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Folk Dance
Folk Dance

by Kálmán and Judith Magyar

Contrary to the popular belief, not only in America, but also in other parts of the world, including Hungary: csárdás is not the only folk dance type of the Hungarians. The romantic "Holliwoodian" image of the gypsy virtuoso musician playing fiery music, while several persons dance the csárdás, is far from the true Hungarian folk dance culture. Although it my be true that most of the musicians playing Hungarian string dance music are gypsies, the folk dances and their accompaniments are much more versatile.
We may conclude that when Hungarian folk dance is compared to other Eastern European folk dances, it appears to be the most versatile, as it has been collected in the last couple of decades.

Line dances, circle dances, couple dances, solo men's and women's or children's dances can all be found in Hungarian dance lore, within a given region. In neighboring Eastern European cultures, one or two folk dance forms seem to dominate within an ethnographical unit.
Improvisation may be considered to be the most important characteristic of Hungarian folk dance and Dr. Martin (Magyarország, Sept. 1978: 39) points out that this form of dancing asserts itself the most in the virtuoso man's solo dances. Furthermore, he also suggests that among the people of the Balkans couple dancing and improvisation do not have a significant role.
The systematic grouping of Hungarian folk dances was primarily established by the Folk Music Research Group at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, necessitated by the development of Hungarian folk dancing into a social movement, on one hand, and an artistic means of expression on stage on the other.

Girls' round dance (karikázó) contains surviving elements of the archaic chain dances, all of which originate in the performances of spring fertility rituals. Although starting in the 17th century, the couple dance fashions have pushed it into the background, it has continued to exist, to date.
In shepherds' dances, the functional and war dances of ancient times, found in most ethnic cultures of the world, are preserved.
"Jumping dances" (ugrós) of the old style in many respects are interwoven with the implemented shepherds' dances, but as they were not limited to the use of a utensil, their development continued well into the 19th century.
Old style couple dances are remnants of the late Medieval and Renaissance Western European couple dances, and have survived in spite of the fast spreading of the new style csárdás in the 19th century.
In the second half of the 18th century, Hungarian dancing, along with other aspects of national culture was driven out not only from aristocratic domains, but from noble manors as well. This was an unfortunate process, as the Hungarian upper class has been known for nurturing the progress and preservation of Hungarian customs. The Habsburg rulers have also exerted conscious effort to Germanize the Hungarian nation to such an extent, that finally a movement of patriotic upflaring got under way in the late 18th century. This national enthusiasm also had its effect on the social, and thus the dance life of the country. Hungarian dancing was being reintroduced into the dance program at balls and other formal dances, the ultimate goal being the establishing of a national style dance, fashioned after the traditional village dances.

To reflect this endeavor, the Hungarian national dance acquired the name csárdás. In it, characteristics of old Hungarian and other European couple dances may be found, together with newer elements of dancing. The couple has different ways of holding each other, a rich variety of figures are executed and various feelings may be expressed during the dance. Each region boasts its own characteristic csárdás.

The verbunk took its name from the German word for recruiting and it was used during the 18th and first half of the 19th century for enlisting young men into the military.
The music and beautiful dancing of the recruiter, who was an excellent dancer, hired especially for this purpose, had a magic effect on the onlooking men. They could not resist joining in the masculine, pulsating dance and consequently found themselves enlisted soldiers, with orders to march off with the regiment the following day.
The following criteria have been selected for the subsequent dialectical evaluation of Hungarian folk dances.

1. Dance cycle, its components within a certain region, in view of the afore discussed dance types.
2. Special characteristics in function and form of dances.
3. Musical accompaniment, variances by region.

According to dialectical classification, there are three major groups in Hungarian folk dancing:

1. Western or Danube region
2. Central or Tisza region
3. Eastern or Transylvanian region.

Hungarian Folk dance is still a part of life for people in Hungary as well as in the Americas.

Many villages of Hungary and Transylvania have preserved their folk dances. Dance events are usually centered around holidays or celebrations such as weddings, christenings, etc. Traditional folklore groups (hagyományőrző együttesek), made up of the best dancers, musicians and singers, travel to festivals and perform at local events. Spontaneous folk dance in the cities is called táncház. This form of folk dancing is mostly cultivated by the younger generation and is organized in most large towns of Hungary and in Transylvania on a regular basis. Amateur and professional folk dance ensembles add to the popularity of Hungarian folk dancing.

In American Hungarian communities folk dance occurs during events related to dancing such as balls, picnics, and other similar gatherings. Members of the community will dance mostly a simple csárdás. The dancers usually learned the dance from their parents or remember how to do the csárdás from the "old country". Táncház-es are occasionally organized within the community, where regional dances are danced and instructed. Performing ensembles also do their share in preserving Hungarian folk dance.

Period of music played by the band, danced with the same partner, in a set order of dance types. Typical order: 1. men's dance; 2. slow; 3. medium pace; and 4. fast couple dance. Special dances, varying regionally, also may be done. Girls' round dance is done during breaks taken by the band.

NOVEMBER 13, 1994

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