News Little Hungarian Ethnochoreology “Encyclopedia” - An introduction to Hungarian folk dance classification

Little Hungarian Ethnochoreology “Encyclopedia” – An introduction to Hungarian folk dance classification


An article by Józsa Tamás

Finding the most reliable online information sources is just the start of a learning process. We have to be able to find and process the data we are looking for. In this case, a particular dance. In order to be able to do that, we have to take a quick folklore lesson on how Hungarian dances are categorized. Like many times before, we will be following György Martin’s approach in his fundamental work, Hungarian Dance Types and Dance Dialects.

Essentially, there are two approaches to categorization: one is based on where the dances can be located in space, that is geographically. We can consider this as a horizontal division. The other is based on when the different dances emerged in time. This is a historical approach, which we can refer to as a vertical division. So, space and time are the two keywords here. When we talk about space we talk about dance dialects, and when we talk about time we have dance types. Let’s see them both.

Dance dialects

We distinguish three major dance dialects in the Carpathian basin: Western, Central and Eastern dialects.

  1. The Western dialect (also known as the Danube dialect) contains the Transdanubian area, the Western part of Felvidék (today part of Slovakia), the Western stripe of Alföld (Great Plain) and the Hungarian population of Slavonia (today part of Croatia). The dialect can be further divided into sub-dialects, the names of which will sound more familiar, like Rábaköz, South Transdanubia (Somogy and Zala) or the area of Kalocsa.
  2. The Center dialect (also known as the Tisza dialect) includes most of Alföld and the Eastern part Felvidék (approximately east of the Mátra mountains). Well known sub-dialects are ethnographic regions of the Upper Tisza Area, such as Szatmár, Nyírség, Hajdúság, Szilágyság etc., the Eastern “Palóc” and “Matyó” region or the South of Alföld (Szeged area).
  3. The Eastern dialect covers the whole of Transylvania, the “Csángó” population of Moldva (not Moldova, the country) and the “Székely” population of Bukovina, even though the latter two are located outside of the Carpathian basin. When it comes to this dialect, all the dance house “hits” come up, such as Kalotaszeg, Mezőség, Maros-Küküllő area, Gyimes etc.

Dance types

By identifying the various Hungarian dance types we are taking a journey through European history starting approximately in the late Middle Ages. The majority of Hungarian dance types find their origins in Western European culture except for “verbunk” and “csárdás”. These Western European dances found their way to Eastern Europe, trickled down from the high culture of nobility to the villages and became folklorized, that is made part of traditional village culture, thus conserving a transitory state of dance culture between the Middle Ages and modern history. We differentiate two historical layers of dance types: old and new.

The dances of the old historical layer pertain to the period approximately from the late Middle Ages until the mid-18th century. These are the following:


  • circle dances, e.g. women’s circle dance accompanied by singing only (“karikázó”)

/women’s circle dance (“karikázó”) from Őcsény (Sárköz, Western dialect), Ft.816.4a-c/


  • shepherd dances with props (axe, stick), e.g. “botoló” (dance with sticks) and dances with props (broom, hat, kerchief, bottle) used to showcase specific dance skills, e.g. “seprűtánc” (dance with a broom)

/shepherd dance with stick (“pásztorbotoló”) from Nagydobos (Szatmár, Central dialect), Ft.249.6a-c, the dancer is János Horpácsik/

/dance with a broom (“seprűtánc”) from Páli (Rábaköz, Western dialect), Ft.259.3a-c, the dancer is Gyula Szalai/


  • jumping dances and lads’ dances, e.g. jumping dance from Somogy, lads’ dances (“legényes”) from Kalotaszeg

/jumping dance (“ugrós”) from Simonfa (Somogy, Western dialect), Ft.223.7a-b, the dancer is Sándor Simon/

/lads’ dance (“legényes”) from Magyarvista (Kalotaszeg, Eastern dialect), Ft.8.1c, the dancer is István Mátyás “Mundruc”/


  • old-style couples’ dances, e.g jumping dances in pairs, turning couples’ dances from Transylvania

/jumping dance in pairs (“páros ugrós”) from Berzence (Somogy, Western dialect), Ft.203.6a, the dancers are Imre Jankovics and Mrs. Jankovics/

/couples’ turning dance (“forgatós”) from Nyárádmagyarós (Marosszék, Eastern dialect), Ft.395.4a-b/



  • The new historical layer dates back to the mid-18th century and is closely related to the Europe-wide phenomenon of the era of attempting to create a characteristic national dance style. This layer contains much less dance types: the predominantly male “verbunk” and the couples dance “csárdás”. Both sprung out of previous dance types but have a typically Hungarian national character.

/verbunk from Nagyecsed (Szatmár, Central dialect), Ft.649.1c, the dancer is Lajos Murguly/

/slow and fast csárdás (“lassú és friss csárdás”) from Apátfalva (South of Alföld, Central dialect), Ft.277.1, the dancers are István Kardos and Mrs. Kardos, her maiden name was Julianna Baka/



If you are looking for a specific dance you always have to match the dialect with the dance type, for example lads’ dance of Kalotaszeg (“kalotaszegi legényes”) or csárdás of Szatmár (“szatmári csárdás”).

Browsing the online archives you can search for a specific dialect and then narrow your search down by the dance type or vice versa. The classification of Hungarian folk dances is a very extensive field of research, which we intend to further educate you on in the future. Stay tuned.


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