About Dajčovo Horo
By Dick Crum
Dajčovo Horo (Dajčevo, Dajčovoto, etc.) is one of the basic or "classic" Bulgarian folk dance types. It is known in one form or another everywhere in Bulgaria, and for generations has been a standard among Bulgarian communities in the United States and Canada. Dajčovo was introduced to American folk dancers in the mid-1950s and has been a favorite with recreational and exhibition groups ever since.
Because Dajčovo is so widespread, and so important a dance in the Bulgarian folk repertory, its name means different things to different people. I'd like to talk about some of these meanings since the problems involved in interpreting the various forms of Dajčovo Horo reflect much broader problems in the proper understanding of Balkan dance in general.
WHO WAS DAJČO?
First of all, the literal translation of Dajčovo Horo is "Dajčo's dance," placing it among those Balkan dances whose titles derive from personal names. No one knows for sure who the Dajčo of Dajčovo Horo was. Boris Conev, A Bulgarian dance researcher, gives one possible explanation in his account of a story from the town of Pleven: It seems that a century ago there lived in Pleven a rich cattle merchant named Dajčo. He was not well-liked, and when he ended up penniless after the withdrawal of the Ottoman Turks from Bulgaria in 1878, local tavern musicians began singing derisive lyrics about Dajčo's downfall, to a dance melody in lively 9/16 meter. People began to dance and sing the tune, and "Dajčo's horo" (more precisely, the "horo-song about Dajčo") was born. The dance they did to it was probably some old traditional dance of the region, but we can only guess what it's name was before Dajčo's became attached to it. And, whether true or not, the story is a fine illustration of one of the ways folk dances and tunes get their names.
Professionals, that is, musicians and dance researchers, often use the term Dajčovo Horo in a broad generic sense; in this context it means "Dajčovo-tupe dance," and includes any fast melody dance with a rhythm pattern of four main beats (quick-quick-quick-slow) of which the fourth is half again as long as any one of the first three. Dajčovo-type dance tunes are conventionally noted in 9/16 meter:
(Dajčovo music is sometimes written with more precise time-signatures such as 2+2+2+3/16 or 4-1/2/16 and a metronome reading of M. M. = 300-550. Occasionally, especially in notations made before the widespread use of sound-recording equipment, Dajčovo-type melodies were given singnatures such as 4/4 or 5/4:
probably indicating unsuccessful attempts to estimate the true value of the fourth beat.)
American folk dancers have been exposed to several Dajčovo-type dances, such as Lile Lile (in Pirot Medley), Abdala, Plevensko Dajčovo Horo, and Zizaj Nane.
The word "dajčova" (note the "-a" ending) is a technical term recently adopted by Bulgarian dance specialists, referring to the "hop-step-step-step" unit that occurs in many Dajčovo-type dances. One dajčova consists of:
count 1 Hop or čukče on left foot,
count 2 Step on R foot,
count 3 Step on L foot,
count 4 Step on R foot.
OUR VILLAGE'S DAJČOVO
Among non-professionals, that is, ordinary town and village people who dance, the term Dajčovo Horo may have different local meanings. For example, in North Bulgaria there are districts where every village has its own dance called Dajčovo Horo, which may be distinct in melody and/or footwork from those of neighboring villages.
THE "POPULAR" DAJČOVO
Then there is the so-called "popular" Dajčovo, an off-shoot of the local ones I just mentioned. It is a specific four-measure dance that originated in North Bulgarian and spread throughout the country, joining the pan-Bulgarian repertory along with Eleno Mome, Pajduško, and other dances found today throughout Bulgaria and even beyond its borders. The "popular" Dajčovo is usually done in a mixed open circle, hands joined down in a "V" position (sometimes a belt-hold is used). It consists of four dajčovas: the 1st and 2nd are done facing and moving to the right and slightly toward center, the 3rd is done facing center and backing straight out, and the 4th is done sideways to the left. This Dajčovo can still be seen, with styling variations, at village celebrations and occasionally (though rarely) even at gatherings among city people. It is also known in eastern Serbia and is the one best-known to American Bulgarians.
"SHOPE" DAJČOVOS AND "ZIZAJ NANE"
In the mountains of west Bulgaria and east Serbia there is an ethnic group called the "Shopes" ("šopi" or "šopovi"). Though they are popularly stereotyped as unhurried and conservative in their attitudes, their dances are regarded as the most exciting in the Balkans, and are favorites among performing groups in Bulgaria and Serbia. The Shopes have many Dajčovo-type dances; the most common are those that have variants of the name "Lila" in their titles (Lile Lile, Lilka, Lle-lle), and there are others such as Tŭrne Mome, Zizaj Nane, and Podlituška.
In the 1930s and especially in the post-war 1940s, touring dance troupes took various Shope dances (Kopanica, Graovsko Horo, Ripna Maca, etc.) to all parts of Bulgaria and eastern Serbia. One of the most spectacular was a Dajčovo-type called Zizaj Nane. It spread like wildfire after the war, reaching remote villages and for a while threatening to displace many local dances in regions as far away as Dobrudja and southeastern Thrace.
This Zizaj Nane is the one most familiar to American folk dancers. It is basically the "popular" Dajčovo in a very fast tempo interspersed with showy figures performed according to a leader's signal-calls. The name Zizaj Nane is itself derived from one of the calls. "Zizaj" in Shope dialect means roughly "shake or bounce up and down," and "nane" or "nanče," literally "elder brother," is a familiar word used in addressing close male friends (such as English "pal," "brother," "buddy," etc.). Though things like this never translate well, "Zizaj, nane!" would be something like "Shake it, man! in English. Probably because the word "zizaj" has a catchy, vaguely humorous ring to the Bulgarian ear, the title Zizaj Nane gradually replaced the older name Dajčovo.
In time, Zizaj Nane underwent many stylizations. One such, extremely effective for stage, was a development of the simple signal words into antiphonal command-and-response shouts: as the dancers perform the four-dajčova pattern in place or travelling, the leader shouts his command, the others answer in unison, and at the end of the calls the dancers perform the signalled figure, that is:
Measure 1 (1 dajčova) Leader: "Čukaj, nane!" ("Stamp, man!"),
Measure 2 (1 dajčova) Others: "Čukam, čukam!" ("I'll stamp!"),
Measure 3 (1 dajčova) Leader: "A taka de!" ("Like this!"),
Measure 4 (1 dajčova) Others: "A sega de!" ("Right now!"),
Measure 5 (1 dajčova) All stamp four times.
American dancers are often puzzled by the fact that there seems to be no fixed or standard set of calls or figures, and several variants of this Dajčovo have been introduced into the United States and Canada in the last fifteen years. In Bulgarian and Serbia, the dance varies greatly in style, number of figures, and exact wording of the calls, depending on where it's being danced, or, in the case of performing groups (village-amateur or professional) on the choreographer's whim.
Obviously, because of its wide diffusion, Dajčovo styling varies greatly in different regions, among individual dancers, and especially according to the speed or tempo at which it is played. I have seen fine native dancers perform the "popular" Dajčovo in a moderate tempo, covering a lot of ground, with a very erect bearing, an elusive solid-yet-elastic style that is produced by dancing lightly on the full foot, with knees very slightly bent. At times, to emphasize the beginning of a phrase, dancers slowly bring joined hands straight forward (or even above shoulder level), leave them there for a while, and then bring them slowly down to sides again. This relatively uncomplicated styling is truly elegant and especially when danced by older, seasoned dancers.
Of course, faster tempos (typical, for example, of Shope dancing) excite the dancers in a different way: lifts or čukčes become hops, weight moves to the ball of the foot, and dancers become more "creative." They may squeeze together in the line, dance their dajčovas in place, or trace small circular paths in front of their own places, the leader and end-man may "chase" each other, and occasionally the men may punctuate the dance with a deep knee-bend or two. Some of these variations of the dajčova step have been carried over into the Shope Dajčovos such as Zizaj Nane, with calls such as "Na mestoto!" ("In place!"), "Zakrepni go! ("Consolidate!"), and "Luljaj! ("Swing around!").
What I've said so far has been descriptive, that is, a word picture of some style features one can see when watching different Bulgarians dance Dajčovo under different conditions. When it comes to prescription ("How should it be done?"), we get into the old, frustrating problem that faces any specialist who has observed living, changing dances in their natural setting and wishes to pass them on to others: no matter what he may say at this point, there will be many excellent Bulgarian dancers who will do it differently.
I'm assuming that anyone who has read this far is probably interested in the answer to a question something like "Are there any things I, as a non-Bulgarian, can do to look or feel less non-Bulgarian when I dance Dajčovo?" If this is the case, then I can offer at least some symptomatic relief. For starters:
1) When doing the basic dajčova step, in place or in any direction, Bulgarians never (well, hardly ever) fall onto count 4 ("slow") with dead weight and deep knee flex as if taking a split-second breather. Instead, all four counts are even, or, if there is any accent at all, it is on the first count (the čukče or hop). When teaching the dajčova step, I often exaggerate this by using cues such as "QUICK-quick-quick-slow" or "UP-two-three-four." It's helpful to think of count 4 as longer but not stronger. Also, its useful to fight gravity by taking light steps or imagining one's dancing "in a giant red-hot frying pan."
2) When doing the dajčova step in place, most native dancers move in a strictly vertical direction: the line from head-to-feet is perpendicular to the floor throughout. Many American folk dancers tend to do the in-place dajčova with a bell-like, "ding-dong" forward-and-back sing of the lower body, hopping forward on count 1, bringing head and shoulders back ("ding"), and using the three steps that follow to move back to place ("dong"). To avoid this, it is helpful to find a crack on the floor, stand on it, and dance, hitting the crack with each foot-fall, keeping head and shoulders directly above the feet at all times.
3) The question of how high to bring the free knee in an in-place dajčova is the hardest of all to answer. During the hop on count 1, the free knee is bent forward (thigh NOT parallel to the floor), the lower leg hanging naturally (it actually assumed this position on count 4 of the previous measure); as you do the hop, the free knee straightens slightly and the foot "flicks" a bit forward (not a kick more like a relaxed reflex reaction to the hop and the straightening of the knee). What I have just described is a rather natural, relaxed style. Many performance groups do this movement in a high-prancing style, bringing the free knee up very high, while others do a sharp kick. Both of these are more stylized than the one I described first, but they are widely accepted by choreographers and village performance groups so take your choice (or obey your choreographer!).
From New York Folk Dance News, Volume 1, Number 6, February-March, 1973