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Scandinavian Dance Terms
Used to Identify Traditional Nordic Dance Rhythms
By Gordon Ekvall Tracie, 1997

Gordon E. Tracie


In dealing with traditional music and dance it should be noted that names of dances and dance rhythms often differ considerably, both among and within the various lands of origin.  Any one name may have several meanings, any one rhythm may have different names, and a given rhythm may be used for several different steps or dances!


Two examples may be cited.  The mazurka, as danced in Norway, is totally different in form, steps, and tempo from the mazurka in Sweden.  In some parts of southern and western Norway the mazurka is actually called polka!  As for the polka itself, it goes under a number of different names in Norway although the dance step is essentially the same for all of them, while in Sweden a half-dozen totally different steps are danced to this rhythm, which is called polka in every case.

To further complicate the matter, when dance music is published in record form, the titling of the selections may have very little to do with the dances per se.  For with the exception of music for formal "folk dances," selection titles refer to the names of the tunes, not specific dances.  Often the dance rhythm may be indicated in the title, such as vals, schottis, polka, polska, etc., but this may be of little help, even misleading, in determining the exact step or dance best suited to that particular rendition of the music.

All of this is bound to be confusing to dancers not familiar with the multitude of ethnic traditions and practices in the several lands from which the music comes.  Therefore, the following Glossary has been prepared in order to rationalize, in a manner meaningful to North American folk dancers, rhythm terminologies pertinent to Nordic folk and old-time dancing as promoted by Skandia Folkdance Society and similar organizations.

This, then, is not a register of dances, but a listing of musical rhythms per se, such as are involved in traditional Nordic dancing.

It is axiomatic that "Music is the Soul of the Dance."  Hence to understand the music is to better understand and appreciate the dance itself!

Bingsjö polska:  Appropriate for the regional dance of the same name.  Semiquaver polska of special type from Bingsjö in Dalarna, Sweden,

Boda polska:  Quaver polska of distinctly syncopated type from Boda in Dalarna, Sweden, appropriate for the regional dance of the same name.

Bondpolska (Farmer's Polska):  Quaver polska of special type, somewhat similar to Hambopolska, appropriate for the regional dance Bondpolska (also called Stigpolska) from Uppland, Sweden

Boston vals:  Waltz form of relatively slow tempo derived from turn-of-century popular dance from the US and Great Britain, which reached Sweden around 1903.

Dansk galop (Danish Gallop):  Fast, duple-meter rhythm similar to classical Continental mazurka.

Dansk polka (Danish Polka):  Smooth, moderate tempo polka of Danish type, as contrasted with the "bouncy" and usually faster polkett of Sweden and polkka of Finland.

Engelska (English-dance):  Swedish name (Finnish spelling: enkeliska) for a duple-meter rhythm "imported" from Britain in the eighteenth century, used for a variety of group dances of British origin.

Gammal polska (Old Polska):  Generic term for Swedish quaver-polska of type predating the hambopolska, usually very legato, and not necessarily in even-measure phrases.  It is suitable for many old Swedish rundpolska (turning polska) dances.

Gammal schottis (Old-style Schottische):  Legato schottische, not infrequently in minor mode and often relatively slow, appropriate for various regional forms of the schottische in Sweden.

Gangar:  A regional dance rhythm in 2/4 or6/8 meter, found in various forms in different districts of Norway.

Gånglåt (Walking Tune):  Traditional Swedish folk music for walking and promenading.  More recently it is also used for the pivot-dance, snoa.

Halling:  A Norwegian regional dance in 4/4 meter, most often danced as a man's solo, but occasionally as a couple dance; occasional cognates are also found in Sweden.

Hambo, Nighambo (Common Hambo, Dip-hambo):  Even, 8-measure phrased hambo characterized by a heavily-accented first beat, but of varying tempo and style.

Hambopolska (Old Hambo-polska):  Swedish quaver polska of a type presumably postdating gammal polska, not necessarily evenly phrased, thus allowing for continuous turn.  It is preferably relatively slow, in legato style.

Hopsa:  Popular Danish old-time dance rhythm in duple meter, often fast tempo.  Formerly also found in southern Sweden with the name hoppsare.

Hälsingepolska:  Generic name for semiquaver polska appropriate for regional dances from the Swedish province of Hälsingland.

Jenkka:  Native Finnish word for the Finnish schottische, which is characteristically staccato, in relatively fast tempo.  In some districts in Finland the Schottische is called sotiisi (from the Swedish schottis) and is played somewhat slower and less staccato.

Kadrilj (Quadrille):  Duple-meter rhythm associated with a variety of quadrille-type dances in Sweden.  Corresponding forms:  kvadrille in Denmark, kvadrilje in Norway, and katrilli in Finland.

Långdans (Long-dance):  Ancient Swedish triple-meter rhythm of quaver type, predating the polska per se, traditionally used for various chain-dance forms dating from the Renaissance.  Enkel långdans (Simple Long-dance) employs a simple running step, and is thus played somewhat faster than gammal långdans (Old Long-dance), for which an open polska step is appropriate.

Nigvals (Curtsy- or Dip-waltz):  Frequently called sjømansvals (Sailor's Waltz) in Norway.  Typically north Scandinavian waltz form characterized by a rollicking rhythm, with heavy emphasis on the first beat of each measure.

Norsk galopp (Norwegian Gallop):  Duple-meter rhythm very similar to much Norwegian polka music.  Also called galoppade, hamborgar, and hoppvals.

Norsk masurka (Norwegian Mazurka):  Triple-meter rhythm of quaver type, sometimes confused, due to melodic similarities, with hambo or pols, but with emphasis characteristically on the last beat of the measure rather than the first or second beat.  Always suitable for the døla masurka (Valley Mazurka) regardless of phrasing, but must be in even 16-measure phrases if used for gammel norsk masurka (Old Norwegian Mazurka).

Orsa polska:  Quaver polska of special type and exceptionally old origin, from Orsa in Dalarna, Sweden, appropriate for the regional dance of the same name.

Parisarpolka, Pariserpolka (Parisian polka):  Moderately slow polka in even, 8-measure phrasing, appropriate for so-named pattern dance in Norway and Denmark, and now danced even in Sweden.  Likely ancestor of America's "Scandinavian Polka" or "Seattle Polka."

Polka:  Generic term for duple meter rhythm found in various forms throughout Scandinavia.

Polkett (Polkette):  Generic term for a relatively fast polka which is characteristically counted "1-2-3-4" rather than "a-1 & 2," and danced with an even "bounce," thereby differing significantly from the smoother, generally slower Danish-style polka.  Akin to the Finnish polkka, it is found mainly in urban Sweden.  Previously it was danced in Denmark (as polket) and in Norway (referred to as bygdepolka).

Pols:  East Norwegian polska of either quaver or triplet form, varying in tempo and style depending upon region, and used for Pols-type dances such as the simple pols, Rørospols, Innheredspols, Trønderpols, etc.

Polska:  Generic term for triple-meter Nordic rhythm predating the waltz, and unrelated hereto.  There are three distinct musical types:

Reinlander (Also spelled reinlendar, ringlender, etc.):  Norwegian form of the Schottische, characteristically played very legato, with a distinctive syncopation.

Reinlenderpolka (Called fynbo in Jutland, western Denmark):  Even, eight-measure phrased Danish polka appropriate for dances of the same name.

Reel (Danish), ril (Norwegian):  Duple-meter rhythm "imported" from the British Isles in the 18th century, used for a variety of set dances of ultimate British origin.

Rull (Also spelled rul and rudl):  Norwegian walking-type rhythm in duple meter, used for a regional dance of the same name, often specifically referred to as Vossarull.

Rundpolska:  Generic Swedish term (rundpols in Norwegian) for polska-type dances which are danced roundabout the floor as in a waltz, rather than in place as in the generic slängpolska (fläckpolska).

"Scandinavian Polka" (Also called "Norwegian Polka" and "Seattle Polka"):  Even, eight-measure phrased polka of the parisarpolka type, appropriate for the American-Scandinavian dance of the same name.

Schottis:  Common "garden variety" Scandinavian schottische, essentially a Swedish form, suitable for the dance as done by Swedish folk and old-time dancers and in American physical education classes since the early 1900's.

Sekstur (Also spelled sextur):  A common Danish dance rhythm used in a multitude of set dances.  Appears to refer not to a dance form (which would translate "Sixsome"), but to a musical form in 6/8 time, related to the British Jig.  Most likely derived from England and Scotland.  Counterpart is not found in the rest of Scandinavia.

Senpolska (Slow-Polska):  Swedish polska generally of semiquaver type with slow, relaxed tempo, used for certain kinds of regional dances in the northern provinces.  Example:  Medelpad senpolska.

Slängpolska (Swing-polska):  Generic term for a semiquaver polska used for fläckpolska (spot polska) dances from central and southern Sweden, which are danced primarily in place rather than continually around the room as in a waltz.  Examples:  slängpolska from Södermanland and slängpolska from Småland.  (In certain parts of northern Sweden the word slängpolska is confusingly used for fast-tempo rundpolska dances.)

Snoa:  A relatively slow, smooth Swedish polka currently used for the dance of the same name.

Springleik:  A triple meter rhythm in Norway related to both the springar and the pols, used for regional dances of the same name.  Example:  Gudbrandsdal springleik.

Springlek:  A triple meter rhythm traditional to western Dalarna, Sweden, appropriate for various forms of the regional dance, Västerdalsk bakmes.  (Not to be confused with the Norwegian springleik listed above.)

Springvals (Running-waltz):  Norwegian and Swedish waltz form often called gammalvals ("Old-style Waltz") by musicians.  It is characterized by a choppy rhythm with even emphasis on each beat of the measure, and relatively fast tempo.  Sometimes referred to as trestegsvals (Three-step Waltz).

Stegvals< (Stride-waltz, also spelled stigvals):  In traditional form, a distinctively legato 3/4 rhythm closely akin to the pre-polska långdans rhythm, particularly appropriate for dancing Stegvals in Norway and Sweden.

Stothambo (Jolt- or Bounce-hambo, also nicknamed Stockholms hambo):  A relatively modern ballroom-type hambo rhythm characterized by an even, three-count bouncy beat at a relatively fast tempo, which was in vogue in certain urban areas of Sweden up through the 1950's.

Suomalainen polkka (Finnish Polka):  Finnish form of the polka, very similar to the Swedish polkett, characteristically very staccato and often quite fast in tempo.

Svensk mazurka (Swedish Mazurka):  Moderately fast tempo, triple-meter rhythm of the type used for mazurka dances in Sweden, often employing a polka-mazurka turning step.  Similar rhythm and step is found in Finland, where it is spelled masurkka.  (Note:  Swedish and Finnish mazurka music differs substantially, in both tempo and style, from Norwegian masurka music!)

"Swedish Waltz":  Even, eight-measure phrased Scandinavian waltz with particular pronounced rhythm, as in nigvals, used for the American-Scandinavian pattern dance of the same name.

Travpolka (Trotting-polka):  Smooth polka of varying tempo, with a smooth bounce, especially suitable for the Swedish old-time dances snoa and trava (köra).

Trindpolska (Step-polska):  Swedish name for semiquaver polska music used in Finland for a slängpolska (Swing-polska) type dance.  Also called svängpolska, or simply polska.  In the Finnish language the dance itself is called hoijakka.

Trippevals (Running-waltz):  Danish equivalent of the Norwegian / Swedish springvals.

Vals (Waltz, Finnish spelling is valssi):  Generic term for triple-meter rhythm found in several forms in Scandinavia.  The four primary types, all likely deriving from the ländler of Germanic Europe, are: 

Springvals, trippevals Vienervals
Nigvals Boston vals

Vienervals (Viennese Waltz):  The Nordic equivalent of the classic Wienerwalzer of Germanic Europe.

Värmlands polska:  Triplet polska of the type common in regional dances from the Swedish province of Värmland, which borders Norway.  Example:  Klarälvdals polska.

Copyright © 1997 Skandia Music Foundation
You may freely distribute these notes provided you agree to retain this copyright notice
and mention that recordings for some of these dances are no the Viking Skandia CD,
available from www.folkdancing.com.