National Dance of Bulgaria
30 September 2019
A report about traditional dancing in Bulgaria
The main instruments used are: the gaida, a kind of bagpipe, the kaval – a type of flute and the dvoyanka – a double flute. The gadoulka or rebec, which is a stringed instrument and the tamboura – a type of mandoline. Drums too are very important, and it is interesting that a light sound is made with the left stick and a heavy one with the right.
The high standard found in the numerous dance groups is probably due to this degree of musicianship both in the performers and instrumentalists. It is interesting to learn that in the training colleges the dance instructors and choreographers have to learn to play a musical instrument. This valuable asset enables them to read a score and observe the correct interpretation of the music instead of ‘bending’ it to suit the dance technique, which unfortunately is far too common in some other countries.
Many composers base their themes on folk melodies such as Dvorak or Janacek in the Czech Republic, Kodaly in Hungary, Grieg in Norway, Holst and Grainger in England. In Bulgaria the most famous are Krasimir Kyurkchiyski, Lyubomir Pipkov, Georgi Kostov, Pancho Vladigherov, Vassil Kazandjiev, Mrin Goleminov, and others. Bartok although a Hungarian was so fascinated by the Bulgarian rhythms he wrote a famous suite based on their traditional melodies.
Steps and Style
The technique of the steps is not difficult but the speed in which they are executed and the complicated rhythmic structure can make them appear quite spectacular. The steps are usually small and with the feet kept near to the ground. The men’s steps are very different and may be lifted. Flat leather sandal type shoes are most commonly worn; but a stronger heeled shoe can be found among agricultural workers.
Each district varies a little in style: the quick shaking dances are found mostly in the Shopski area, and in the west. Dances with beats and stamps are popular around Varna and the eastern part of the country. The dances from Thrace are slower and more solemn but those found in the western region of this area tend to be similar in style to those of Shopski. In the Pirin (Macedonia) region the dances have much in common with those of their neighbours in former Yugoslavia. These dances begin slowly and increase in speed. In the north the dances are usually quick and energetic and reflect the Romanian character and that of Serbia. The dances from Dobrudjan are performed at a more moderate tempo but incorporate arm and shoulder movements.
Most Balkan countries use characteristic shaking movements: but they vary in style. In former Yugoslavia they are very relaxed and used chiefly to show off their jewellery and coins on their costumes. In Romania they are small and sharp. In Bulgaria they are strong and emphatic with a downward action. This movement is believed to show the strength and resistance of the Bulgarian people to the domination of the Turk. It can also be interpreted as representing the flight of birds, especially that of the eagle.
The traditional dances described here are in their basic form as danced in the villages. When presenting these dances to an audience the basic step sequences should be maintained but interesting and intricate floor patterns may be devised.
The arts are well represented in Bulgaria
Right: These costumes are from the Sofia district. The woman wears a sleeveless sukman over a smock. The sukman can be black or blue with white embroidery. The smock is white, embroidered in red on the sleeves, hem and neck line. The flowered headdress has a red chin strap. The stockings are black, white or patterned in black and white. The leather belt has a silver buckle.
The man on the left wears a black or blue short sleeved jacket decorated with white braid. The long sleeved white shirt is embroidered in red on the sleeves and neck. A wide, black and white waistband is worn over white trousers which are decorated with black braid.
The man on the right wears a long white sleeveless coat over white trousers. The coat is decorated with black braid and the white shirt is embroidered in black. The waistband is black and a leather belt is worn over this and used in dancing.
All are wearing leather sandals. The sheepskin hats are black.
Left top: Headscarves can be tied in various ways and can be white, yellow, blue and decorated with roses or flowers that are in season. The headdress on the left is for spring festivals and features various coloured roses and coins.
Left centre: A basic white smock or shirt. The design and embroidery varies from region to region. The tie on skirt or bruchnik/vulnenik is finely pleated and has blue, green and white designs on a red background. This example is from the area of Vidin in the N.W.
Left bottom: Various examples of embroidery designs.
Right: The woman on the left wears a costume from Thrace. The woollen pleated sukman has bands of coloured rectangles appliqued on to the lower part of the skirt. The sukman can be black with red, blue, yellow or various coloured bands. Alternatively, the sukman can be red with a broad band of black velvet round the hem and embroidered with flowers. If the red costume is worn the apron will be black, which is embroidered with flowers and plant designs. The apron shown can be blue, black or red with a floral design. The sleeveless short jacket or mente is black and embroidered in various colours. The white smock is decorated with red embroidery. A leather belt has a silver clasp. The red hat is decorated with flowers and coins. A white silk scarf hangs down the back. A coloured scarf can also be worn as an alternative. The stockings are white and the shoes black.
The man in the centre is also from Thrace. He wears a white cotton shirt embroidered in red. The woollen trousers or poturi are brown with black braid. The sleeveless waistcoat is in a red check and ornamented with appliqued black velvet or braid. The waistband is made of red wool. White stockings are worn with black shoes.
The woman on the right wears a summer costume from the north. The cotton smock is embroidered in various colours; red, green and blue. The finely pleated red woollen skirt or bruchnik is open down the front. The apron is red and embroidered in several colours. The headscarf can be white, yellow, blue or red. The stockings are red and the shoes are of leather.
Side and close
free leg forward just off the ground and with a stretched knee and ankle. Repeat dropping on to the other foot, the straight legs passing in the air. (Like spring points in 4th, but with front foot lifted).
Arm positions and movements
1. The W. hold. Arms at shoulder level and elbows slightly bent — hands joined.
2. The low V hold. Dancers join hands with arm lowered at sides. Belts used by the dancers are of leather and narrow, buckled loosely round the waist and are quite separate from the wide decorated belts and important part of the costume.
3. The side belt hold. Dancers hold neighbours belt at side of waist: L. arm over neighbours R.
4. The front belt hold. As above but dancers much closer together and holding in front of waist of the next dancer.
5. The back belt hold. Dancers again close together and holding belt behind neighbours back.
6. Forward and back belt hold. In line one behind the other holding belt of dancer in front with R. and the belt of dancer behind with L. This is usually taken with a walking movement — a strong opposition twist with R. shoulder when stepping forward on L.
1. A jigging action with a strong downward emphasis with either a hand or belt hold.
2. Circular forward movements with a hand grasp, as if kneading dough.
3. With arms low and not joined — wrist circling inwards then a downward push with wrists.
4. Arms low and circling round each other (as if picking corn or winding wool.)
5. Arms held forward at shoulder level, wrists bent back so that palms face forward — then passing arms alternating up and down.
6. Finger snapping.
This article is reproduced from the original book, Dances, Music and Costumes of Bulgaria by Helen Wingrave and Robert Harrold. Costumes drawn by Phyllida Legg. With kind permission of The Estate of Robert Harrold.