The Circle Dance of the Csángó Is the ‘Sourdough’ of Community

original title: Tańce w kręgu Csángó, wzmacniająca siła prawdy i wspólnoty

There are many people with the same story: they found themselves at a traditional folk-music dance (thirty years ago in Transylvania it was still possible), dancing through the night, then they got to learn these dances, started to go to so-called dance-houses, after a time they grabbed an instrument in their hands, then after having their own experience in the field, comparing it to what others experienced, they started contemplating...

In Western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages (renaissance, 16th century) pair dances appeared and started to replace group dances. (The Middle Age is still taught to us as dark, partly due those 300 years lacking in proper sources that, according to the theory of Illig, never existed, and is mainly known from false codices. His study is in harmony with the Hungarian chronicles as well.

Has the world become better since the beginning of the New Age by now? What happened?

The capital of Eastern Christianity, Constantinople was run down by Muslims (1453) - in the West there was another schism with the reformation (Luther 1517, Calvin 1542) - after Columbus the slave trade was thriving – the Kingdom of Hungary was invaded by Turks and the Habsburg dynasty...

At the beginning of this age the circle and chain dances started to diminish as well. The internationally used word "dance/dancing" was not known before in Europe, on the other hand the unique names of the many types of traditional Hungarian folkdances live to this day. "The pair dance is two people’s private matter in public, the joy of each other’s connection being shown to everybody. (Their birth) ran across Europe once, taking along a new word and concept, and creating a new feeling of life as well: (the freshly named pair) Dance."

Luckily, mostly in the eastern part of Europe, on the other side of the "orthodox fault line" the circle dances prevailed. Again we cite the words of Andrásfalvy Bertalan: "(As opposed to) the areas where the liberalism and individualism of renaissance could spread... where western Christianity could reach, ...beyond the eastern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom was the beginning of the world of orthodoxy, where neither the reform of Cluny, nor the revolution of Saint Francis, the renaissance, the reformation, the baroque spirituality could enter to change the societies or the thinking for their own good..."

As Hungary is on the break-line of cultures, on its west side; in the country's inner area (left after Trianon) circle dances are only known in the form of children’s games or in the dance of young women, the first part of the 20th century made it disappear from the cultural life of Hungarians. However in the eastern part of the country, in the region of Transylvania (like in Mezőség, Szék) the custom of circle dances was still alive until the 90s, this is the famous "négyes" (four people dance). Today the Hungarian dance-house movement keeps this dance alive again, across the whole country and throughout the world.

In the Eastern Carpathian valleys where the catholic Csángó people of Gyimes live at the border of Orthodoxy, line dances were preserved, and on the other side of the mountains further to the east, the catholic csángó people of Moldva even kept their circle dances. This area beyond the Carpathian Mountains was the defensive border of Hungary in the Middle Ages. It was far from the west (from enlightenment, revolutions, liberal ideas), in a distance from the capitals (Budapest, Bucharest), also in communism it was totally closed off, so tradition, folkdance and handicraft could flourish here. But from 1990 capitalism and consumer society, the plan to worsen poverty in the countryside, destroying local farms and villages by the big agricultural monopolies, the need of money and work (partly due to advertisements and the media) resulted in a forced emigration (mainly to Italy), not to mention television, google and the like that turned everything upside down in the tradition and community.

In circle dances the individuals become one being, one organism. This experience requires sufficient knowledge of the dance, which was acquired playfully from childhood in the old days. Nowadays, starting as an adult (the same as in learning to drive), it is harder to learn. Although the steps of Moldva dances are easy to acquire, one bad move can destroy the community dance. It is harder to learn the way to hold each other firm in the circle (you can hold hands, or cross it behind the back with the second neighbour, put it on the shoulders or hold the belts of those who are next to you), not to mention paying attention to each other as well as the entire circle, its shape, feeling, searching for harmony and finding it.

The circle dance is shaped by everybody who’s participating in it: with our choice of rhythm, the way we form the circle, thumping with our feet, dynamism and singing. There isn't a chosen leader. It's possible to help those who are next to you, to teach and guide a little, but also to make mistakes. You can chat, or close your eyes and go within, trusting the others will hold and guide you.

It's important how many people are in the circle dance, how well they can sing and feel like singing, the chemistry of the group, the quality of music, the atmosphere of the place, the floor, the lights... Nothing should distract our attention from each other, the music, the people present. (No video recording or flashes, nor any behaviour that directs attention.) Only the moment, the present community is important, not showing it online or making records to remember. We need time to learn the dance, long occasions where one style is enough, one kind of music and dance. If there is only a single dance that is long enough, it gives a chance to experience movement and a shared feeling.

The connection is a two way channel between individual and community. The circle itself teaches its parts, corrects, moves the individuals, and it is the dancers that create the circle, its movement. Organic unity, collective consciousness, true community. The circle dance provides a strength that holds us because we feel we belong to each other, therefore it also keeps little communities alive.

Those who dance in circles can perhaps pay attention to others more, cooperate and live in a democratic way. That is, living together in a small community without hurting another in any way, listening to everyone, be forgiving and fair. It's good for me in a circle dance if everybody is happy. It is incompatible with our hundreds of years old capitalist reality, now called globalism.

The pair dances of the ‘Csángó’ people (both from Gyimes and Moldva) also create a tighter unity between the two dancers than in other regions. They must hold each other (equally, mutually, ‘democratically’) and become one just as in the circle dance. Moreover, there is a special circle made of the pairs in Moldva, they form a unity as they move along together, each pair (or the man leading) has to pay attention to the entire circle. All in all, community circle dances in this sense never fully ended here, pair dances preserved a lot from that quality.

The church still had dances in the Middle Ages... In 1279, the synod of Buda banned the liturgical dances in temples and cemeteries. Church dances nowadays are only alive in little church communities or outside of Europe.

And the west... Has the Spanish people become richer with all the gold they had imported? Did the money system make the little communities to fall apart? Who wished for that to happen? Was it all good? What else happened after the Middle Ages?

Mothers went to factories to work, had to leave their home; villagers were forced to give up their life in nature for living in crowded towns with epidemics. Giving birth became an unpleasant and expensive procedure in hospitals with surgery. The most intimate connection, the nursing of babies was replaced by feeding them with some formula. Instead of friends and family, strangers keep the children company, teaching them in institutions, nursery and schools. The elderly have to live from the alms called state pension, there is no need for them as grandparents, to teach their grandchildren and keep them company. They live in homes, lonely. The virtual "big brother" replaces and controls human connections. In 2020 - in face masks - even the smile as a tool for improving relationships is forbidden, there are no masses, weddings, no handshakes and no dancing...

It gives hope at the same time that in the west people look for circle dances again (?)."Sacral" and liturgical circle dances also appeared and have been spreading since the 1970s.

Collective consciousness, like a flock of birds that prepare for a long journey, taking off... Raindrops in the river...

Forcing anything is harmful in folk dances... that’s why it is dangerous to teach dances in school with timetables...

Dancing in circle, cycles, Eastern thinking, the circulation in material dimension, protecting nature...

Repeating short melodies, breathing, endless circle of moving the bow on the violin up and down...

The fests of the year...with continuous dances...


Sámsondi Kiss Gergely, Gyulai Farkas

Szépszerével Band, Budapest 2020