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National Dance in Denmark

National Dance in Denmark

4 October 2018

Dancing is very popular in Denmark as Heather Burns reports

Every village and small town has its own folk dance group, while larger cities like Copenhagen may have several. The style of Danish dancing is rather gentle, never flamboyant but always very neat and controlled. The dances have a social quality and people enjoy performing them together. There are many different steps and nearly 2,000 different dances. A large number of these are figure dances in which there are many figures – turs, each one separated by a repeated chorus. So a Totur was originally a dance with two figures and a Firetur was a dance with four figures.

Every village and small town has its own folk dance group

People of all ages dance ‘just for fun’ and many dancers make their own folk costumes, taking care to choose the correct style for the place from which their families originated. These costumes take many weeks, even months, of hard work to make as they are often hand sewn with hand woven fabrics and handmade lace. No short cuts are allowed – every detail must be historically correct, even to the knitted socks and stockings.

If you decide to make a Danish costume try to copy your chosen style very carefully and, especially, to use the correct colours and the most suitable materials available. Try to give the costume weight – folk materials are thick and heavy. Remember that originally they were designed to keep out the cold. Most of all, wear your costume with pride. After all it is an historical costume, not just fancy dress.

Ostsjaelland  Skovshoved (below)
Bright green skirt edged with red; white apron over-checked with either dark blue or red; black blouse with white spots; white shawl embroidered with red flowers and green leaves; white bonnet-shaped headdress; straw coloured basked with fish.
Romo 

Ostsjaelland (East Zealand) (above)
Green jacket with lighter green pattern and silver buttons over waistcoat in same material or in red and green stripes with silver buttons; white shirt; white or fawn knee breeches; white stockings; black clogs; brown woollen cap edged with red and red tassel; red and green checked bow tie

Skovshoved 

Romo (above)
Black blouse with small red or pink flowers and green spots or leaves; red bodice edged with green; silver buttons; red skirt; dark blue and green checked apron; neckscarf of patterned silk in shades of pink and red; headscarf of plaid cotton in dark green, blue and burgundy; black shoes.

     
 Rosnaes Samso (below)
Shawl and bonnet of black with pale pink and deep pink flowers and green leaves; white lace frill round face; bright blue bodice with small pattern of green leaves; bow round waist of black with overcheck in pale pink and dark pink, or cyclamen and pale mauve; skirt of black (this has an embroidered band of cyclamen flowers, which is hidden by the apron in front); apron of patterned silk in burgundy or cyclamen; black shoes.
 Falster

Rosnaes (above)
Red woollen cap; striped coat and waistcoat in red, dark blue and either white or yellow; silver buttons; cream or light yellow knee breeches; white stockings with red and white, or red and blue striped garters; black or dark brown clogs.

 Samso

Falster (above)
Black top hat; dark blue jacket with silver buttons; black bow tie; white or light grey trousers; white stockings; black shoes with silver buckles.

Images reproduced with kind permission of Nigel Jaffé, who was the original author along with his late wife Margaret Dixon-Phillip.

Customs

There are some Danish customs that are especially fun for young people. One of the first of the year is Carnival, which takes place in February, just before Lent. This is the time of the Cat King and Queen when the children, dressed in fancy dress, gather round to ‘beat the barrel’. The barrel is filled with sweets and everyone armed with sticks hits it as hard as possible. The person who finally breaks it and releases the sweets, which represent the spirit of the cat, is crowned King or Queen of the festivities.

Making a Carnival Wand

These wands are carried by all Danish children at Carnival Time. Many are home-made and the sweet shop windows look like forests with dozens of different coloured wands.

Materials Required

  • Several twigs of small branches approximately 75cm long (use Birch twigs if possible because they are straight)
  • Gold or silver spray paint
  • Gold or silver string • Shiny coloured paper or foil
  • Narrow florists ribbon (the sort which can be made to curl)
  • A selection of sweets and chocolates
  • A small toy
  • An eye mask (very often a cat or a clown)
  • A carnival blower or whistle

Method

  1. Spray the twigs with either gold or silver paint
  2. When completely dry tie the branches with either gold or silver string leaving long ends hanging down
  3. With scissors run the blade sharply down the ends to make them curl into ringlets
  4. Wrap the sweets and chocolates in brightly coloured paper or foil and attach them to the branches (In Denmark the sweets are usually marzipan covered in chocolate)
  5. Fasten on a small toy and a carnival blower or whistle and finally the eye mask and your wand is complete.

Happy Carnival!

Midsummer’s Eve is a special celebration and every place has its bonfire. If the town or village is on the coast the bonfire is built on the beach and in many places it is possible to go from one fire to another along the sands. When seen from the sea the fires look like a necklace of twinkling lights. Each fire has a rag doll witch, complete with a broom, on the top. It is believed in the old days that on Midsummer’s Eve the witches flew off the Harz Mountains in Germany to dance with the devil. Special songs are sung, often composed for the occasion and people dance around the fire while the smaller children cook their bread. Each child is given a ball of dough, which they put on the end of a long stick.

They then sit round their own small fire and bake the bread by holding it over the fire. Usually rather black and smoky, it is eaten and enjoyed by the young cooks.

There are some Danish customs that are especially fun for young people

Christmas is a special time for children. Presents are heaped under the Christmas tree and on Christmas Eve the family circle the tree singing Christmas songs. After presents have been opened everyone sits down to a special supper but not before putting a bowl of porridge in the attic for the Nisse man – the household spirit found in every Danish home. The Nisse man is a helpful spirit but can be easily offended, so the children make sure that he has his Christmas supper before they settle down to their own feast. One of the dishes served is almond porridge in which a whole almond is hidden. The lucky person who finds this will have good fortune for the coming year. New Year is welcomed with fireworks and, as midnight tolls out the old year, the whole country explodes in a blaze of coloured lights and deafening noise, thus ensuring that all evil spirits are frightened away and the New Year, still only a baby, will arrive safe and sound.

Heather Burns

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