Defined by concept and rules


Western classical works in music and dance are generally quite tightly fixed and rigid compositions, which can be notated, and are played or danced near identically every time. However, this is not typical of social dancing and many forms of music.

… establish the rules according to which a dance performance is recognised by people as being “correct”, according to a given tradition.

Giurchescu and Kröschlová, 2007:21[1]

The ideas of “dance concept” and understanding that the dance product is the “realisation” of the dancing process (see Bakka and Karoblis[2]) is the basis of understanding a ‘dance’. However, a local dancer’s insider knowledge that defines how to dance more often leads to an understanding of the dance in terms of ‘rules’ that define the construction and limits to the degree of variation.

Basic form of Brâul bătrân

Although the local dancers only “see” the motif, they operate variations according to simple rules:
– direction can change on measures 3 and 7
– alternatives for measures 1,2,4, 5,6,8
– measure 2 mirrors 1, measure 6 mirrors 5
– measures 4 and 8 can different steps

However the product may well look different depending on the context, on occasion, or the participants, which might lead to the ethnographer who notates the product (realisation) classifying different performances under different ‘dance titles’ whereas the insider sees them as the same dance. Local music and dance often has a theme; the exact musical notes or the exact movement sequence may be different between people and occasions, but the insiders will recognise when it is considered as the same dance or when there is a significant (to them) difference that defines it as a ‘different’ dance.

Comparison between hora and četvorka

Comparison between hora and četvorka

One practical use of grouping dances by structural parameters (in this case using the ‘parity’ parameter of weight changes following Leibman[3]) was to place the dancing we observed (and participated in) at Svinița during fieldwork in 2013 in relation to the regional dance repertoire of the wider area of Romania and Serbia with the aim of contextualising our observations in the locality.

Our publications

Green, Nick (2014). A consideration of structural analysis methodology in the context of southeast European dance: an example from Banat – Brâul bătrân.

Green, Nick (2015) Placing of Sviniița’s (Serbian: Svinica) identity as seen from the perspective of community dance culture.


  1. Giurchescu, Anca & Kröschlová, Eva (2007). Theory and method of dance form analysis. In: Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois & Dunin, Elsie Ivancich (eds.) Dance structures: perspectives on the analysis of human movement. Pages 21–52 Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó.
  2. Bakka, Egil & Karoblis, Gediminas (2010). Writing "a dance": epistemology for dance research. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 42: pages 167–193.
  3. Leibman, Robert Henry (1992). Dancing bears and purple transformations: the structure of dance in the Balkans. Doctor of Philosophy doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.