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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Dance and Music
of Far Northern Sweden

By Kenneth Seeman, 1990

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Kenneth Seeman

Northern Sweden Map The area that I will be covering in these discussions includes the Swedish provinces of Norrbotten in the north-eastern corner of the country, Lappland in the north-western corner, and Vasterbotten, just south of Norrbotten, along the eastern coast. Together, they comprise a land surface of over one-third of the country. The total area is bordered by Norway to the west and north, and Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia to the east. To the south are Jamtland on the western side and Angermanland on the eastern side. The largest concentration of population is along the Gulf and the rivers that run from the mountains in a southeast direction toward the Gulf. The waterways served as a road and not as a boundary, connecting and not separating the people and their cultures.

In addition to the Swedish culture and population from the south, the area is inhabited by large numbers of Finns, particularly toward the northeast, and Lapps in the northwest. There is probably a greater preservation of Finnish culture from these northern regions than on the Finnish side of the border, because the Germans burned the forests in those regions of Finland at the end of World War II, leading to a nearly total evacuation of the population. Because the Lapps have led a primarily nomadic life, there are very few dances preserved, and the large numbers of spelman (players of Swedish folk music), that characterize other areas of Sweden, are far less revalent in these vast and sparsely populated areas. There is handful of dances to polska music, and otherwise, it is said that they "danced like the Swedes do."



Swedish Folk Dancers There are huge numbers of set dances in these northern regions, and the Kadrilj (quadrille) occurs the most often. The Kadriljs arrived in Sweden, probably from the south, toward the end of the 1700s, with a very strong development occurring between 1810 and 1830. They had been prevalent both in England, where they were danced more in opposing lines, and in France, where, as the name implies, they were danced in squares. They belong to those dances that have been shared by both the aristocracy and lower classes, probably travelling through the courts of Europe, and then being adopted by other social groups in their particular regions and adopting the characteristics of those regiions.

In northern Sweden, there are huge numbers of melodies preserved for these dances, often in even-time rhythm, in walking tempo. The sets are frequently composed of eight couples, arranged in either true Kadrilj formation (that is, a square), or in opposing lines. Kadriljs are often characterized by repetitive patterns, alternately featuring head or side lines, punctuated by full circle movements of the full set, the men, or the women. In northern Sweden, it was common for the Kadrilj to be followed by a so-called "efterdans" (concluding portion). This could be any dance popular at that time in the particular region, although Gallop or Polka was most common. In Finland, the "efterdans" was typically a rapid circle pattern for the entire set, with a Slängpolska type of step.

A Finnish variety of the Kadrilj, referred to as Purpuri, was found in the Finnish speaking areas, while Kadrilj characterized the Swedish language regions. These two are roughly divided by a line extending north and slightly to the west, from the northwest corner of the Gulf.

Besides the far north of the country, there also are large numbers of Kadriljs preserved in the southern ends of the country, particularly in the provinces of Skåne, Halland, and Smålan.


These dances are the equivalent of the Jigs, Reels, or Hornpipes, found throughout the northern sea routes. They tend to follow the waterways of the country, occurring near the coasts or along major inland water routes. They may have arrived from a variety of directions. In northern Sweden, the most common source was from Göteborg in the southwest. They also followed the large influx of Scots in the 1700s, who came over to Norway before continuing east.

The music is in 2/4 meter, in varying tempos. It often suggests the Schottis in music, arriving a century later, and probably also originating in the British Isles.

Composition of sets vary, but in the north, the most common are of either two opposing lines or of sets of three dancers.

Other Set Dances

Traces of Gavotts and Minuets are also found, although the music has been better preserved than the actual dances. These forms, similar to the Kadriljs, are shared by both upper and lower classes, with a major development in the courts of France. In the Swedish language area of Finland, the Minuet is especially well preserved, typically followed by a rapid "efterdans" of the Slängpolska type. In addition, social dances, often consisting of alternating Waltz and March forms, with partner changes, was common, with the character of the music and dance changing from one community to the other.

Polska and Hambo

It is unclear what kinds of Polska were danced in these regions. It is known that a 3/4 meter form, referred to as Polska did exist. Variations and style were limited by the shoes commonly worn, the so-called "näbbskos," that had no heels, and with which it was difficult to turn. It may be that Polskor danced around a spot or progressing in a full circle was more common than and better preserved than the Rundpolskor of other regions, that progressed around the room.

As in other parts of the country, the Hambo developed rapidly, pushing aside the Polska for the most part. Some difference between Polska and Hambo music included accent on counts one and three in the Polka, and more commonly on counts one and two in the Hambo; occurrence of both major and minor modes in Polska, but almost exclusively major in Hambo; and more liberal phrasing, including the use of six and nine measures phrases in Polska, and only strictly prescribed eight measure phrases in Hambo. It is often believed that the Hambo owes it derivation, especially musically, to the Mazurka, rather than the Polska.

Some regional forms of Hambo have been preserved, with elements of Polska, thereby demonstrating the transition from one to the other. One example is the Hambo från Jokkmokk, that appeared in 1908.


The Polka, a 2/4 meter form musically, swept through all of Europe in a huge wave in the 1840s. It became the dance by which a dancer measured his skill and, it is suggested, men and women, their masculinity and femininity. It arrived in Stockholm in 1843 or 1844 and reached Luleå in northern Sweden by 1845. It spread to the north not only through southern Sweden and Denmark, but also from the east, through Leningrad (St. Petersburg), a major cultural center, and Finland. Particularly with the Finnish and eastern influence, it has remained a major form in northern Sweden. There are figured variants (often called Polka), and un-figured dances forms (often called Polkett). Styling may be smooth and sliding, but in the northeastern areas, with strong Finnish influence, is likely to be more vertical.

Snoa may also be danced to polka music, as in other parts of Sweden. In Norrbotten, in the northeast, it is more likely to be referred to as Kagge or Slunga.


The other major 2/4 meter form, the Schottis, also appeared in northern Sweden, travelling through southern Sweden and the continent, but with music that bears strong influence from the east. It may have originated in the British Isles, but it developed in southern Europe (particularly France) before spreading to Germany and further north. Names such as Reinländer or Tyskpolka (German Polka) suggest the German influence on the Schottis.

3/4 Meter Forms

Both the Waltz and Mazurka are well represented in northern Sweden, as in all parts of Europe. Influence on both forms are from the south and the east.

The Waltz was perhaps the most revolutionary dance form, arriving in Sweden in the late 1700s to early 1800s, involving rotation around the room, dancing close to the walls, and an intimate position. Bakmes in Stigvals or Stegvals also occurred, and indeed has not been preserved in dance forms other than the Waltz. Influence from Norway to the west is likely in this variation. The Mazurka arrived in the latter part of the 1800s, having achieved its own wave of popularity throughout the continent.


The music has been influenced from all directions, as is true of the dance. The further east one goes, the more likely are minor modes to occur. The most common dance forms represented in the music have been the Waltz and Polka, perhaps constituting as much as seventy percent of the music available.

The most common folk instrument, as in most parts of the country, is the violin. The cello also was found, particularly during the 1800s along the eastern coast. It is now much more rare to encounter cellos in folk music. The clarinet was a common folk instrument, especially in the province of Vasterbotten, along the eastern coast and south of Norrbotten. It may have been introduced through the military, and was easily carried. Both the guitar and "cittra" (zither) remain common in the north. Among industrially manufactured instruments, the pump organ has been very popular. Originally intended as a religious instrument, for accompaniment to psalms, it was often used in the home by the younger people for their own entertainment. In Vasterbotten, there also was a strong tradition of building pipe organs, usually with sixty to one hundred pipes. These were typically found in the larger, aristocratic homes.

The other major manufactured instrument, the accordion, may have been even more widely and rapidly accepted in northern Sweden than in any other part of the country. It had the obvious advantage of allowing large groups of people the opportunity to acquire and play an instrument with reasonable expense and effort. It is very commonly used today for all kinds of dance.


Dances were typically held in the barns (or the equivalent) during the summer, and in some large room, possibly a kitchen, during the winter. Organized dance locales, both outside and indoors, appeared eventually, under the influence of workers' groups and sobriety movements. Socialist, and indeed Communist, groups have been very influential in all cultural areas in the north, and have affected the availability and spread of the dances and music as well.

There was a rich ceremonial tradition in the north, with music and dance figuring prominently in weddings. It was common, in the early 1800s, for example, for the bride and groom to initiate the dance by doing a Polska together. Although the priest seldom danced, it was common for him to dance with the bride at her wedding. Courting songs, with accompanying dances, also have been preserved.

Fundamentalist and very restrictive free churches had their influence in northern Sweden, as in every other part of the country. They were responsible for much of the music and dance essentially going underground, and often disappearing. An especially strong movement was located in the very far north, and was opposed to all forms of music and dance. Even the organ was banned, and fiddles were burned. The religious restrictions were a bit milder further to the south, along the eastern coast of the region, and further inland, pump organs were permitted.


Special thanks is given to Bengt Martinsson, Gällivare, for supplying most of the information for this article.


Printed in Folk Dance Scene, May/June 1990.

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