Bulgarians, Macedonians - Gypsy Folk Ensemble

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Early Sources for the History of Folk Dance in the Balkans and Western Asia

Chapter 4: Bulgarians, Macedonians

- Gypsy Folk Ensemble

- Early Travelers to Greece

- Greeks & Albanians from about 1800

- Serbs, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Croatians

- Romanians

- Asia Minor & Northern Iraq

- The Levant

- Persia

Reinhold Lubenau (1556-1631) left Vienna in 1587 and traveled to Constantinople as the apothecary to the Austrian Ambassador Bartholomaeus Petzen.

In 1587, at the village of Dragoman (Драгоман) in western Bulgaria, near the Serbian border and about 25 miles west of Sofia:

Die Leutte baten uns Diener zu ihrer Hochzeit, derer etliche, wie auch ich, dahin gingen und ihren Ceremonien zusahen; sie hilten ihren Tantz eben mitt solchem Gesprenge und Singen, wie unsere littausche Weiber.

The people asked us to attend their wedding, and some of us, myself included, went there and watched their ceremonies; they perform their dances with leaps and singing just like our Lithuanian women.
- “Beschreibung der Reisen des Reinhold Lubenau” (W. Sahm, ed),  Mitteilungen aus der Stadtbibliothek zu Koenigsberg i. Pr. IV-V, p. 106

In her article "Na râcenitsata" (Folklor i Obshtestvo, Sofia 1977, p. 42-72), the noted Bulgarian ethnologist and dance researcher Raïna Katsarova (1901-1984) says that the Bulgarian dance Rachenitsa is mentioned plainly and in writing at the end of the 18th century with the same disapproval found in Bulgarian medieval literature towards folk music and dance from church authorities:


Tiya, shto igrayat khora i ruchenitsi, i svirtsi, koito svirat s gusla i meshitsi gaidi i tupani, shte otidat v plach, gdeto nikoga ne shte se ugeshat

Thou, who dance horas and rachenitsas, and play, whoever plays gusla and gaida and also tupans, shall go to cry, and where they will never be silenced

[The notice is from Sofiyska Narodna Biblioteka. Staropechaten Otdel. Râkopis No. 688, List 396]

Dr. John Sibthorp (1758-1796) succeeded his father as Professor of Botany at Oxford in 1784 and was a founder of the Linnaean Society (1788). He traveled to Greece and other areas of the Balkans on botanical collecting expeditions. He died of consumption in 1796. His observations are taken from a pocket book in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

At Nevsha, on the road from Shumla to Provadia, May 11th, 1794:

Dancing girls who were gipsies saluted us as we entered Nenschat [Nevsha]. These dances were more the movements of the body than of the feet - one of them dressed as a Turkish woman with her nails stained preeminently excelled. Her movements tho' extremely obscene appear highly to gratify our guards, with whom she smoaked her pipe and entered into conversation. We were informed that near us was a village entirely composed of these dancing girls, who were supported by the favors they received from travelers.
- E.D. Tappe: “John Sibthorp in the Danubian Lands, 1794", Revue des Etudes Sud-est Europeennes  5 (n.3-4), p461-473 (1967), p. 4-72

Ami Boue (1794-1881) was born in Hamburg to a wealthy Huguenot family of shipowners. He was a geologist and one of the founders of the Société géologique de France in 1830. He traveled widely in Southeastern Europe eventually settling in Vienna and becoming an Austrian citizen.

Near the village of Jaboukovik (modern Jabukovik), in Serbia, south-west of Pirot, near the Bulgarian border:

Nous fumes bien etonnes de voir rassembler sur une petite plate-forme une soixantaine de villageois bulgares, hommes, femmes et enfans, qui dansaient et chantaient en ayant a la place des rafraichissemens du raki, du pain et du fromage blanc.

We were astonished to see gathered on a small platform about sixty Bulgarian villagers, men, women and children, who danced and sang and had for refreshments raki, bread and white cheese.
- Ami Boué: Recueil d'itineraires dans la Turquie d'Europe, Vienna, 1854, Vol. I, p. 84

In East Macedonia at the han of Stratzin, (probably modern Stracin), about 18 miles west of Kriva Palanka:

Une bande nombreuse de jeunes femmes bulgares voyageant avec quelques hommes vinrent a passer et nous amuserent quelques instans par leurs danses nationales executees en chantant. Les hommes ne prenaient pas part a cette recreation et se contentaient du plaisir de regarder ces robustes compagnardes, qui quoiqu'ayant marche tout le jour etaient toutes disposees a danser, lors meme que nous ne leur aurions pas donne quelques litres de vin.

A numerous band of young Bulgarian women passed by and amused us for a while with their national dances done with song. The men did not take part in this recreation and satisfied themselves by watching their robust companions, who despite having traveled all day were still ready to dance, even if we had not given them several liters of wine.
- Ibid, Vol. I, p. 303

James Baker (1830-1906) was born in London and educated at Cambridge. He joined the British Army and eventually rose to the rank of Colonel. He traveled in the Ottoman Empire as a free-lance intelligence gatherer. He moved to British Colombia, Canada in 1885 where he became involved in politics. Here he is describing wedding customs in Bulgaria:

The friends of the bridegroom dance their way to the friends of the bride, to the sound of the drum, bagpipe, and clarionet, and vice versa... The Bulgarians are peculiarly fond of dancing, which is usually practiced to the sound of the bagpipe. The women and men join hands until they form a long line, which then serpentines about to a slow movement which seems to have great fascination, and to produce a sort of quiet ecstasy... I asked whether they had any quick dances. Their reply was in the affirmative, and to my astonishment the piper at once struck up a tune which would have made an excellent accompaniment to a highland reel, and two men stood up and danced with that same solemnity and air of importance which we see in Scotland ... the occasional shout, the snapping of the fingers, the sudden turning of the body ...
- James Baker: Turkey in Europe, New York, 1877 (2nd edition), p. 102-103

Felix Kanitz (1829-1904) was a Hungarian archaeologist and ethnographer who published several works on Serbian ethnography. He traveled throughout the Balkans in 1859-1868.

La danse favorite du Bulgare est la hora nationale, qui rassemble fort au kolo serbe et au labyrinthe des Grecs. On la danse généralement en plein air. Filles et garçons forme une chaîne et se meuvent en faisant sans cesse deux pas en avant et un pas en arrière. Peu à peu la mesure devient plus rapide et les deux extrémités cherchent à se réunir; enfin le circle se ferme, mais pour se rouvrir et se refermer de nouveau. La charme principal de la danse vient de la variété des figures que décrit la bande en suivant le rythme de la musique. Il y a aussi une sorte de polonaise exécutée par une seule danseuse, puis un pas de deux d'une mesure très vive; enfin la danse grotesque de l'ours, dans laquelle un jeune homme revêtu d'une peau d'ours cherche à imiter les cris et la démarche de l'animal, tandis que tous les danseurs l'agacent et sautent après lui au milieu des rires et des lazzi.

The favorite dance of Bulgaria is the national hora, which strongly resembles the Serbian kolo and the Greek labyrinth. It is usually danced outdoors. Women and men form a chain and move continuously with two steps forward and one step back. Little by little the tempo increases and the two ends of the circle try to join; finally the circle closes, only to open and close again. The principal charm of the dance comes from the variety of patterns described by the group while following the rhythm of the music. There is also a type of polonaise done by a solo woman dancer, then a very fast couple dance; finally the grotesque Bear Dance, in which a young man dressed up in a bear skin tries to imitate the cries and movements of the animal, while the rest of the dancers tease him and leap after him in the midst of laughter and jeers.
- F. Kanitz: La Bulgarie Danubienne et le Balkan, Paris, 1882, p. 31

Konstantin Jireček (1854-1918), of Czech nationality but born in Vienna, was an archeologist and historian, and the author of several works on the southern Slavs.

Der herrschende Nationaltanz, das choró, ist sehr einfach: die Tanzenden halten sich in einer Reihe oder in einem grossen Kreis oder Halbkreis bei den Haenden, und schreiten je zwei Schritte rechts vorwaerts und einen Schritt links rueckwaerts, bald schneller, bald langsamer, ganz wie beim serbischen Kolo, der rumaenischen hora, dem griechischen Χορος und der provençalischen farandola. Manchmal schleift sich die Reihe durch eine von zwei Taenzerinen mit den Haenden gebildete Bruecke durch. Eine groessere Lebhaftigkeit entwickelt nur der erste Taenzer als Fuehrer und der letzte als "Schweif" (opaska). Die Zahmheit der Taenze der Balkanvoelker war schon einem alten aufmerksamen Beobachter auffaellig, Stephan Gerlach von Tuebingen, der 1573-1578 zu Konstantinopel verweilt hatte: "im Tanzen sind sie viel zuechtiger als die Unserigen", springen dabei nicht und die Maenner greifen die Weiber gar nicht an. (1) Aus neuerer Zeit ist charakteristisch eine tuerkische Anekdote. Als Sultan Mahmud II in den Kasernen von Konstantinopel das abendlaendische Exerciren einfuehrte, hielten die Arnauten dies fuer irgend einen Kriegstanz und waren sehr verwundert darueber, das die Tuerken im Heere "Choro zu tanzen" beginnen. In der Umgegend von Sofia tanzt man ohne musikalische Begleitung nur beim Gesang langer Chorolieder mit langgedehnten Refrains, aus denen auch ein geuebtes Ohr wenig herausverstehen kann. Das klingen der vielen Muenzen an den Guerteln und Zoepfen, die ueblichen Blumen-, Gras-, und Federbuesche der Taenzerinen und die malerischen Costueme vereinigen sich zu einem farbenpraechtigen Bild. Maedchen, Frauen und Maenner tanzen entweder in eigenen Reihen oder vermischt. Lebhafter sind die Chorotaenze der Makedonier und Albanesen, sowie die griechischen und wlachischen Taenze mit zeitweiligem Niederknien auf dem Boden.
(1) Stephan Gerlach des Aelteren Tagebuch. Frankfurth am Mayn 1674 S. 157.

The predominant national dance, the Horo, is very simple: the dancers form a line or a large circle or half circle holding hands, and take two steps forward to the right and one step back to the left, sometimes faster and sometimes slower, quite like the Serbian Kolo, the Romanian hora, the Greek Horos and the Provencal farandole. Sometimes the line is looped through itself through two dancers who form a bridge with their hands. Great animation is shown only by the first dancer as leader and the last as "Tail" (opaska). The tameness of the dances of the peoples of the Balkans was even striking to an early careful observer, Stephan Gerlach of Tuebingen, who stayed at Constantinople in 1573-1578: "in dance, they are more demure than our people", with no leaps and with the men never touching the women. (1) In more modern times, a Turkish anecdote is characteristic. When Sultan Mahmud II introduced western military drill in the Constantinople barracks, the Albanians took this as a kind of war dance and were quite astonished that the Turks in the army were beginning to "dance the Horo". In the surroundings of Sofia, dance is done without musical accompaniment, only to the singing of a long dance song with a very elongated refrain, so that even a trained ear can understand only a little. The jingling of coins on the sashes and tresses, the usual clusters of flowers, grass and feathers and the picturesque costumes together make a splendidly colorful picture. Girls, women and men dance either in separate lines or together. The Horo dances of the Macedonians and Albanians are livelier, as are the Greek and Vlach dances with occasional kneels on the ground.
- Constantin Jirecek: Das Fuerstenthum Bulgarien, Wien, 1891, p. 84-85

Sir Charles Eliot (1862-1931) visited Turkey first in 1884, then again in 1889-1890, and was Secretary in the British Embassy at Constantinople from 1893 to 1898. He was later the British Ambassador to Japan (1919).

On a visit to Macedonia in 1894, probably at Ohrid:

...on feast days the Bulgarian maidens ... will spend the whole of a hot summer afternoon in pounding through the hora, a monotonous and interminable dance, which apparently consists in forming a circle, and moving round and round to the sound of the bagpipes. These latter are the national instrument, and are thought by the Turks to be specially characteristic of Bulgarians.
- Charles Eliot: Turkey in Europe, London, 1908, p. 327

Ivan Mrkvička (1856-1938) was a Czech-born artist who migrated to Bulgaria as a young man. He became one of the founders of the fine art tradition in the newly independent Kingdom of Bulgaria.

Many of his paintings portrayed folk scenes, including dances:

Shopsko Horo 1892

Rachenitsa 1894

Lucy Mary Jane Garnett (1849-1934) was a traveler and writer who published a number of works on life in the Balkans. Here she is speaking of Macedonian Bulgarians:

The Bulgarian, like the Greek peasants, have few amusements save the song and the dance. Unlike the Greeks, however, who dance only at appointed times and seasons, the Bulgarians are always ready for this national pastime. At the first discordant sound of the gaida - the native bagpipe - the young men and girls form a circle, holding each other by the girdle, and enter enthusiastically and untiringly into the dance.
- Lucy M. J. Garnett: Turkish Life in Town and Country, New York, 1904, p. 253

Arthur D. Howden Smith (1887-1945) was an American reporter for the New York Evening Post from 1905 to 1918.

Dancing by the chetniks (guerilla fighters) at the village of Fortovishta in Pirin:

The wine having all been drunk, they cleared a space in the centre of the room, and half a dozen of the most expert formed a circle and danced the horo, the Bulgarian national dance, with all its frills and graces, handkerchiefs tossed over one shoulder and hands held high above their heads. Ilia, the biggest of the lot, was especially good at it, and it was indeed worth going far to see, to watch him capering through the more intricate steps. As fast as one squad became winded, others leaped forward to take their places, and the dancing kept up throughout most of the afternoon.
- Arthur D. Howden Smith: Fighting the Turk in the Balkans, an American's adventures with the Macedonian revolutionists, New York, 1908, p. 159

A scene of chetniks dancing to the accompaniment of a bagpipe at a campsite in the mountains above Navarrokop (Nevrokop or modern Goce Delchev):

They leaped to their feet, and placing arms on each other's shoulders, formed a circle for the horo... I have seen few stranger spectacles than that dance. Gravely and without any boisterousness, the chetniks hopped and leaped through the steps, the tremendous shadows they cast over the ground looking like familiar spirits, participating in the revels.
- Ibid, p. 209-210

John Foster Fraser (1868-1936) was an English traveler and journalist and an extremely prolific author.

On the road south from Plovdiv to the monastery of St. Petka:

There had been one of the innumerable church festivals, and crowds of gaudily-clad peasants were returning home from their junketings ... A man sitting on the ground droned at the bagpipes. A big circle was formed, and in the furious heat the peasants were slowly and monotonously stamping round, going through the hora dance.
- John Foster Fraser: "Philippopolis" in Turkey and the Balkan States as Described by Great Writers (ed. Esther Singleton) New York, 1908, p. 209

Louis de Launay (1860-1938) was a French geologist and mineralogist. He traveled widely including a trip to Bulgaria in the early years of the 20th century.

Speaking of central Bulgaria around Pleven:

Ici, le dimanche, on voit, sur la place du village, se dérouler la ronde, la farandole du choro, la danse nationale bulgare, où les jeunes filles, la main dans la main, tournent indéfiniment en avançant puis reculant tour à tour de quatre ou cinq pas, tandis qu’un garçon, au centre, souffle avec persévérance et mélancolie dans sa flûte. De ce côté de Bulgarie, le costume des femmes reste dans les tons noirs, avec un tablier à raies horizontales rouges, jaunes, vertes, noires. Les hommes portent volontiers un grand manteau pelisse en laine blanche tombant sur les jambières blanches, qui rapelle les types de la Roumanie et du Banat.

Here, on Sunday, we can see in the village square, the round, the farandole of the choro, the Bulgarian national dance, in which the young girls, hand in hand, turn indefinitely, advancing and retreating in turn four or five paces, while a boy, in the center, blows with perseverance and melancholy on his flute. In this area of Bulgaria, the costumes of the women stay in black tones, with an apron of horizontal stripes red, yellow, green, black. Men wear a large cloak of white wool falling on white leggings, which recalls the types of Romania and the Banat.
- L. de Launay: La Bulgarie d’hier et demain, Paris, 1907. p. 115

In the poor quarter of Slivno (Sliven):

Là dominent les tziganes aux cheveux noirs, au teint presque nègre, à la lèvre inférieure étonnamment saillante: les hommes en costume turc; les femmes avec ces paquets de fleurs démesurées, naturelles ou artificielles, cet attirail de pendeloques, ces plumes, qu’affectionnent aussi les paysannes bulgares et dont j’ai déjà dit un mot à Béla. Toute cette foule bariolée grouillait, se promenait et éclatait en tons violents au soleil, dans une prairie, où, par endoits, la danse de choro ondoyait en rondes ou se déroulait en farandoles.

There are the Gypsies with black hair, almost black complexion, and a surprisingly prominent lower lip: men in Turkish costume; the women with packs of excessive flowers, natural or artificial, this paraphernalia of pendants, these feathers, which the Bulgarian peasants like too, and of which I have already mentioned at Béla. All this multicolored crowd swarmed, walked and burst into violent tones in the sun, in a meadow, where, in places, the dance of choro rippled in circles or unfolded in farandoles.
- Ibid, p. 257

Parmi les traits les plus faciles à constater des moeurs bulgares, il faut citer les danses populaires, bien que celles-ci ne m’aient pas paru tenir à beaucoup près une place égale à celle qu’elles ont en Grèce. La plus répandue de toutes, à laquelle on peut assister les jours de fête, est le Choro ou labyrinthe: une farandole, importée (comme son nom) de Grèce où je l’ai vu souvent danser, une ronde dans laquelle tournent vingt ou trente jeunes filles se tenant la main, tandis que la conductrice chante quelque chanson.
  On peut également citer le jeu de l’ours, où un homme vêtu d’une peau de bête est poursuivi par les jeunes filles aux sons d’une musique barbare. On prend l’ours, on l’attache, on le charge de foin, il fait des gestes bouffons, des pas grotesques.

Among the easiest to note traits of Bulgarian manners are popular dances, although these did not seem to me to have much the same place as they have in Greece. The most widespread of all, which one can witness at feast days, is the Choro or labyrinth: a farandole, imported (as its name) from Greece where I often saw it danced, a round in which turn twenty or thirty young girls holding hands, while the leader sings a song. One can also cite the game of the bear, where a man dressed in the skin of a beast is pursued by young girls with the sounds of a barbaric music. They take the bear, they tie it, they load it with hay, it makes buffoon-like gestures and grotesque steps.
- Ibid, p. 350-351

Allen Upward (1863-1926) was an English writer and politician.

In late 1907, on the route Niausi-Vodena-Vladovo-Nissia, at the Macedonian village of Nissia, the modern Nision (Nisija), about 10 km west of Edessa:

We entered one house in which we found a wedding-party. The men performed a dance bearing some resemblance to a Scottish reel, and the bride came forward and laid a small cotton handkerchief across our left shoulders as a souvenir, in accordance with local custom.
- Allen Upward: The East End of Europe, London, 1908, p. 211

"BULGARIA" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, New York, 1910/11

The men, as a rule, are rather below middle height, compactly built, and, among the peasantry, very muscular; the women are generally deficient in beauty and rapidly grow old ... Marriage ceremonies are elaborate and protracted, as is the case in most primitive communities; elopements are frequent, but usually take place with the consent of the parents on both sides, in order to avoid the expense of a regular wedding. The principal amusement on Sundays and holidays is the choró (χορός), which is danced on the village green to the strains of the gaïda or bagpipe, and the gûsla, a rudimentary fiddle.

[The article was written by James David Bourchier (1850-1920) who was a corrrespondent for The Times of London in the Balkans from 1888 to 1918 and who became a major figure in Balkan politics, especially in Bulgaria]

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