Dancing bears and purple transformations: The structure of dance in the Balkans

Robert Henry Leibman, University of Pennsylvania


Most Balkan dances consist of numerous repetitions of a relatively short sequence of movements defined, primarily, by the patterned movement of the feet. This basic dance phrase is performed, with variations, by the participants who are generally positioned in an open or closed circle, a straight or curved line, etc. and are usually bound to one another by their arms or hands. While the dancers, who may be ordered by age, gender, etc., all dance in unison, they do not dance identically. One of the things this work explores is the way in which a basic structure underlies the varied performances of all of the individual dancers in a dance and permits them the freedom to be somewhat different while, at the same time, ties all of their performances together into a unified whole. I show that underlying the different variations of any given dance is a simple, mathematically describable structure. This structure defines the dance as a linear sequence of measures each of which is performable by a series of actions involving either an even or an odd number of weight shifts (represented by a 0 or 1 respectively.) I then investigate how such structures may be realized in various ways determined, in part, by the local preference for movement to the right or left and the meter and rhythm of the accompanying music. I also look at a number of the more common transformations, most of which are parity-preserving, by which variations are generated. Finally, using this concept of structure as the basis for a classification of dances into different families and subfamilies, I examine a variety of dances from Macedonia, South Serbia and Bularia belonging to several subfamilies of the 011 and 01111 families, paying particular attention to the way in which a given pattern of weight shifts may articulate with a given musical meter in one of two ways, either directly or with a one count shift.

Subject Area

Dance|Cultural anthropology|Folklore

Recommended Citation

Leibman, Robert Henry, "Dancing bears and purple transformations: The structure of dance in the Balkans" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9235168.