Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.
Historical Notes on Some Swedish Dances
By Gordon Ekvall Tracie
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This dance comes from the district of Bingsjö, province of Dalarna, Sweden.
Byte-snurrbocken is a mixer dance found in a particular local group in southern Sweden. It has a fixed pattern and is done in a bouncy, animated (but not gross) manner.
In the old days, when native dances had not yet been "standardized" by the organized folk dance movement, dancing routines were oftimes quite unpredictable. The bowing sequence in Snurrbocken offered a splendid opportunity for dancers to "scan" the room for another partner . . . and for a couple of bars of music, things could get pretty wild! This mixer of Snurrbocken is an orderly compromise between the "free-for-all" resulting therefrom, and the predictability of the ordinary form usually danced.
Also spelled "Fyramannadans," it is a dance for four persons and may well be called "the fastest dance in the North," for in sheer speed of the turn it has no counterpart. The Swedish folk dance manual says of this lively polska, "It can without exaggeration be said that this simple, brisk, and beautiful dance is one of our very oldest and most widespread dances, and a direct continuation of the slengpolska."
Simple, yet phenomenally effective when well performed, Fyrmannadans is without a doubt one of the most spectacular dances in Scandinavia today, bearing graphic testimony to the vitality and "drive" of genuine Swedish folk dancing.
Gammal kulldans is a mixer from the southern district of the province of Dalarna.
Gammal Polska is a couple dance, at one time general throughout Sweden, now mainly preserved in the central and northern districts of the country.
"Gammal polska," literally meaning "oldstyle polska," is in essence a "generic" form of a dance which prevailed throughout much of Sweden for a half-dozen generations. It is the "common denominator" of a myriad of sub-forms which are found in local districts throughout the land. A dancing couple need only sense the basic rhythm as found in Gammal polska, and master the technique of rotating to it, to be able to grasp the spirit of the Swedish Polska idiom, and from there go on to learn any number of fascinating variants, each with its own individual dialect.
This dance was brought to the United States from Sweden in 1961, following research spanning a period of over 10 years on old Swedish dance forms. It was first introduced to the general American folk dance public nearly a decade before domestic research by Swedes themselves began unearthing a myriad of similar forms. The old Polska, in numerous local variants, is now firmly re-established in Sweden as a viable traditional dance.
The title translates to "oldstyle schottische" and the dance was at one time general throughout Sweden, but is now mainly associated with certain local regions.
This restored ethnic dance in ancient times was probably common throughout much of Sweden. It has been researched and danced in Sweden from 1970. Quite probably it has ceremonial roots, but is now danced recreationally. In ancient times, it was likely danced to singing only.
The folk music renaissance which occurred in Sweden around 1970 just in time to save a remarkable ancient fiddle tradition from eventual extinction had a number of important side effects. For a dancer, the most important of these was an intense interest in the dances that had once been done to the old music still found in the country fiddlers' repertoire. Among the hundreds of regional ethnic dances gleaned from the memories of old folks, is to be found material dating back to the original Renaissance: serpentine-like chain-dances called "Långdans (long-dance in Swedish). Originally, ballad dances such as those still in living tradition on the Faroe Islands, any words which may have at one time existed, have for the most part been lost, so they are now danced to fiddle accompaniment or a simple "tra-la."
Music for the Swedish Långdans is usually in triple meter. The step used can either be a simple running one, such as in the serpentine about the greened-pole at Midsommar, and the Christmas tree at Yuletide, or a rhythmic pattern identical to that of the "Polska." It is believed by many that this latter step may indeed be the forerunner to the dance form which reigned supreme as Sweden's "national dance" during the 17th and 18th centuries, and survives even today in a multitude of different native dances known as "Polska."
So, when dancing the Långdans, one can imagine himself being transported back to an ancient time when such an activity was perhaps one of the few expressions of social entertainment available to the folk. Therefore, every moment of it is to be "lived to the hilt."
Medelpad snurrbock is a couple dance from the province of Medelpad northern Sweden. "Snurrbock" is a term deriving from two Swedish verbs: "snurra" (to whirl or rotate) and "bocka" (to bow). A traditional dance by that name is found in several districts of Sweden. The most general form is the one "standardized" by the Swedish folk dance movement: "Snurrbocken." It is that form (or a somewhat corrupted version of it) that is quite widely known by American folk dancers. Its characteristic rhythm is bouncy, and the turn is quite fast. But in the swedish hinterland, other versions of this dance have lived their own existence, and have been carefully researched and "restored to life" the past decade or so.
Medelpad snurrbock is from up north in the tiny province of Medelpad and is an example of such a survival. It is known to have been danced spontaneously as late as 1895 but the tune was not annotated until 1930, and a complete description not committed to writing until 1956, thanks to a fiddler's interview with an elderly couple who had danced it in their youth. Its present revival is thanks to Göran Karlholm of Jämtland.
POLSKA MED BAKMES
Polska med bakmes, literally "Polska with Reverse-Turn," comes from the western district of the province of Dalarna, specifically Transtrand. This dance is but a combination of a Gammal polska in Västerdalsk (Western Dalarna) style, and the Västerdalsk bakmes. The open promenade serves as a rest-step between the two different forms of turning. Because the dance is essentially free-form, the order in which the parts are danced is not fixed; however, the sequence taught is a logical one, well suited for learning the overall idiom of traditional Western Dalarna dancing. It will be noted that the women's open promenade step begins with the outside foot (right) throughout, rather than with her left foot on the promenade preceding the "bakmes" turn, as in Västerdalsk bakmes proper. This is a great convenience for the women, and requires only a simple transition step fore and aft.
An Americanized version of the Norwegian "Parisarpolka," this traditional oldtime dance is also known as "Scandinavian Polka" in California and other western areas, and "Norwegian Polka" in New York and East Coast areas
The word "sen" in Swedish means "late" or "tardy." Because the turning speed of a typical "senpolska" is considerably slower than that of an ordinary "polska," it can be assumed that this designation is used to denote a "delayed" tempo so to speak. In any case, the character of the "senpolska" is extremely "legato," almost (but not quite) ponderous, which is in striking contrast to the more buoyant, often elegant, nature of most "polska" dances in Sweden.
The släangpolska, literally "flinging polska," seems to have begun as a couple dance, perhaps as much as three or four centuries ago, which later grew to encompass tow or more couples. Swedish folk dancers often refer to the slängpolska step as Östgö-step after the province of Östergötland (East Gothia) from which it is thought to have originated. Though nowadays it is danced only asa leftward-moving step in Sweden, the slängpolska survives in the Swedish districts of Finland moving in both directions.
This traditional oldtime pivoting dance to polka music is general throughout the southern and central districts of Sweden.
This traditional oldtime pivoting dance to walking music is found primarily in the north-central and northern districts of Sweden.
Snurrbocken, literally translated as the "whirl-and-bow" dance, is a traditional formalized folk dance common to folk dance societies throughout Sweden.
This dance has long been a favorite of international folk dancers in the United States. What is not widely known over here is that there are several versions of it in its homeland, Sweden all equally "authentic." Unlike the Americanized form, they all traditionally begin with "rundpolska," the closed polska turn. The name itself suggests this: "snurr" (spin or whirl); "bock" (bow). Hence, "the whirl-and-bow" dance. The bowing sequence is a bit of rustic satire in which yesteryear's less privileged country folk would mimic the affected mannerisms of the upper class. The common "formalized folk dance" form of Snurrbocken was "standardized" before the turn of the century.
Sollerä-långdans is a group dance, not necessarily paired as couples, and comes form the Lake Siljan district in the province of Dalarna. It quite probably has ceremonial roots, but is now danced recreationally.
This dance, obviously of ancient origin, was "rescued" from the memory of a 101-year-old woman on the isle of Sollerön in Dalarna in 1966. She had danced it in her youth. Folks would get together on a Sunday evening, she related, and join hands for the långdans whether or not there was a fiddler to dance to, often making up words as they danced. Otherwise, one could merely "tra-la" the melody which is the way it is usually done now, inasmuch as none of the old words were recalled.
A traditional oldtime dance, Stegvals has been researched in Sweden from 1951 on. It is found primarily in the western and northern parts of Sweden and is also found in Norway. It means "stride-, walk-, or step-waltz."
Although this dance can be (and not infrequently is) done to most any Scandinavian Waltz tune, the historically correct music is that of a pre-Polska (and therefore pre-Waltz) "Långdans" (long-dance) rhythm, which appropriately lends itself to the "Stegvals" and "Bakmes" steps, because they are essentially identical to the basic Polska step itself. It is known, for example, that both Stegvals and Bakmes were danced in Scandinavia before the "real" Waltz made its appearance in the first decade or two of the 19th century.
Stig-schottis, a traditional old-time dance, is found in the western and northern parts of Sweden, and also in Norway. The literal translation is "stride-, walk-, or step-schottische.
It will easily be seen that this dance is but a duple meter version of the triple meter Stegvals, substituting schottische music for "långdans" or waltz music. The step itself, of course, is basically a polska either open polska or halfturn polska step adapted to another rhythm, in this case, schottische. In Norway, where the Reinlender (the Norwegian counterpart of the Swedish schottis) is typically played with a decided syncopation, this dance (called Stigaren in Norwegian) can be danced with added flare by taking a subtle leap on each leading step (that into LOD) on the turn.
Trava, meaning "trotting-along" apparently originated in the province of Skåne in southern Sweden. It is a traditional oldtime dance, bouncy and animated but under firm control.
Folk dancers familiar with Scandinavian material will immediately discern a close relationship between this dance and the well-known Sønderhoning from Denmark. The music of each is in duple meter, and both begin with a simple walking promenade followed by a turn using a triple meter step pattern, so that the rotation step is "3 against 2." It would appear, however, that the unique dance holds in the Danish variant are of an older origin than those used in Trava. Furthermore, recent research in Denmark has indicated that the Sønderhoning is properly danced at a very slow tempo, whereas Trava is most appropriately used when the tempo of a polka is too fast for a comfortable Druff-polka, Polkett, or Snoa step.
Västerdalsk bakmes, a restored regional ethnic dance, comes from the western district of the province of Dalarna specifically Särna and Transtrand.
"Bakmes" is a Swedish dialect word implying "baklänges" (backwards), hence its reference to the reverse- or backwards-turn in certain dances. Most of these dances are found in western and northern Sweden, but one also survives in the Swedish districts of Finland (Finlandsk bakmes-polka). The same reverse-rotation form is found in Norway in one of the figures of Rørospols, where it is called "vrangsnu" (literally "wrong-turn"). The form of the dance taught at the 1980 University of the Pacific (Stockton) Folk Dance Camp is from the western districts of the province of Dalarna which borders Norway's Østerdalen (the East Valley), home of Rørospols, so it is not surprising that there are similarities.
Compared with the Norwegian Pols, however, it would appear that over the years the Swedish counterpart polska has fragmented, so that some parts of the full "suite" as still dance in Røros today (and can be traced back to the 16th century in Sweden) is found in some places, others in other places. As and example, when the Hambo began to replace the "rundpolska" (as in Gammal polska) in the Transtrand area, the halfturn "bakmes" outlived the fullturn left-foot polska.
Reprinted from the 1980 and 1981 University of the Pacific (Stockton) Folk Dance Camp syllabi.
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