Dance Tidbits: Hungarian Dances

In most countries of the world, it is legendary that the cultural attributes defining that country are rich in tradition, especially when it comes to dance. For example, Hawaii and Africa take great pride in preserving their cultural dances and rituals making sure they are passed down from generation to generation exhibiting pure and genuine tradition

Matyas Pince Rest. Budapest, Hungary

Photo Courtesy of

Sandor Havasi

every step of the way. Not so, in the very interesting, old European country of Hungary.

Hungary has been around since 895 AD. Yet we know very little about the dances of the ancient Hungarians. It is said that the dances could have been religious in origin and may have been influenced by the Bulgarians, Turks and Kazars. According to ancient Hungarian belief, it was the magic of their ancestors that would protect them. Hungarian dance is a set of folkloric dances. These folkloric dances usually fall into two categories. The first category refers to dances performed in the middle ages while the second category relates to the 18th and 19th century. Here is why Hungarian dance is so fascinating; it is largely derived upon improvisation. And this is a strong characteristic of Hungarian dance. No Hungarian dance is set in stone, so to speak. The dancer may construct his dance according to his mood and his own creativity!

Now here is the fascinating feature about Hungarian dance, it is largely influenced by the stylistic features if the Carpathians. Who are the Carpathians? The Carpathians are a fictional race of people from the Carpathian mountain region of Hungary. Carpathians survive by drinking the blood of humans. But unlike vampires, they do not kill their human prey. Carpathians use their telepathic abilities to lure humans to them in order to feed. Once they are fed, they then erase all memories of the incident in the humans. They say that all vampires were once Carpathians. A Carpathian may turn into a vampire only after he has killed a human by accident or in grief from losing his life mate. And this my friends, was a huge part of the improvisational styles affecting Hungarian dance!

In the old days, scholars tried to establish communal laws regulating individual creativity and improvisation but could not when it came to dance. Perhaps this is the main reason why no one can quite pin down “a true, traditional Hungarian dance.” Steps, turns, movement, and postures were all arbitrary. An individual had poetic license and could easily turn a dance into an artistic creation. Men can free their partners when they want to and for as long as they wish. The faster the music, the more the movements of the dancer can be creatively improvised. Collections of the Folk Music Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Ethnographic Museum of the State Folk Ensemble cover almost 10,000 dance variations from 700 Hungarian villages.

Another incredible aspect of Hungarian dance is the exceptional rhythm the Hungarians are known for. You can see a male dancer’s head shake, movements in their necks, tilted hats over one ear, kicks, chests out, jumping, stamping out rhythm, slides and legs swinging. Even if you watch two couples performing the exact same dance, there will be variation. While two separated partners are doing their steps with their back turned, another couple could come between them and do spins!

Here are some of the folk dances done in Hungary:

The most popular and important dance in Hungary is the Csárdás. Csárdás was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is the Hungarian name for national dance. It is an infectious and exciting folk dance with vibrant costumes and energetic music celebrated to this day.

Ugros is an old style jumping dance dating back to the Middle Ages. It can be done solo or a couple’s dance usually accompanied by old style music from Transylvania. It is a highly active dance because of the jumping aspect, as it was derived from weapon dances of the old world and it is danced to an offbeat accent similar to the polka.

Matyas Pince Rest. Budapest, Hungary Photo

Courtesty of Sandor Havasi

Karikázo is a circle dance performed by women only accompanied by singing of folksongs.

Verbunkos is a solo man’s dance evolved from the recruiting performances of the Austro-Hungarian army.

Legényes is a man’s solo dance done by the ethnic Hungarian people living in regions of Translyvania. Usually this dance is for young men, but it can also be danced by older men. It is a freestyle dance usually done with one dancer at a time in front of the band. Each boy/man does a number of dance movements, usually four to eight without repetition. Women participate in the dance by standing in lines to the side while they sing and shout verses while the men dance.

One of the most exquisite features of the culture of Hungarian dance is the unique costuming. Of course, just like the many variations of dances done in Hungary, each town and city has its own particular dance costume that is just a little different from their neighbors, depending on customs, tradition and historical ritual. Typically you will see men wearing pants tucked into leather boots and hats. Women wear different colored skirts with richly embroidered aprons and bright headdresses. Both the men and women can be seen wearing beautiful embroidered shirts, a well-known feature of traditional Hungarian dance costumes throughout Hungary.

A fun fact about Hungarian dances is that the famous composer, Johannes Brahms, composed a magnificent set of 21 lively dance tunes based on Hungarian themes in 1869, depicting the diverse and varied culture of Hungarian dance.

Budapest, Hungary is famous for it folk dance shows. We are very fortunate to get first hand, close up photos of Hungarian dancers. Marilyn Fordney, our founder and her husband, Sandor Havasi, co-founder of Fordney Foundation, personally went to Hungary and Mr. Havasi took these photos himself at the Matyas Pince Restaurant in Budapest, Hungary. So if you are ever in Hungary, it is easy to make arrangements to see a show at the Matyas Pince Restaurant in Budapest. All of these photos you see in this blog (not the video) were taken with the restaurant’s permission. You can also make arrangements to learn about the rich Hungarian culture and be entertained by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, Danube Folk Ensemble and Rajko Folk Ensemble. They all believe in preserving and presenting the treasures of Hungarian

Matyas Pince Rest. Budapest, Hungary Photo

Courtesy of Sandor Havasi

folklore and sharing them with the world.

Thought Of The Week:

No one ever injured their eyesight by looking on the bright side of things


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Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website