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Back to the sources: dance camp in Transylvania

In August, I attended a Hungarian folk-dance camp in Transylvania. I learned some new dance moves and met people from US, Germany and Hungary. Hungarian diaspora living in Austria or Belgium (like myself) also attended. It was surprising to see people from the other parts of the world that travel soo long distances to this village to learn the dance.

The intense one-week camp was organised in Valaszut, a little village near Cluj Napocca, at the Zoltán Kallós Foundation. This is a multi-faceted institution with three main areas of activity: educational activities, public cultural activities, and the care of the ethnographic collection of its namesake. Its mission is to perpetuate the Hungarian folk culture, unite and strengthen the scattered Hungarians and preserve the folk traditions of Transylvania and pass them on to the younger generations.

During the week we did have 4 hours dance classes every day with a 1 hour singing class. In the afternoons, we had the opportunity to hear about the origins of the Hungarian folk dance movement. It was quite intense but was worth it to be part of this immersive experience. I have only one negative point: the menu was not really veggie-fit.

I learned a lot about the origins of the dance and the music that I would like to share below.

Origins of the dance

The origins of the folk dances go back to ancient times, when dance was part of ceremonies. The specific movement forms of the dances that are still alive today, the broken movement variations without transitions.

The regulated individual and pair forms of Hungarian folk dance arose between the 17th and 19th centuries. Among the dance types, the stumbling horse, the legényes and the karikazó are the older ones, while, for example, the csárdás and the verbunkos represent the newer dance styles.

The earliest period of Hungarian folk dance was characterized by dancing in holy places, which is evidenced by synod decisions that forbade dancing in churches and cemeteries.

In the 19th century, Hungarian dance was considered the devil's craft, and therefore persecuted by the communist governments. The consequence of this was that the subsequent liberation opened the way for quiet, calm foreign dances.

The Hungarian dance is diverse and lives in many versions, and it is almost impossible to include them in a system. The science of dance was passed down from father to son, and the survival of the dance depended on the ability of the offspring. If the Hungarian dance skills had not been inherited, the dance world might have disappeared without a trace.

Social cohesion and finding a partner

The folk dances are usually danced at social gatherings (which can be formed spontaneously or during yearly celebrations) that can but are not required to have a particular dancing stage and are almost always so simple to dance those new dancers and amateurs are encouraged to start dancing with everyone else. This gives the feeling of belonging and sense of community that is so greatly needed in societies nowadays. The other aim of the dance was of course to find a romantic partner, especially in rural areas.

The music

The purpose of the music is not to be explicitly "beautiful". It is more important that it makes you dance and has an intoxicating effect. It's okay if the musician achieves the dance effect by violating the purity of the music. It is already a violation of purity that the flute player playing the dance tune distorts the sound of his instrument with a growl, just as the zither player strums the accompanying strings out of tune.

Health benefits

Folk dancing has all the benefits of dancing: fitness and coordination. It is a bridge between a physical regime and a way of life. For me, dancing is not like “just doing a workout” (bending and straightening the joints) but it is fun and meaningful. All in all, for me dance is art: it helps me expressing myself and connecting with others :)

In my new dancing outfit before the rehearsal.


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