Federation South logo

Tanchaz Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Táncház: Back to the Roots
By By Mária Sági,
Institute of Culture, Budapest, Hungary, 1982


In this short report, I wish to cover some new phenomena in the folklore of Hungary. Most of these movements of the youth deserve special attention because they go beyond the usual framework of amateur artistic movement as we have known it so far.

The táncház (dance house). The name is of ethnographic origin. In Transylvania, Romanian village of Szék, inhabited by Hungarians, young people hire a house of a farmer for the weekend, as well as a peasant band, enabling them to dance together. This was called táncház in the village. This is the pattern after which the urban táncház movement has developed where the role of the farmer is naturally played by clubs and by houses of culture.

In the early 1970s, this movement grew out of several roots. One was Bartó and Kodály's musical revolution, chiefly the Kodály method of education that has induced tens and hundreds of thousands of young people to enjoy and sing folk songs. The other root was the amateur artistic movement where folk art has traditionally played a significant part. The third root was beat music that in the 1960s had enraptured a large part of the youth also in Hungary, stimulating them to evolve a more active relation to music. When the surge of the beat fashion passed its climax, the movement started to look for some new line in music and interest turned towards folk art.

The fact that, after the switchover, the táncház was the form that became popular has its own reasons. The folk dance and the folk music movement had had until then a theatrically choral character, with large choirs coming to the fore. It should be considered as a natural reaction for these arts to have turned towards more direct forms. Why was it the Transylvanian, Hungarian, and Romanian peasant dance that gave the impulse? In Hungary, instrumental peasant music has hardly survived, having been ousted almost everywhere by urbanization, whereas the Romani bands meeting demand in music followed the road and mode of entertainment music in cafés. Instrumental peasant music has been perserved in very few settlements.


In Transylvania<, the situation is different. For various reasons, such music, together with the concomitant dancing forms of entertainment, survives in many Hungarian and Romanian villages secluded in the mountains. In these spots far from urbanization we come across different forms of still living folklore. The Transylvanian village of Szék, inhabited by Hungarians, is one of these spots where not only folklore traditions have been preserved in their full form but also individual development over the past hundred years has produced specific instrumental music and dance structures. Research workers, including Lázló Lajtha, a Hungarian, discovered Szék in the thirties and started to collect there. Just on account of the very alive musical and dance traditions youth learned this dancing and musical tradition at the beginning of the new folklore movement in Hungary. The fullness of the culture of one single village gave the impression of totality.

Similar phenomena can be discovered in the music of Romanians living in Hungary. The Romanian inhabitants of the village Méhkerék, South-eastern Hungary, have perserved an ancient type of Romanian folk music that, on the other hand, is akin to Hungarian folk music in the Transylvanian region of Bihor. The leading ensemble of the movement, that of Sebó and Halmos, started collecting at Méhkerék learning the ins and outs of making peasant music. Under the impact of what they had learned here, they started learning the peasant music of various regions and the specific style of handling musical instruments. Then they turned to the musical archives of the Academy of Sciences and carried on a personal collection. First, they arranged concerts together with their own compositions that were Hungarian poems put to music and sung. For their own compositions they also relied on folk music.

At the same time, four amateur dance ensembles scored outstanding successes. One of them, the Bartók Dance Ensemble, performed folk dance choreographies displaying the authentic dance costumes of different regions. These choreographies or dance sequences were then willingly danced also by the members of other companies. The four companies together announced a táncház for their own entertainment. The meeting brought together such an amount of "lay" youth that it had to be repeated.

This was the germ of the táncház movement that was followed by systematic work. Táncházak (plural of táncház) were advertised in two or three clubs where the choreographer of the dance ensemble Bartó, Sándor Timár, with his dancers taught the young people first the dance sequence of Szék, then other Hungarian and Romanian dance sequences from Transylvania and Hungary. Young folk musicians went on tracing, finding, and learning as well as playing instrumental folk music whether Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovak, or other. This is an excellent example of the fact that the international spirit represented by Bela Bartók prevails in the folklore movement.

The movement by now has evolved a wide radius of attraction both in Budapest, Hungary and in the Provinces. Táncházak of a more or less permanent character, function in the capital and in many provincial towns and villages. The number of young folk music ensembles has also grown. The new folk music has found its way into radio and into television. The institute for culture organizes courses for leaders and musicians of táncházak and new generations are joining the movement.


What happens in the táncház? It is, in fact, a dancing club requiring premises in a cultural home (houses of culture), an orchestra playing folk music, and a few good dancers to teach the dances written on the program. Today, the teaching of dancing and the actual dancing together occupy two separate evenings in many places but the experts teaching the dances always take part in the dancing proper. The program of such a club is usually many-sided: it includes the performances of invited artists for recitals, plays, and concerts of serious music, as well as talks with writers, artists, scientists, and public personalities. The evening is, naturally, concluded by dancing. Most of the participants are not dancers, not even members of amateur dance groups; they visit the clubs for their own entertainment and learn folk dances for the fun of it. Today, the dances of some five to six regions are danced in authentic form. In many táncházak, a separate program comprises the dances of the neighboring peoples (Croates, Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs, Slovaks, etc.). The children's táncházak are a new phenomenon: here children between three and ten learn the practice dancing folk plays and perform dances from táncházak.

We have undertaken scientific research, mainly in the center of the movement, the Kassák Club, named after the great Hungarian writer and painter of our century, Lajos Kassák, in order to get a clear view of its diffusion and aspects. This is the home of the Sebö Folk Music Ensemble, the founder of the movement, headed by Ferenc Sebö, musician, and Bela Halmos, leader of the orchestra, and where the dances are taught by the leader of the movement, the eminentfolk dance choreographer Sándor Timár. The survey has revealed that the Sebö club was attended mostly by young people between fourteen and thirty, sometimes older. The proportion of sexes is equal, the residence of the visitors is distributed all over the Capital. As to profession most of them are students or intellectuals, but some twenty-five percent are workers, mostly from among the workers having graduated from secondary school. As to their origin, thirty-six percent of them are workers. These figures are lower than the national average among the youth, but are higher than their share in institutions of public culture and in the amateur movements. This goes to show that entertaining cultural activities can exert some influence upon young workers.

As far as interests are concerned, there are two spheres of attraction: the táncház and the program. Most of the participants are in fact there for the program only. The sequence of the dances according to their popularity is surprising. The young people prefer the established dance sequences, such as those of Szék, of Palatka (Hungarians in Transylvania), of Méhkerék (Romanians in Hungary) even if it is more difficult to learn and dance than the looser sequences of Borsod, Szatmár, or other places. The key to the problem is that the looser dance types compared to the strictly established ones, rooted in the 17th and 18th centuries, are remnants of a later, dissolving tradition giving therefore a wider scope to individual self-expression than the regulated dance types. In the first phase of the movement, the regulated dance sequences enjoyed greater popularity, that is, in 1975 and 1976, than the looser types. Recent observations have, however, revealed that the younger generation has no particular preference to this or that type.

Investigations have shown that this transformation of tastes is the consequence of socio-psychological factors. Here we cannot go into a deeper analysis for which we refer to an earlier study published in Valóság, issue 1978(v).

Printed in Folk Dance Scene, September 1982.
Originally printed in Folklorismus Bulletin, No. 1, 1979, Budapest, Hungary,
then in Folk Dance Scene – Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by Vonnie Brown, 1980.