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Basic Steps
The Taproot Family

By Don Buskirk

YouTubes illustrating or amplifying the topic discussed are
available on Don's website ( https://folkdancefootnotes.org/ ).

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Basic Steps

The Taproot Family – T-4, T-4A, T-6, T-6A, T-8, T-10, T-10A, T-12A

I and many others have noted that the predominant Balkan dance has a repeating phrase of six counts; step-step-step __, step, __, or S,S, S, __, S, __, where the __ is one of a number of movements (kick, pause, tap, touch, lift) that don't involve a shifting of weight from one foot to the other. I call it the Taproot Dance, because it seems so deeply rooted in all dance cultures of the region.. Another way of conceptualizing the dance phrase is two steps to the right, then a pair of mirror image [step, __'s]; one to the right and one to the left. If you think of each pair of counts or steps as one, it's two pairs to the right and one to the left or two forward, one back – a slow advance. Most six-count Taproot Dances have beats of even length, like walking steadily. A Bulgarian version of the Taproot is where the __ count is a pause. So the phrase becomes S,S, S,__, S,__. Bulgarians call the dance Pravo.

Even though you're only taking four steps (changing the foot on the ground, changing the foot holding your weight), it takes six even counts to accomplish the four steps. I abbreviate this six count Taproot Dance to T-6.

There's an even simpler Taproot Dance, with a few examples that are fundamental dances for some cultures, the T-4. It's simply the first four counts of the T-6. So it goes Step, Step, Step, __, or S,S,S,__. You're just dropping the last S,__ of the T-6. I know of three cultures that have T-4's as important dances. In Romania the T-4 is called the Hora Mare.

It's probably the one dance that every Romanian knows, and it's almost always the first dance at a Romanian wedding party [after the wedding feast]. It's also called "big hora," to distinguish it from gazillions of other Hora's in Romania. It's "big" because everyone can do it, thus forming a big circle. Notice that this dance goes in on the left foot, out on the right, and zig-zags in and out of the circle, like pieces of a pie. So the circle is very slowly moving to the right, counterclockwise.

Another T-4 is fundamental to the Kurds of Anatolia, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The Kurds call their T-4 Delilo, Halay, Govend – lots of names, actually, because the Kurds have several dialects, some of which are mutually unintelligible. The Kurds start their T-4 on the right foot, hold on to each others' pinkies, to make little pumping or circular motions with their forearms, and sometimes clap.

The third T-4 is an Albanian dance, Vallja e Rrajcës.

Another Taproot Dance is the opposite of the T-4. Instead of dropping a Step,__ off the end of a T-6, the T-8 adds one. So in a T-8 the pattern becomes S, S, S,__, S,__, S,__, – eight counts – five steps or changes of weight. The prime example is Kolo, the national dance of Serbia, Bosnia, and Northern Croatia. Kolo has many names – U šest, Moravac, Užičko, etc.

A variant of the T-8 dance common in Eastern North Macedonia is Maleševko oro. There, after the first two steps to the right, the three S__ sequences become fast three triple steps. Still eight beats to the Right, eight to the Left.

Although the T-4 and T-8 Taproot Dances have similar footwork (more or less), and similarly even counts, they lack the other basic ingredient of the T-6, which is the bi-directional feature of two-to-the-right, one-to-the-left; the slow advance. T-4 and T-8 tend to move in-and-out, or back-and-forth, resulting in little overall progress.

A T-10 dance is the Greek Tsamikos.

Dance scholars describe uneven beats by the terms Additive, or Aksak, a Turkish word that literally means "limping." According to Wikipedia, "In Ottoman musical theory, Aksak is a rhythmic system in which pieces or sequences, executed in a fast tempo, are based on the uninterrupted reiteration of a matrix, which results from the juxtaposition of rhythmic cells based on the alternation of binary and ternary quantities, as in 2+3, 2+2+3, 2+3+3, etc. The name literally means "limping," "stumbling," or "slumping," and has been borrowed by Western ethnomusicologists to refer generally to irregular, or additive meters." In other words, whereas Western music contains predominantly even beats (even in the 3/4 waltz or 6/8 jig, any little beat is as long as any other), Balkan and Turkish music is full of uneven rhythms located in the beginning, middle, or end of a measure. The relationship between short and long beats is approximately two to three – if a short beat is two counts, a long beat is three. In reality, Balkan musicians were only recently exposed to the Western idea of precisely measuring the length of a beat. Previously, all was done "by ear," so the only real difference between a short and long beat was that to the musician, the short beat "felt" shorter and the long "felt" longer.

A T-4A dance is the Armenian Tamzara (Armenian) (9/8) or Q,Q,Q,S.

A T-6A dance is Lesnoto (7/8) or S,Q,Q.

The following members of the Taproot family retain the two-to-the-right, one-to-the-left feature of the T-6, but differ from the T-6 in that they have beats of uneven lengths – quick and slow steps. The T-6A, for instance, means "T-6 Taproot with Additive or Aksak beats."

Most Recreational Folk Dancers know this dance as Lesnoto, but Macedonians themselves use other terms. The footwork structure of the T-6A is the same as the T-6; two-to-the-right, one-to-the-left; but there are more beats, and the beats are of uneven length. In a classic T-6, each pair of steps is two slow beats. The three pairs of steps add up to six beats, or one dance phrase.

In a T-6A dance, each pair of steps add up to seven fast beats – a Slow (three quick counts) and two Quicks (two quick counts each); so 3+2+2=7 counts. The three pairs of steps that make a T-6A phrase add up to 21 fast counts.

The T-10A Tik is a single or double (5/8, 5/16) S,Q.

In the double tik or Tik Diplon, each set of two (or theee) steps is one five-beat measure.

The T-12A dance Devetorka is a Balkan chameleon (9/8, 9/16) Q,Q,Q,S. The T-12A is a very widespread variation of the Taproot Dance. It's the same two-to-the-right, one-to-the-left phrase, but stretched by adding two walking steps before each of the original pairs of steps. Thus you get S,S,S,S; S,S,S,__; S,S,S,__ which is still the basic pattern of two to the right and one to the left – a slow advance.

Šareni ăorapi [named after the song of the same name] from Macedonia [Greek and North], is one of many Balkan dances with the T-12A pattern. All have an added twist. These dances have beats of uneven length, like walking three regular steps then one slower step. Technically, the Slow steps are about 1-1/2 times longer than the Quick steps, but western musicians find it easier to say the Quick steps have two beats, while the Slow steps have three. Traditional Balkan musicians didn't count beats, they just thought in terms of Quick and Slow.

The above dance would be divided rhythmically as Quick, Quick, Quick, Slow, or Q,Q,Q,S or 1,2, 1,2, 1,2, 1,2,3, which adds up to nine beats. So T-12A means "Taproot 12-step dance pattern with music measures of nine Additive or Aksak beats."

Recreational Folk Dance instructors teach the T-12A as a Macedonian/Serbian dance called Devetorka. Notes from a presentation at Stockton, 2005.

I can find no YouTubes of a footwork pattern called Devetorka being danced in Macedonia. However I believe it's probably a matter of no one posting the dance, or posting it under a different name, as Macedonia is the centre of the T-12A's distribution pattern. There are several YouTubes of a virtuosic accordion piece called Makedonsko oro ("Macedonian Dance") in nine uneven beats, but YouTubes of Macedonians dancing to something called Makedonsko oro yield several different dances in several rhythms.

Ron Houston, in his 1989 Folk Dance Problem Solver article on Tri Godini, states, "Dance scholars call this pattern devetorka (ninesome) because it requires nine beats of music, divided into four groups of 2 + 2 + 2 + 3." So Devetorka is a scholarly term used by those outside Macedonia for a footwork pattern that has no commonly-agreed-upon name in Macedonia.


The T-12A foot pattern is found throughout the Balkans, under as many names as there are nine-beat songs to dance it to. If the term T-12A sounds too technical to you, call the pattern Devetorka, just don't think of it as an exclusively Macedonian dance.

Eleno Mome (T-12A) is a classic example of how Balkan rhythms don't fit neatly into Western notions of what constitutes a beat. My not-too-trained ear hears this rhythm as Slow, Slow, Quick-Slow, or 1,2, 1,2, 1, 1,2, or seven beats. However the 2008 notes put out by the Folk Dance Federation of California says "Musicians may select meter 7/8 (2,2,1,2), 11/16 (3,3,2,3), 12/16 (4,3,2,3), 13/16 (4,4,2,3), or in between." The notes agree that all those combinations sound like Slow, Slow, Quick-Slow.

To me what's important about Eleno Mome is how it is a variation of the Taproot family. I call it a T-12A because it follows the two-to-the-right, one-to-the-left Taproot pattern, and I hear seven Additive or Aksak beats. Also, Eleno Mome contains the basic T-6 Taproot pattern of three pairs of steps – S, S, S, __, S, __. In this case the __ is a hop on the weighted foot, AND [at the same time] a kick with the unweighted foot. So the pattern then becomes S, S, S-kick, S-kick. However there's an additional spice – after each pair, a side-behind pair is inserted. So the dance becomes S, S, side-behind; S-kick,side-behind; S-kick,side-behind. That's three seven-count (Slow, Slow, Quick-Slow) pairs. The Quick step is always the side-step.


Bob Leibman

Just happened on your website as I was looking for some things online. So, I am curious as to where you are located and do I know you. Somewhere in here I think I saw it as Don Buskirk? Since I have been at this for about 20 years more than you, I suspect I may have met you at some time. I live in Austin and have met with Ron a few times over the years.

I was caught by the title of your blog Lesnoto and by now have seen a little bit more – taproot dance, and your T4, T6, etc. I need to look at it a bit more closely. I have a structural approach to describing many families of Balkan dances based on the number of weight shifts in each of the dance measures in the dance.

But on Lesnoto, it is true that several alternative names you mentioned might be used for the dance, although probably most frequently people will ask for a particular song to which they want to dance. Note that the "taproot dance" may appear in both 7/8 and 2/4 (and other meters) – though Lesnoto in particular might more usually refer to the 7/8 variant (more on this later). As you mention Dick Crum's comment, Lesnoto – with the Serbian linguistic equivalent, Lako kolo, in parentheses – is #13 in the Janković sisters' Narodne Igre v.1, published 1934. Interestingly it appears as one of six dances which they see as all being the same, all from Mijak villages. The dances are #10 Tropnalo oro, #11 Sadilo mome, #12 Janinke, #13 Lesnoto, #14 Popat hodi, konja vodi, #15 Gu, gu, Galeno bre. In fact, they say "the following are all danced the same way as also many other South Serbian dances." (At that time Macedonia was South Serbia.)

Now, Tropnalo and Sadilo as we learned them in the 60s are 12 measure dances similar to Potrčulka, still done in eastern Macedonia. But a given tune is sometimes used for dancing another dance in the same meter.

Also of interest is that they recognize dance structure as being danceable in different meters – i.e., the above dances are not all in the same meter. Tropnalo, Lesnoto, Gu,gu are said to be in 3/4 and Sadilo in 3/8, Janinke and Popat hodi are in 2/4. Meters other than 2/4 were often described incorrectly (by current norms which were established a bit later than late 30s. So the 3/4 was likely 7/8, the 3/8 was likely 7/16). They do comment on the 3/4 vs 2/4 in that beats 1 2 3 in 3/4 corresponds to 1 2 in 2/4.

Tropnalo oro is the only one they describe beat by beat, the others being essentially "see Tropnalo."

They have a note after Tropnalo: "This kolo is danced in winter on festive days. It is a mixed, men and women's kolo. The dancers hold each other by the underarm (they hold the edge of the armhole in their neighbors' vest (arms crossed as in belt hold, but higher). The leader will let go of his neighbor from time to time and perform a turn to right (CW) in place."

After Janinke, they say "They dance and sing this as the first dance – as a call to dance."

Now they also list Lesnoto as #7 in their volume 4, published in 1948, fourteen years later than v. 1. This is the section of volume 4 which is devoted to dances of the Mijaks (Mijaci). They do not do another description of the basic dance, but they add the following note: "The variant which we describe here differs from the previous to the extent that figures in which all dancers turn together, and figures of squatting, are inserted in the course of dancing at a signal by the leader. If all of the dancers are to make a circular turn to the right, the leader will make a quick, wide movement of his right hand (and the large red kerchief in it) about himself from left to right. To call for squatting, the leader will make a sharp downward move with his right hand. This way of performing these are new, however, it has a basis in the figures of individual turning and squatting of a dancer in the kolo according to his momentary feeling / this is the old way."

It should be noted that they published the music for the Lesnoto in v.1, 1934, in a supplemental collection Melodies of Folk Dances, published in 1937. A second melody appears in v. 4 where music for all of the dances in that volume appear at the back. (Just to suggest that there are specific melodies associated with the dance as well as all of the other melodies to which one might do a dance of that type.)

Vladimir Janevski, in Etnokoreološki Karakteristički na Makedonskite Narodni Ora (Po Izbrani Primeri) says that according to Jovan Hadživasiljević in Kumanovska oblast, Južna stara Srbija, Beograd 1909 pp 393/397, among dances he lists for the Skopje area are Krstatno, Ramno or Lesno and Teško, Prao (Pravo), Povračano, Vraćano, Kl'ckano, Lisa, and Postupano. Note the four that refer to same basic structure. Janevski himself, uses Lesnoto as a "type" which is really its primary use these days. For example, Mihajlo Dimovski, a young ethnorchoreologist in the early 70s has an article in Makedonski folklor #11, 1973, in which he discusses "variants of the oro and oro/related songs of the type 'Lesnoto' in Struga and the Struga area."

Your blog really got me going, but it also relates to a relatively recent discovery (to me). I spent much time in former Yugoslavia and Macedonia specifically from 1965-1973 and was dancing here in the states from 1963 to the present, but it was only since 2002 that I began spending time in the Balkans again that I became aware of how 2/4 Lesno tunes and 7/8 Lesno tunes are dealt with in Pirin and Aegean Macedonia. Tunes in 2/4 are generally danced the same way in Bulgaria and Greece, i.e., Pravo, Za ramo, etc, but those in 7/8 are danced as Širto in Pirin and Syrtos in Northern Greece. These are four measure dances, rather than three measure, totally different structures.

One last comment, I just looked a bit more at your taproot and the related dances in which I think Tx uses total weight shifts as x. (Maybe I am wrong.) But if you look at all of the dancers doing a Lesno, depending on how much variation exists in a particular area – greater homogeneity in the dancing in some areas than others – in addition to several variations based on S S S __ S __ where __ is a lift, touch, etc, but non-weight/shift, there are often dancers who do additional weight shifts in those blank areas – S S SQQ SQQ or S S QQS QQS, etc. So if you look at the number of weight shifts in each dance measure you see S S S __ S __ 2 1 1 but also S S SQQ SQQ 2 3 3 or even QQQQ SQQ SQQ 4 3 3, now look at parity (even or odd) and you see they are all Even Odd Odd or 0 1 1. I think this better reflects the greater number of possibilities. Note that this also includes basic Devetoriks. QQQS QQQ(S) QQQ(S) where the (S) are a touch, but no weight shift, or two very quick steps, 2 weight shifts. So 4 3 3 or 4 5 5, even odd odd 0 1 1.

I like what you were doing in showing relationships between various families, more by addition and subtraction, but I think you might find looking at parity of weight shifts per dance measure rather than simply the number of weight shifts per total dance phrase may offer more.

Glad I found your site and do let me know whether we know each other from some place or other.

Hope that I have put my reply in the correct place.
–Bob Leibman

Don replies: Hi Bob. Thanks for these informed and detailed comments. No, we haven't met (I've spent all of my folkdance life in the fringes of the Vancouver, Canada area), but I certainly know of you, have seen a brief introduction to your dance notation system, and have one of your record albums. My knowledge and experience are nowhere close to yours, so I'll accept your comments based on your reputation. I agree my presentation is overly simplistic. My aim is not to be definitive so much as provide a broad general introduction, with emphasis on what's happening today.

Basic Steps – Uneven Walking

From Don Buskirk's website, Folkdance Footnotes.
Used with permission.

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