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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Hungarian Folk Dance Types and Dialects
By Kálmán Magyar, 1979

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Kalman Magyar

Hungary Great accomplishments have been made in folk dance research since the 1950s, when the Hungarian Academy of Sciences established a special group of professionals in order to collect and categorize the Hungarian national dance heritage. Dr. György Martin was one of the folklorists who undertook the enormous task of organizing the material at hand, and initiating additional field collections.

In 1978, Dr. Martin reported that there are 426,504 feet (130,300 meters) of movies and approximately 12,000 dance variations from over 800 locations, in the possession of Musicological Institute (Zenetudományi Intézet) in Budapest. In quantity, this recorded treasure seems to surpass that of other Eastern European countries. Even though the categorization of this material has been completed, the next important phase will have to be comparative studies in order to trace the evolution and ethnocultural influences of Eastern European folk dance.1 Although in a somewhat different form there have been 200 to 300 folk dances introduced to the American recreational dance community in the last 20 years,2 some of them may be criticized because they do not express ancient traditions. Yet most could easily be classified into the same categorical system that was developed by Dr. Martin.

Hungarian folk dance is categorized by styles and/or dialects. Let us review all the important sub-groups and we will offer examples for closer identification of each item.


This systematic grouping observes the importance of chronological development in the dance culture of Hungarians in Europe.

Karikázó ("The maiden's round dance")

"Chain round dances, accompanied by singing, the dominating form of the Middle Ages in Europe, were soon superseded by the fashion of modern couple dances."3 "The girls' circle dances resemble those earlier dance forms and often they combine children's games. This latter characteristic is not found in the more highly developed, and as a rule instrumentally accompanied, chain dances of the Balkans."2

Today, the Karikázó is usually done on festive occasions, when the musicians are resting, or on a Sunday afternoon on the village square, for the young girls' "self-amusement."

Although this old style dance type may be found in many geographical areas, the Karikázó is most popular and flourishing in the Southern and Northern regions of Hungary.4

The most popular example of recreational dances of this type introduced in America are: Somogyi Karikázó (Andor Czompo), Lassú Sergő (Cs. Pálfi), Palóc Karikázó (J. Magyar), and Sárközi Karikázó (A. Czompo, and also by J. Magyar).

Pásztortánc, Botoló (Herdsmen's Dances)

Weapon dances or war-like dances may be found in every ethnic culture. The Hajdútánc (Hayducken Dance) of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe may be considered as a root to this dance type. It was used to display virtuosity at victory feasts and wakes, and at jollifications at court. But hajdú dances amidst the battlements in the heat of battle are also recorded.2 They may be characterized by fast twirling of weapons (daggers, swords, etcetera) as well as "acrobatic, crouching, and leaping figures that sometimes lay flat on the ground . . ."2

The musical accompaniment to the herdsmen's dances were bagpipes, shawms, fiddles, and drums.

Although mostly men cultivated hajdú dance, stories tell about some women's participation as well.

The Botoló (Stick Dance) dances of the North-Eastern part of the Great Plains (mostly Szatmár region) and the Kanásztánc (Swineherdsmen's Dance) of Transdanubia (mostly Somogy region) are living proofs of the wild hajdú dances of old times.

To my knowledge none of the recreational folk dances are done with a stick, but the following examples will illustrate dances that might be grouped under this heading: Sárközi Kanásztánc (K. Magyar), Kanásztánc (A. Czompo).

Legényes and Ugrós (Lad's and Leaping Dances)

This dance form is closely related to the above-discussed herdsmen's dances; however unlike the former type, they are still one of the most popular dances of the Hungarian peasants and they may be found in almost all geographic areas.

They may be characterized as jumping, running, heel clicking dances and their musical accompaniment is instrumental, ranging from bagpipe and zither to full Romani bands.

The following sub-groups were designated by Dr. Martin:5

  1. Southern, Western, and Northwestern areas of Transdanubia. We find the Kanásztánc (danced without a stick or any utensil); Ugrós, Háromugrós, Cinege, Pajtástánc Szakácstánc, etc. Several recreational dances were introduced that may be classified here: Cinege (A. Czompo), Szakácsnétánc (J. Magyar), Csillagatánc (Cs. Pálfi), and Sárközi Ugrós (K. & J. Magyar).
  2. Menettáncok (Marching Dances) are popular in the Lower Danube region, Kalocsa, South Great Plains (Alföld). These dances are mostly processional and are used to march down the street or around the house or yard, to the music of a band. Example: Kalocsai Mars (Cs. Pálfi, and also K. & J. Magyar).
  3. Dús, Ugrós, and Oláhos dances are known from Northern Transdanubia and the Great Plains regions in Hungary. They are solo and also couple dances with somewhat more complicated movements,5 performed mostly as exhibition dances on festive occasions. The best example may be the popular Oláhos (A. Czompo). Other examples: Rábaközi Dús (K. Magyar), and Ugrós (A. Czompo).
  4. Bukovina Silladri (Leaping Dances) and Fél-Oláhos (semi-oláhos) are two rare dance forms found only among the Csángós and the Székely people (Secklers) in Transylvania.5 The formats of these dances are similar to the Ugrós dances of Transdanubia, but they are not as well developed. To my knowledge, this type of recreational folk dance has not been introduced to date in America.
  5. Erdélyi Legényes (Transylvanian Lad's Dance) is the most developed and unequivocal in virtuosity among all the Eastern European dances. It is exclusively danced by men of Kalotaszeg, Mezőség, and Central Manos River area, as a performance, solo, improvisational dance and it forms an important bridge between the Ugrós (Leaping Dance) and the Verbunk (discussed below) dance styles.2, 6

    Several well-known dances belong to this group, under various synonyms: Pontozó, Csúrdöngölő, Sűrű Tempó, Sűrű Magyar, etc. Unfortunately, because of the extremely complex figures and styles, this dance does not suit the requirements of the average recreational folk dancer. Nevertheless, attempts have been made by several instructors to teach some of these intricate dances: Andor Czompo, Károly Falvay, Sandor Tímar, and Kálmán Magyar.
  6. Lassú; Legényes ("Ritka" tempo, or slow Lad's Dance) mostly found in the Mezőség Region of Transylvania and it is the "slower" versions of the dance described above. However, only the music is slower; the steps are executed double tempo, making the dance even more difficult and demanding than the Erdélyi Legényes (above).

    This type of dance was introduced to America by Károly Falvay and Sandor Tímár and was taught to recreational folk dancers by Andor Czompo and Kálmán Magyar. (The Romani dances found in Hungary also belong to this Ugrós category.)

Old Couple Dances

These are the last group of old-style Hungarian dances and unique, since the very popular, later-developed Csárdás did not assimilate them. These dances are "surviving remnants"2 of the late medieval and renaissance Western European couple dances.

The Lassú and Lassú Magyaros are found today among the Csángá Székeley's in Gymes and among the Hungarians of the Mezoõség. As the music increases in tempo, other dances become evident. Almost all the Transylvanian couple dances belong to this general type, and they are danced also in America: Marosszéki Forgatós (A. Czompo, also K. & J. Magyar), Összerázós (K. Falvay), and Széki Csárdás (S. Tímár, also A. Czompo).

It is important to note that this group represents a transition from the old style (Ugrós). However, the movements sometimes resemble the steps of the csárdás, as noted below.


Verbunk (Recruiting Dance)

When the Habsburg, Austro-Hungarian armies were established . . . "starting with the second half of the 18th century, musical entertainments and jollifications were generally used for recruiting."2

Professional dancers, neatly dressed and well trained in the art of recruiting, went around the countryside to sell poor peasants on the advantages of army life. During the entertaining, dancing and drinking, the potential soldier's virtuosity awakened and he joined the military – for a lifetime. This method seemed to be effective in obtaining volunteers.

The dance itself is improvised and specific variances are found in different geographic locations. The verbunk is always the first dance in a dance cycle (táncciklus, táncrend) of the area and it is usually followed by the couple dance, the Csárdás. It is either danced in a circle (Körverbunk (circle Verbunk) or as a solo performance.

The Verbunk dances are well known by recreational folk dancers in the United States. Best examples are Kapuvári Verbunk (A. Czompo), Dunántúli Verbunk (Cs. Pálfi) from the Western region of Hungary, Magyar Verbunk (K. Magyar), Szatmári Verbunk (A. Czompo) from Eastern Hungary, and Vasvári Verbunk (K. Magyar) from the Southern part of the country.

The most important differentiation between the verbunk and the ugrós-legényes (leaping lad's dance) is the musical accompaniment. The Verbunk rhythm is always characteristic to the even rhythms (every measure of the 4/4 beat is accented) as opposed to the faster tempo "esztam" (oom-pah) beat which is used in the old style dances (that is, Ugrós-legényes).


The development of the Csárdás may be traced back to the Renaissance, "however the present form of the dance appeared in the first half of the 19th century . . .2 The dance became popular throughout the country because it was hoped to be established as the national dance of the Hungarians."

The Csárdás music is closely related to the verbunk. The Slow Csárdás has the even rhythmic pattern explained and the Quick Csárdás is played with an esztam (oom-pah) beat.

There are numerous variations to this dance. Each one is characteristic to the locality in which it is found. Always danced with a partner, improvised, first slowly, then in an increasingly faster tempo, climaxing the táncciklus (dance cycle).

There are many recreational forms of this dance known in America today. A few popular examples: Kevi Csárdás (A. Czompo), Békési Páros (A. Czompo), Friss Magyar Csárdás (Cs. Pálfi), and Nagyecsedi Csárdás (K. & J. Magyar).

There are two additional forms of Csárdás styles, Hármas Csárdás (threesome Csárdás). Examples: Borozdánfutó (A. Czompo) and Körcsárdás (J. Magyar).

The above discussed six groups could be used to categorize and identify every existing Hungarian recreational folk dance in America. Therefore, we may conclude the following point: a respectable and knowledgeable expert of Hungarian dance cannot create choreographies only for the sake of dancing and dancers. He must present material which is honest and representative of Hungary's folklore and which bears all the marks of hundreds of years of heritage.


The other method that Dr. Martin uses to define Hungarian folk dances is by dialectical differences. The reason for the regional variations is the uneven development of each dance style discussed above, due to various geographies and cultural factors.

There are three major dialects for Hungarian folk dance which are noted.2

  1. Western or Danube region, including Transdanubia, the Western half of the Highlands (Felföld), the Western part of the Danube-Tisza Mid-region (Duna-Tisza Koze).

    Rábaköz, Somogy, Kaló, and Sáarköz are well known areas of origin for many recreational dances.

  2. Middle of Tisza region includes the Great Plains (Alföld) and the Eastern half of the Highlands (Felvidék).

    Alföld Szatmár, Nagykunság, and Borsod are best recognized for the dances of this area.

  3. Eastern of Transylvanian dance dialects. "When it comes to discovering the past of Hungarian dancing and the story of its development, Transylvania must be considered the most important field of research."2

    Several dances from the land of the Székelys (Székelyföld) and the Mezőség regions are popular in America among recreational folk dancers: Forgatós (A. Czompo, K. & J. Magyar) and Székely Friss (A. Czompo), etc.

The American recreational folk dancer is sometimes at a loss in pinpointing the character of recreational Hungarian folk dances because of the great variations, and even the most interested and devoted individuals sometimes feel confused. Hopefully, this review clarifies a few questions and will serve as a guide to categorizing Hungarian folk dances taught in this country.

Hungarian folk dance research is not complete, additional studies are being conducted and new revelations will be forthcoming. However, it is certain that Dr. Martin's system of categorizing types and dialects will be the basis for future publications.


  1. Magyarország. "Egyivású Hagyomány, Interetnikus kapcsolatok összehasonlító módszere." Dr. G. Martin. 1978.
  2. Hungarian Folk Dances. Dr. G. Martin, Corvina Press, 1974.
  3. [Private communications with Mr. Jean Sauriol, Montreal.] Marieville, Québec, 1976.
  4. A magyar körtánc. Dr. Martin, György, 1969 (Kandidátusi értekezés tezisei).
  5. Magyar Néptánctípusok és Dialektusok. Dr. G. Martin, Népmüvelési Propaganda Iroda-Néptancpedógogusok Kisönyvtára.


Used with permission of the author.
Reprinted from "Hungarian Folk Dance Types and Dialects" by Kálmán Magyar
in Viltis Magazine, January-February 1979, Volume 37, Number 5, V. F. Beliajus, Editor.

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