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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Writing Folk Dance Descriptions
By Dick Oakes

Dick Oakes 2007


When you write dance notes for your personal use, they only need to be a reminder
of what you saw, heard, and subsequently researched.
If you are writing dance descriptions for public consumption, however,
they must be polished and have some requisite information:

  1. Correctly spelled dance NAME, with proper diacritic marks. For instance, not all "chardash" dances are spelled the same. The word is Čardáš (Czardáš is also accepted) if it is Czechoslovakian; Ciardaś, Czardasz, Czardas if it is Polish; Čardaš if it is Croatian or Serbian; but Czárdás (an older spelling) or Csárdás if it is Hungarian. Understanding that, if you see a Slovakian dance name written as Horehronsky Csardas, you will know it to be incorrect on two counts – there are no diacritic marks and it's not Hungarian!

  2. The COUNTRY of origin. However, because there are teachers who are making up dances from scratch and saying they are from specific countries, I recommend that instead of the actual country of origin (as a noun), you give the adjective of the noun (such as, Croatian instead of Croatia).

  3. Correctly rendered PRONUNCIATION, at least as close as you can get with the limitations of the English language. For example, Cárdás is pronounced approximately CHAR-dahsh, with the emphasis on the first syllable because all Hungarian words are pronounced that way. "C" is pronounced "ch," "d" is pronounced the same as an English "d," "s" is pronounced "sh." What is not all that apparent is that the á is pronounced like the "a" in father (an "a" without the acute is pronounced "aw" as in law). Even less apparent is that the "r" is slightly trilled. But with all that knowledge, there is still a subtlety in pronunciation that you would want to hear, possibly from a native Hungarian. Yet, Hungarian dance instructors simply give Char-dahsh as the pronunciation and leave it at that. You wouldn't go wrong by doing the same.

  4. Your SOURCE for the dance and any other pertinent details that would relate to the dance's origin. If your notes are based on someone else's notes, you could say so.

  5. Any important and informative BACKGROUND information.

  6. The MUSIC available, currently or even in the past, as some folks may already have the music, whether on vinyl (78, 45, LP, 7" EP, 10" EP, etc.), CD, cassette, sheet music, etc. Give the name of the selection within the music (especially if it is different from the dance name) and other information to aid the person reading your description in locating the music (for example, record label, record number, side, and selection or track number).

  7. The FORMATION dancers are to assume prior to the start of the dance, such as "Mixed line or open cir, hands joined and held at shldr height, elbows bent in "W" pos, all facing slightly diag R toward LOD, with wt on L."

  8. The METER or time signature (if appropriate) or the number of counts per measure, as well as the underlying RHYTHM and the number of beats per count to which the dancers move. For example, "7/8: The rhythm is slow-quick-quick (3 + 2 + 2 = 7) and is counted here in three dancer's beats with the first being the longest. The tempo gradually accelerates to 7/16." If abbreviation for lack of space is paramount over information for audience knowledge, you could do what other teachers do and simply write "7/8." Dance description transcribers often combine this information with the time signature information and term them "METER/RHYTHM."

  9. Basic STEPS (step motifs) used in the dance, such as "Low Hop," "Syncopated Threes," or "Front Grapevine," with a full description of the movements. Placed once in the heading area means simple referral from the body of the description, rather than having to redo a motif each time it is encountered. For example, "HOP: This is actually a low hop (or "lift") where the ball of the ft does not leave the floor."

  10. The STYLE of the dance and/or individual step motifs, such as "During the hop-step-steps, the free leg is stiff and extended. During the walking steps, the cir does not dip (the supporting knee does not bend), but remains completely level throughout." Often, the Style section is combined with the Step motifs section and together are termed "STEPS/STYLE."

  11. The MOVEMENT DESCRIPTION section follows all the heading information. The manner of transcribing this section varies from person to person, but try to get in all of the following information:

  12. The measures (often abbreviated MEAS) by number, by figure (Fig).

  13. What musical introductory period there is (or isn't) before the dance actually begins, such as, "INTRODUCTION - 1 meas. Begin dance on vocal." This can be very important if the dance is supposed to end with the music, say for demonstration purposes or simply for the dancer's enjoyment.

  14. Descriptive figure (Fig) names, either in English or the language associated with the dance. For instance, if Fig I is composed of hop-step-step motifs moving to the right (R) counter-clockwise (CCW) around the dance area, it might be named "I. HOP-STEP-STEPS CCW" to cue the reader who wants to skim the description. If there is only one Fig, you can simply write "THE DANCE" before the step descriptions.

  15. An accurate description of the dance movements by count (ct) within each figure (Fig).

  16. If the dance continues from the beginning (beg), add a sentence to that effect, such as, "Repeat entire dance from beg."

  17. Add any VARIATION, complete with desciptive name, that might be danced below the repeat sentence.

  18. Should there be other hints that could be helpful the the dancer, add a NOTES section with that information. For example, "Leader's Options: The leader, should he feel like it, may improvise on the basic step by adding turns, spins, and other variations, such as dancing backward, knee bends, leaps, and foot slaps."

  19. If dancers are expected or encouraged to sing along with the music, think about adding the SONG WORDS (complete with the proper diacritic marks) to the bottom of the description, along with a translation, if possible.

  20. To streamline your notes, and to make them shorter without sacrificing readability, consider using the Descriptions in the Resource section.

  21. Finally, be sure to add your name and the date (copyrighted if you wish) to the bottom of your description. Some instructors say, "Presented by," others say "Taught by."

The following is an example of a set of dance notes that has the items discussed above.



PRONUNCIATION: SOO-kah-chee-tsah
TRANSLATION: Bride's cook (see Background)
SOURCE: Dick Oakes learned this dance from Dr. Anthony (Tony) Shay who learned this couple version of Sukačko kolo from the Croatian State Folk Dance Ensemble "LADO " when he was with the AMAN Folk Ensemble (aka, AMAN International Music and Dance Company) of Los Angeles, California.
BACKGROUND: Sukačica is from the Prigorje area north of Zagreb in Croatia. A sukačica is a woman who prepares the special soups, roast meats, and cakes for the wedding feast held at the bride's home after the church ceremony. The guests often sang a humorous song (Sukačice, domarice...) in honor of the sukačice and sometimes the song was accompanied by spontaneous dancing, during which the guests might have taken partners and danced their local "drmeš" (shaking dance) in couples or in circles of three or four dancers. Dick Crum, noted Balkan dance researcher, learned a circle drmeš to the same music in the village of Gračani during 1954 that is called Sukačko kolo. While the dance described below also is more properly called Sukačko kolo, we are using the name "Sukačica" to differentiate it from the circle dance.
MUSIC: NAMA 2 (LP) 1002, Side A, Band 5 "Sukačko Kolo"
Festival Records (45rpm) FM-4002B "Sukačko Kolo"
Mediterranean (45rpm) 4002B "Sukačko Kolo"

Geisler, Richard. "Sukačko Kolo" (sheet music), The Yugoslav Collection, The Village & Early Music Society, 15181 Ballantree Lane, Grass Valley, CA 95949-7633.

FORMATION: Cpls facing in any dir, side-by-side, with W to M R, inside hands joined and held down in "V" pos, outside hand flat on hips with fingers fwd and thumb back.
STEPS/STYLE: The shaking or bouncing is especially noticeable in the first and third Fig. Ftwk is the same for M and W unless otherwise indicated.


1-8 No action.
  NOTE: This Fig is written for M; W use opp ftwk.
1 Turning away from ptr, step L, bending L knee and swinging joined hands fwd (ct 1); bounce on both ft slightly apart (ct 2); bounce on both ft slightly apart (ct &).
2 Repeat action of meas 1 with opp ftwk, swinging joined bwd on ct 1.
3-12 Repeat action of meas 1-2 five more times. Both M and W take wt on L on final ct & in preparation for Fig II.
  NOTE: The bounces may be danced as shifts of wt but are so flat and close to the floor that the impression is the same as two bounces.
  NOTE: The low hop in this Fig should be danced in place as a pivot with the R ft to provide the momentum for turning. Formation is shldr-shldr blade pos with ptrs facing each other, knees bent. There is almost no up-and-down motion during the turning.
1 Turning CW, step R across in in front of L with the toe angled to the R (ct 1); low hop on R (ct 2); step L swd around ptr (ct &).
2-16 Repeat action of meas 1 fifteen more times.
  NOTE: If the cpl prefers, a hop-step-step may be danced during the Chorus instead of the step-hop-step described. If this is the case, wt must be taken on the R by both M and W at the end of Fig I.
  NOTE: Formation is with ptrs opened out side-by-side, W to M R, inside hands joined. Both hands are held up at shltr height, elbows slightly bent, palms fwd.
1 Step L swd with stiffened knee and moving hands to L (ct 1); bend L knee as R is raised off floor (ct &); step R next to L with stiffened knee and moving hands to R (ct 2); bend R knee as L is raised off floor (ct &);
2 Repeat action of meas 1;
3 Step L swd with stiffened knee and moving hands to L (ct 1); bend L knee as R is raised off floor (ct &); touch R next to L with stiffened knees with hands remaining to L (ct 2); bend L knee as R is raised off floor (ct &).
4-6 Repeat action of meas 1-4 to R with opp ftwk.
7-12 Repeat action of meas 1-6. On final ct &, ptrs take wt on L in preparation for Fig IV.
  NOTE: If the hop-step-step var is to be used in Fig IV, both M and W retain wt on R.
1-16 Repeat action of meas 1-16, Fig II.
  Repeat entire dance from beg. M must have L ft free and W R ft free to begin Fig I.
  If the cpl prefers, during the Chorus Fig ptrs may face each other and, leaning over twd each other with free hands on hips (W begins with wt on L, R ft free), dance 6 meas of drmeš steps to M L and 6 meas of drmeš steps to M R. Joined hands are held down in "V" pos between ptrs and are swung across in front of body on ct 1 and out to side on ct 2 throughout the entire 12 meas.

Sukačica (Sukačko Kolo)

/ Sukačica gledi strica
zgorela joj gibanica. /

/ Dunaj, Dunaj, Dunaj ve,
Dunaj vodo ladna. /

/ Sukačica, domarice,
zgorele vam gibanice. /


/ Zgorele vam gibanice;
prismudile i purice. /


/ Sukičica, pile peče
iz pileta voda teče. /


/ Tancale su celu noćku
pojele su s'perjem kvočku. /

      The cook looked at the old man
and her gibanica (cheese pie) burned.

Danube, cold water!  

Cook, housewife,
your gibanica has burned.


Your gibanica has burned;
the turkeys have gotten singed.


The cook roasts a chicken
and all the water comes out of it.


They danced the whole night
and ate a hen, feathers and all!


Used with permission of the author.