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Europe: Hungary

Hungarian Dance

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Herdsman's Stick Dance and Csárdás of Szatmár
Eszterlánc Hungarian Folk Ensemble
Instruments Used

In the 19th century, during the Age of Romanticism, European nations were looking at their roots, rediscovering their heritage, and incorporating ethnic elements into their art forms. These trends greatly facilitated the quick spreading of the newer-style Hungarian dances. Influences from the bourgeois class, Western European dance fashions, and the spreading of dance schools also entered the equation.

What are the characteristics of the Hungarian dance dialect? The first and most important is improvisation. The dancers of Eastern and Central Europe do not dance a set sequence or pattern (in the manner of American square dancers, West European contra dancers or Balkan line and circle dancers, for example), but instead make up their moves to follow the music. Researchers have identified this improvised style as a fashion born in the early Renaissance and at one time popular all over Europe.

The second characteristic of the Hungarian dance style is that it is predominately male-centric. Competitive male dance has long historical roots in the region, reaching back to military recruiting dances (verbunk), stick dances and even victory celebration dances. Even in the couples' dances, the men have a disproportionately more energetic role. The woman's job is to follow her partner's lead.

Thirdly, Hungarian dancers make full use of all the rhythmic opportunities. From finger snapping through clapping, stomping, and heel clicking, a wide variety of rhythmic accompaniments accent the dance. But perhaps the most characteristic rhythmic element in Hungarian dance is boot slapping.

Hungarian Folk Music
The music of Hungary is lively and unique. Most commonly, the Gypsy band is made up of fiddle, modified viola, and string bass. Sometimes the band is joined by accordion and other modern amplified instruments.

The czardas, or csárdás in Hungarian (pronounced CHAR-dash), was born of earlier dance and musical roots at the later part of the 18th and turn of the 19th centuries. Both Hungarians and Slovaks consider it to be their national dance. Part of a larger movement when the awakening of "national" consciousness in Europe produced new developments in music and dance (similar to the Mazurka, Polka, and the Waltz), the csárdás became the most popular dance in the Carpathian Basin.

Around the same time when the csárdás swept into fashion as a couple's dance, a new man's dance called the verbunk (recruiting dance) was also born. During the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its army, dance events were used as an opportunity for recruiting new soldiers. It received its name from the German word “werben” which means “to recruit.” The two dances are closely related, in both musical and movement style. They were usually danced in succession, the verbunk first, followed by the csárdás.

The csárdás was and is still known and danced - even by city dwellers - to the accompaniment of folk or popular music.

The csárdás is upbeat in the region of Szatmár and is very virtuostic. It can be divided into three parts: the csendes (quiet), the csárdás (a couples’ dance of moderate speed), and the friss csárdás (quick couples’ dance). Besides the usual “closed” couple position, other positions can be observed: various half-open positions, separate dancing, and turns for the women. Since the woman’s circle dance is extinct in this region, it has been substituted with the popular circle that includes both men and women.

Herdsmen's Stick Dance
Herdsmen from the Hungarian Great Plain dance the stick dance, one of the most ancient and unspoiled dance related to herding animals in Eastern Europe. At the turn of the 19th century, the stick dance was still common among the herdsmen of Hungary, the cattleherds, swineherds, and shepherds being real masters of this art form. It can still be found to this day in Hungary at fairs and performances. The dance shows the pure virtuosity in handling the stick. It is a straight piece of wood carved from a tree trunk. It takes years to master the skillful twirling, passing, and turning the dancer does with the stick.


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