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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Introduction to Swedish Dance
By Gordon Ekvall Tracie, 1981

Gordon Ekvall Tracie


The aim of these teaching sessions (at the 1980 University of the Pacific [Stockton] Folk Dance Camp) is to convey, in as direct a manner as possible, the art and spirit of traditional dancing as has been practiced by the Swedish folk for many generations. Presentation of the material is based upon a unified approach to Swedish dancing, not just a collection of Swedish dances. Each acquired skill – from a simple step-hop turn in duple meter schottische rhythm to a relatively sophisticated smooth pivot-spin in tripple meter polska rhythm – is meant to enhance further acquired skills, until the dancer's response to various Swedish rhythms becomes "second nature."

The dances presented are those actually danced by the Swedish people, primarily during the 19th century, some from the 18th century, but many with their roots going back to an even earlier era. Unlike the formalized and oftimes contrived Swedish "folk dances," they are not performance-oriented. This isn't to say, however, that they cannot be neatly shown to an audience as an example of yesteryear's traditional Nordic dance culture.

For the American folk dancer yet uninitiated into Scandinavian dancing, it might be well to point out a few salient features of the Nordic dance idiom. Though remnants of ancient seasonal rites are to be found in the two "long-dances" presented, and the courting aspects of singing-games are still evident in the North, it is safe to say that Scandinavian dances are virtually all of a recreational rather than of a conscious ceremonial nature. And in contrast to folk dances of many other cultures, they are nearly all co-educational; uniformly so in couple dances, of course, this is also the norm for dances in rings and other formations.

Likely the single most characteristic feature of traditional Scandinavian dancing is the predominance of couple rotation. Furthermore, this turning is usually relatively fast, which brings into play certain physical factors not present in slower dances: momentum, counterbalance, torque, et cetera. No longer is the focus on two independent persons, but on a single coule. But one of those persons must "start the wheel turning" and "steer;" and this the man's job. Thus,last but not least, a strong male lead must be emphasized.

Due to time and space limitations, only four of the several legitimate "folk-style" rhythms which compromise Sweden's native dance heritage are covered here. But they should serve to allow the dancer to understand in theory and enjoy in practice, the fun of couple-rotation, which is the essence of the typical Swedish traditional dance.

In dealing with "oldtime dances," generic rather than specific forms have been chosen inasmuch as most dance steps and figures have been common throughout much of the land at one time or another. As for the "regional ethnic dances," an effort has been made to capture the spirit of the local idiom, rather than dwelling on minute differences among various versions and interpretations.

It is the hope of the instructor that at the conclusion of the class series, students will be prompted to exclaim, "I've learned to dance Swedish style!" rather than, "I've learned X number of Swedish dances." Lycka till!

Toward an Understanding of Traditional Swedish Couple Dancing

Primary Step

I. Simple step-hop turn, bouncy rhythm

II. Basic pivot-spin:

A. Run-type, bouncy rhythm

B. Walk-type, smooth rhythm

The Swedish Polska Step

I. Open polska

II. Basic L ft full turn polska:

A. Smooth rhythm, possible syncopation

B. Smooth rhythm, unsyncopated

C. Bouncy rhythm, unsyncopated

a. without couple-turn
b. couple turn, triple meter
c. couple turn, duple meter

III. Basic halfturn polska:

A. R-turn (CW rotation):

a. in triple meter
b. in duple meter

B. L-turn (CCW rotation):

IV. Semi-freeform polska



Polka, even-phrased
Polka, free-phrased
Ganglat (walking-tune)
Oldstyle schottis

Langdans (long-dance)
Specific langdans tune

Quaver (8th-note) polska

Semiquaver (16th-note) polska

Specific quaver polska tune
Specific quaver polska tune

Polka, relatively fast tempo

Quaver polska

Quaver polska

Specific Dance

(1) Schottis
(2) Byte-schottis
(3) Seattle Polka
(4) Snoa (polka)
(5) Snoa (ganglat)
(6) Gammal schottis
(7) Langdans
(8) Sollero langdans

(9) Gammal polska
(10) Bingsjo polska

(11) Gammal kulldans
(12) Snurrbocken
(13) Byte-snurrbocken
(14) Trava

(15) Stegvals
(16) Stig-schottis
(17) Vasterdalsk bakmes
(18) Polska med bakmes

Swedish Dance Steps


As regards basic step pattern:

Repetitive: Each successive step pattern same as previous.

Note: Inasmuch as a pivot-spin in duple meter is treated as a 2-ct pattern, the step is considered to be repetitive, rather than alternating.

Alternating: Each successive step pattern same sequence of motions, but beginning on opp ft.

As regards partner-wise step relationship:

Parallel: M and W dance same step pattern simultaneously. (Example: buzz step.)

Consecutive-parallel: M and W dance same weight-shift pattern simultaneously, but fwd or bkwd movement is consecutive. (Examples: stegvals, bakmes.)

Opposite: M and W dance same step pattern, but each begin on opp ft. (Example: waltz.)

Consecutive-complementary: M and W dance same basic step pattern, but W step follows M step by 1 ct. (Example: full turn polska.)

Specific Steps

OPEN POLSKA (försteg):
Ft placement as in a walking step, heel making floor contact first; two wt changes in each meas of 3 cts.

L-ft open polska:
Ct 1:   step fwd into LOD on L ft;
Ct 2:   wt temporarily on both ft, R sole remaining place;
Ct 3:   step fwd into LOD on R ft, L sole remaining in place.

R-ft open polska:
Same as above, but with other ft.

Note: When this step is danced by a group of people in a ring or broken circle – in which case it is always a L-ft open polska – the dancers will face somewhat obliquely to the L, with the ring or circle moving CW.

Two wt changes in each meas of 3 cts, completing one revolution CW in 2 meas (6 cts).

M step:
Ct 1:   Step diag R into LOD on R ft to begin a CW pivot;
Ct 2:   continue pivot on R ft, letting L ft follow around without change of wt;
Ct 3:   close L ft at R angle to R ft;
Ct 4:   step behind into LOD on R ft, R sole near L heel;
Ct 5:   continue pivot on R ft, letting L ft follow around without change of wt;
Ct 6:   close L ft obliquely in front of R toe.

Note: Cts 1 and 4 have a light springy quality (svikt).

W step:
Same pattern as M step, but beg on ct 4 as M beg on ct 1.

REVERSE HALFTURN POLSKA (bakmes, västerdalsk type):
Two wt changes in each meas of 3 cts, completing one revolution CCW in 2 meas (6 cts).

M step:
Ct 1:   Step diag L into LOD on L ft to beg a CCW pivot;
Ct 2:   continue pivot on L sole, letting R ft follow around without change of wt;
Ct 3:   step R ft in front of L ft, forming a "T;"
Ct 4:   step behind into LOD on L sole so that L toe and R heel are adjacent, forming an "L," dipping slightly with both knees at this point;
Ct 5:   continue pivot on L ft, letting R ft follow around without change of wt;
Ct 6: &bsp; close R ft to L ft.

W step:
In its simplest form, essentially same as M step, but beg on ct 4 as M beg on ct 1. However, there are many special variations, including:
Cts 1,2,3:   3 small steps L,R,L following M around;
Ct 4:   pivot a half turn CW on R ft, with a very slight dip;
Ct 5:   step L ft behind R ft;
Ct 6:   close R ft to L ft.

FULLTURN POLSKA (allmän rundpolska):
One complete revolution CW per mea of 3 cts.

M step:
Ct 1:   Step L into LOD, beg CW pivot on L sole, while bringing R ft around in a tight arc (–"left");
Ct 2:   maintaining wt on L ft, place R ft alongside L ft so that R sole is adjacent to L heel (–"both");
Ct 3:   step R into LOD, pivoting CW on R heel and L sole (–"right"), immediately lifting L ft to beg whole step anew.

W step:
Varies considerably from place to place, ranging from "both, R, L" on cts 1,2,3; to "R,L,R-L" on cts 1,2,&,3; to "R-L-R, L" on cts 1, &,2,3 depending on local tradition. The essential thing is that W follow M lead as easily as possible.

Note: The polska turn should be danced effortlessly, without jerky movements. In its "generic" form (Gammal polska) as well as a great number of regional ethnic variants (Example: Bingsjä polska), it is very smooth, the steps blending together in a "legato" manner>

Takes 1 meas of 2/4 or 4/4 meter.

Three steps followed by a hop, danced in even rhythm.
Step alternates.

Takes 4 meas of 2/4 or 4/4 meter.

Two schottische steps (2 meas) followed by 4 step-hops (2 meas), danced in even rhythm.

Swedish Dance Holds

As a matter of course in all of the individual couple dances (presented here), the W is on the M R when cpl is facing LOD.

In individual cpl dance:
M R arm over W L arm, joined hands palm-to-palm, held snugly. Free arms loose at sides.

In closed ring or broken circle:
Each dancer's R arm over L arm of dancer directly behind; L hand's fingers held tightly in closed R hand of dancer ahead. Elbows bent at right angle.

Note: This dance hold is a very old one, found in Faroese and Norwegian ballad song dances (a form of chain dances), and known in Norwegian as the "tunga taket" (the firm grip).

A closed position.

M R arm around W waist, M L hand on W upper arm just below her shldr; W L arm on M upper arm, and W R arm on the inside of M L arm, with her R hand just below shldr. Ptrs are slightly to the L of each other; M R ft between W ft.

Essentially the same grasp as "basic polska hold," except that ptrs R ft re adjacent on the outside, and ptrs stand more to the R of each other, with R hips touching.

Exact reverse of the "sidecar polska hold," L ft adjacent on outside, and L hips touching.

Same as the Basic Polska Hold except that the M L and W R hands are holding ptrs arm just above the elbow (not just below the shldr). Ptrs ar not quite as close to each other so the pos presents a more "rounded" look.

Reprinted from the 1980 and 1981 University of the Pacific (Stockton) Folk Dance Camp syllabi.