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Bulgarian folk dances are intimately related to the music of Bulgaria. This distinctive feature of Balkan folk music is the asymmetrical meter, built up around various combinations of 'quick' and 'slow' beats. The music, in Western musical notation, is often described using compound meter notation, where the notational meter accents, i.e., the heard beats, can be of different lengths, usually 1, 2, 3, or 4.
The proportions of the beats do not follow any exact rational proportions. For example, the well known tune Eleno Mome (Елено Моме) exists written in 7=2+2+1+2, 13=4+4+2+3, and 12=3+4+2+3 times. Here, the forms 4+4+2+3 and 3+4+2+3 exist both as a musicologist's way to attempt to indicate the tendency of speeding up the last and first beats, as well in formal version, where the musician plays 3 or 4 about equal length notes on the beat. In music band playing, the meter 7=2+2+1+2 seems favored, thus skipping some of the time-bending subtleties. Given this fact, though, some meters are more common or popular; but there is a wide variation of less frequent combinations, as well. There is also disagreement about whether one should use 1/8 or 1/16 as meter denominator, but this is just a notational convenience. In the list below, the denominator follows in part notational practice of the region, and in part the speed of the type of tune, giving the 1/4 note a reasonable number of beats per minute (as on a metronome).
Folk dancers often speak in terms of "quick" and "slow" instead of a steady meter "1, 2, 3," etc. These dance rhythms may not agree with the rhythms and meters performed by the musicians. For example, a kopanitsa dance rhythm may be described as slow-slow-quick-quick, whereas the tune may be played in what may be written as (2+2)+(2+1)+(2+2), i.e., an 11 time with primary accent at 1, secondary accents at 5 and 8, and ternary accents at 3, 7, and 10; the dancers thus dance to a meter composition 4+3+2+2, which may also be played by the musicians, e.g., in Traichovo horo (Трайчово хоро). In addition, some tunes may have considerable time bends, such as the Macedonian Žensko Beranče and Bajrače, though viewed as and written in 3+2+2+3+2. Therefore, in dance instruction, quick and slow beat descriptions, in combination with intuition and careful listening, may be a good approach, though not suitable for performing and notating the music. In addition, a dance instructor not familiar with the exact musical rhythms should not demonstrate these dance rhythms without music. It would be best to use a slowed-down playback, lest the dancers become confused at full speed.
Following is a list of some Bulgarian folk dances, along with their commonly written rhythms and time signatures. Since the transliteration of Bulgarian is problematic, the official Bulgarian transliteration is used, which can be checked at Transliteration of proper names in Bulgaria, followed within parenthesizes by the Bulgarian name and, after a semicolon, (for searchability) alternative transliterations. Following a Bulgarian sheet music practice, more complex meters generally appear later in the list.
- Trite pati (Трите пъти; Trite puti, Trite pâti) (2/4), line dance with rapid feet movement; step rhythm quick-quick-slow = 1+1+2.
- Tropanka (Тропанка) (2/4) Stampy Dobrudzhan men's dance, V handhold, with swinging and 'pumping' arm motions.
- Opas (Опас) (2/4) A varied dance often done with hands across the chest of the person next to you with the next in line.
- Pravo horo (Право хоро) (2/4 or 6/8 --counted as 2 triplets 3+3. Often in music for the pravo, both 2/4 and 6/8 time signatures will be used where 2/4 is used for the singing and 6/8 is used for the slightly faster instrumental portions. In Bulgaria, the 6/8 portion is also transcribed in 2/4 using triplets), Pravo is characterised by left-over-right arms "belt-hold" (in lieu of hand hold), a beginning right foot diving step toward the center of from one to many concentric broken circles, traveling ultimately counter clockwise. Experience can be hypnotic after 20 or 30 minutes of continuous music]. Each dance phrase corresponds to 3 musical measures counted as quick quick slow slow (corresponding to 2+2+4+4 in 2/4 time or 3+3+6+6 in 6/8 time).
- Shopsko horo (Шопско хоро; Shopp horo, Chope dance, Šop dance) (2/4), men's dance, [Often accompanied with bagpipes (Gaidae) and drums (Tupon). Suitable for exhibitions and stage performances]
- Paydushko horo (Пайдушко хоро; Paidushko horo, Pajduško horo, Pajduška horo, Payduska horo, Baiduska horo) (2+3; 5/16 or 5/8), Often characterized as a "limping dance", this dance typically involves two footwork patterns, a "step hop" and a "step step". In the southern parts of Bulgaria, Macedonia (all regions) and Greece, the quick-slow pattern is sometimes reversed into a slow-quick patter (3+2).
- Chetvorno horo (Четворно хоро; Četvorno horo) (3+2+2 or 3+4; 7/16).
- Rachenitsa (Ръченица; Ruchenitsa, Râčenica) (2+2+3 or 4+3; 7/16), quick-quick-slow, single or couple dance.["Very showy" and suitable for stage and exhibition performances]
- Lesnoto Horo (Лесното хоро) (3+2+2; 7/8), slow-quick-quick, a slow line dance with steps resembling the pravo horo.
- Ginka (Гинка) (3+2+2; 7/8), slow-quick-quick, a slow line dance from the Pirin mountains
- Svornato Horo (Сворнато хоро) (2+2+2+3; 9/8), quick-quick-quick-slow, from the Pirin mountains, a four phrase line dance.
- Varnensko Horo (Варненско хоро) (2+2+2+3; 9/8), quick-quick-quick-slow, a line dance with slow graceful steps.
- Elenino horo (Еленино хоро), Eleno Mome (Елено Моме) (2+2+1+2, 4+4+2+3, 3+4+2+3; 7/8, 13/16, 12/16), a line dance. Smithsonian recording, performed metric beat proportions about 4+4+2+3.5.
- Petrunino horo (Петрунино хоро) (2+2+1+2, 4+4+2+3, 3+4+2+3; 7/8, 13/16, 12/16)
- Daychovo horo (Дайчово хopo; Daichovo horo, Dajčovo horo) (4+2+3 or 2+2+2+3; 9/16), [a circle dance where a leader calls what formations/variations the circle should do next]
- Grancharsko horo (Грънчарско хоро; Gryncharsko horo, Gruncarsko horo) (2+3+2+2; 9/16).
- Gankino horo (Ганкино хоро) or Kopanitsa (Копаница; Kopanica) (4+3+4 or 2+2+3+2+2; 11/16), line dances. [Intricate repeating footwork, a hopping step to the right several steps ending with heels together down-step, then back to the left ending with heels together down-step, then repeat.]
- Acano mlada nevesto (slow, slower, quick, quick: 3+2+2+2+2 or 3+4+2+2; 11/8), a Macedonian song; line dance.
- Krivo plovdivsko horo (Криво пловдивско хоро) (2+2+2+3+2+2; 13/16); listen.
- Ispaychi (Испайчи, Испайче; Ispayche, Ispajče) (3+2+3+2+3; 13/16 or 8/16+5/16).
- Elbasansko horo (Елбасанско хоро) (2+2+2+3+2+3; 14/16=9/16+5/16).
- Buchimish (Бучимиш; Bučimiš) (2+2+2+2+3+2+2; 15/16), a line dance.
- Yove male mome (Йове мале моме; Jove male mome, Jove malaj mome), also called Povela e Yova (Повела е Йова) (7+11; 7/16+11/16 or 18/16)
- Sandansko horo (Санданско хоро) (2+2+2+3+2+2+2+3+2+2; 22/16)
- Sedi Donka (Седи Донка), also called Plovdivsko horo (Пловдивско хоро) (7+7+11, where 7=3+2+2 and 11=2+2+3+2+2; 7/16+7/16+11/16 or 25/16) [Done with left-over-right belt-hold in a straight line, moving forward (like a military phalanx) performing intricate steps selected by the leader, then repeated in reverse or mirror order while backing up, then stopping and going forward again with the same or even a different choice by the leader, who could be on one end or even in the middle of the phalanx. Suitable for a performance with 6 to 10 dancers on a stage or an exhibition area]
- Dunavsko horo (Дунавско хоро)
Yove male mome and Sedi Donka can be thought of as a compound of common 7 (chetvorno) and 11 (kopanitsa) meters, but it is more unclear what Sandansko horo should be: possibilities are a compound 9+13, where 9 is the daychovo meter, and 13 the Krivo plovdivsko horo meter, or 9+9+4, where 9 is the daychovo meter. A ruchenitsa can, in slower tempo, have a distinctive 2+2+3 rhythm, but in a quicker pace, it may only be perceived as a 4+3. Thus, even though these are well known rhythmic patterns, one may not arrive at an unambiguous meter interpretation, the way listeners of Western music are used to.
Many of the dances are formed by each person holding the belt or sash of the dancer on either side. These belts are typically fit loosely around the waist so that each person can move easily within the belt, while the overall line can stay together. Although there are basic steps that make up the dance, certain people may improvise variations, sometimes forming a competition between the dancers. These variations must result in the same movement as the rest of the line, but may consist of additional or slightly different steps.
For example, the basic pajdushko horo dance consists of a series of four hop-steps (actually, lift-steps) to the right, followed by a series of four steps to the left where the right foot crosses in front of the left foot on the quick beat, then weight is transferred onto the right foot, which pushes the dancer to the left on the slow beat. Finally the line moves backwards using four hop-steps, and the dance is repeated. Variations might consist of alternating the right foot in front of and behind the left foot, forming a basic grapevine dance step. Another variation might be that instead of hop-steps backwards, a dancer might use a series of scissor steps and end with a pas-de-bas step.
- Манол Тодоров, Българска народна музика (Bulgarian National Music), Музика, София (1976).
- Information on Balkan dances, including Bulgarian horo.
- Bulgarian folk dances
- Video clips of Bulgarian dances from instructors
- For learning Bulgarian dances and instruments in the United States