Transylvanian Călușeri

Men’s group stick dances

The Transylvanian Călușeri is only found in its older form in Hunedoara county and neighbouring Banat and Alba areas. It is performed between Christmas and the New Year and is also known by the name Călutul (pony) or Călușerul (horseman). Franz I Sulzer of Vienna described this tradition in 1781. 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. The tradition continues in the villages of Boiu, Beriu, Ludești, Orăștioara, Geoagiu, Romos, Boșorod, Dâncu Mare and others in Hunedoara county. In Romoș 15 to 20 men perform the Călușer dances through the village, the suite of dances being; Călușerul, Romana, Banu Mărcine. The tradition includes a masked animal like creature called the Turca who was killed on the day after New Year.This is also the case for one southern Romanian Căluș that is known as Călușul de Iarna (Winter Căluș) was seen 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) without any ritual associations.

The Csango people near Brașov have a similar custom called the Boricza. The name of this custom is Slavic, but the custom has Romanian influences, and was danced during carnival but now takes place at Christmas. The tradition has two dumb men (mutes) called Kuka and a 1899 description describes a play where one is killed and resurrected in the manner typical of many old rituals.

There are a few indications that the Transylvanian Călușeri dancers were part of a custom or ritual in the past, in a similar way that southern Romanian Călușari was until recently. Until the beginning of the 20th century ritual Călușeri was still practiced in central Transylvania (for example Socolul de Pădure in Mureș county) and the shepherd’s dances a mutului and Gătejul may be remnants of this older Transylvanian Căluș. Old sources indicate that the Călușeri originally danced at Rusali, similar again to the southern Romanian Căluș, but now the Transylvanian custom has generally moved to the new “New Year” and is integrated into the winter cycle sometimes also known as Turca or Ceata de Juni.

1855 re-introduction

In 1855 a group of Transylvanian intellectuals led by Iacob Mureșan and Stefan Emilian collected folk dances from peasant dancers Ion Caluseriu and Simion Giugudeanu who were brought from Arieș region (Mureș county) to Brașov. They refined these dances to a fixed form and structure concordant with the melody, and with simplified movements at a slower tempo. From these they created the two Călușeri dances; Romanul (in a quadrille like formation) and Banul Maracine, which were first performed on stage in Năsăud. 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 ritual purpose, the date for performing being placed at a time of local festivities, for example in Grebenac (Banat) the Călușeri are now part of a pre-lent organised village festival. 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.

Derived men’s group dances

Some Transylvanian men’s dances appear to be derived directly from men’s group stick dances. The De bâtă of central Transylvania continues to use a stick as a prop (Bota in the upper Mureș valley, and in Haidău from Alba county the man uses his partner as the support), but otherwise these dances use the same structure and motifs as the combine the Călușeri.

The figures and motifs for Călușeri include many hops, rhythmic steps and leg kicks, but none of the heel beats and leg slaps of the Hungarian lads’ dance repertoire, or the Romanian Ponturi and Barbunc.

Published on 1st March 2018, last modified on 22nd February 2019