvania as the movements and figures are closely related, however they are separated in context, with Călușeri being only performed on special occasions (seemingly Saints Days or Easter) [11].


The Borica dance and custom should be mentioned in this section due to similarity with Călușeri traditions. It is clear the two traditions are different in terms of ethnic identity of the performers and the details of the traditions, however, they occupy the same dance-custom category in the same space of Transylvania.

There are seven villages east of Brașov which are the home to Lutheran Hungarians that identify as Csángó. These population in these villages is about 2/3 Hungarian and 1/3 Romanian, with an occupational division, the Hungarians are agricultural famers and the Romanians are traditionally shepherds. The Borica tradition is continued in three villages, only within the Hungarian populations [12].

There are many similarities:

  1. A group of young men that have allegiance to the group.
  2. The leader is called the vataf (but this term is also widespread in Slavic).
  3. The dancers hold a wooden object similar to the stick/sword category.
  4. The dance is a typical group men’s dance (often termed “corps” dance or ceata in Romanian): performed in unison without connection between the dancers, the basic figure is travelling in a circle.
  5. It includes figures in two opposing lines which is common in many traditions.
  6. Dancers have bells attached to their lower legs.
  7. The custom was associated with carnival, but now takes place at Christmas, and has characters typical of many customs such as two dumb men (mutes) called Kuka .

Form and structure

type names form structure motifs music
Călușeri Banu Mărăcine, Marșul, Bătuta entry (line or pairs), circle with vătaf in centre, column or two opposing lines resting step, figures. vătaf dances figure, then group dance the same figure a number of times hops, kicks, slaps to legs and claps 2/4
Călușeri Romanul, Romana circle with vătaf in centre resting step, figures. vătaf dances figure, then group dance the same figure a number of times hops, kicks, slaps to legs and claps 10/16 (4+3+3)
Călușeri Căluțul circle pattern ends with closing motif step hops, heel closes 2/4


  1. Clemente, Constandin (1998). Lada de zestre: obiceiuri se tradii din judetul Hunedoara, Deva, Inspectoratul pentru cultura al Judetului Hunedoara.
  2. Giurchescu, Anca & Bloland, Sunni (1995). Romanian traditional dance : A contextual and structural approach, Mill Valley, California, Wild Flower Press.
  3. Costea, Constantin (1988). Jocurile fecioreşti transilvănene (Atestări documentare). Revista de Etnografie şi Folclor, 33 (1):75-90.
  4. Bârlea, Ovidiu (1982). Eseu despre Dansul Popular Românesc, Bucureşti, Cartea Românească.
  5. Frâncu, Teofil & Candrea, George (1888). Românii din Muntii Apuseni (Moții) : scriere etnografica en 10 foto, București.
  6. Petruțiu, Emil (1971). O ceata de călușeri din Cîmpia Transilvaniei. Anuarul Muzeului Etnografic al Transilvaniei pe Anii 1968-1970:409-417.
  7. Sulzer, Franz Joseph (1781). Geschichte des transalpinischen Daciens, Wien, Rudolph Graffer.
  8. Petac, Silvestru (2013). Istoriculu renascerei jocuriloru (danţuriloru) nostre naţionale: romana, romanulu şi bătuta ... de [ştefan emilian] şi câteva probleme de etnocoreologie. Anuarul Muzeului Etnografic al Transilvaniei (AMET).
  9. Rotariu, P. (1901). Romana. Drapelul, volume 1.
  10. Mureșianu, Iacob (1901). Romana. Gazeta de Transilvania, 64(1).
  11. Flințiu, C. I. (1936). Coreografie româneasca : (fecioreasca, învârtita, calusarii si alte jocuri nationale din Ardeal cu zicaturile si strigaturile lor), Târgoviste, Tipografia "Dâmbovita.
  12. Csilla, Könczei (2009). Kulturális identitás, rítus és reprezentáció a Brassó megyei Háromfaluban: A borica. Bucharest, Cluj: Kriterion Könyvkiadó, Kriza János Néprajzi Társaság.
Published on 23rd June 2020, last modified on 28th June 2020