A Romanian folkloric dance included in UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage is Căluşarii. The căluşari (Romanian pronunciation: [kəluˈʃarʲ]) is the Romanian word for participants in a traditional folk dance, the căluş, nowadays mainly found in Southern Romania. The word may also be found spelt as căluşarii (Romanian for "the căluşari"), căluşeri, căluş, căluşel, and also (due to the lack of diacritics in the English alphabet) calusari, calushari, caluseri, calusheri, etc. The tradition is also played by the Vlachs (Romanians) of Serbia and Bulgaria, and hence was introduced into the folklore of Bulgaria under the same name, spelled Kalushar/Kalushari.
The dance is thought to be derived from a pre-Christian fertility ritual and spring rite, and is said to bring luck, health and happiness to the villages in which it is danced. Others maintain that it is rooted in the ancient Indo-European worship of horse. It is quite possible that various traditions became mixed in the course of history. For example, căluşari are also supposed to have healing powers.
The oldest records are the musical notations of Ioan Căianu (17th century), and its mentioning in Dimitrie Cantemir`s Descriptio Moldaviae (1714). A Căluşari group is active for only a ritually defined period of time during the spring, and begins with a ceremony called "raising the flag", which is performed secretly and includes the members swearing oaths to the group and its leader. During the period of Căluş, the members are bound by a taboo against any sexual contact with women, and married members must live apart from their wives. There is always an odd number of men in a group. In addition to the dancing, the group also does skits very much like the folk theater.
The most important part, of what they do is the ritual curing of delirium or paralysis caused by possession by wood or water nymphs, or fairies. Before performing this ritual, one of the members draws a magic circle around the group with his sword. The space inside is considered sacred space, and no one else is permitted to enter except the person being cured. The leader would divine the specific taboo that had been violated by the victim, and pick the dance appropriate to it. After the dance, the cure culminated in the breaking of an earthenware jar next to the sick person, destroying the evil spirits. Sometimes one of the Căluşari would then become possessed as the victim recovers. He would then be revived by one of the many types of death and resurrection skits that are a large part of the folk theater. Again, many of these have humorous and bawdy aspects. The leader of the group is the one responsible for choosing and training any new members, and is also the keeper of the mysteries, passing the secrets orally to his successor. One retired leader would not reveal any of the secrets even though there was no longer a group in his village, but indicated that he still had to pass on the knowledge.
Now days, the Căluşari, often accompanied by a masked personage (the mute or the fool) carry clubs and are performing dances of great virtuosity. The unexpected developments of the dance are accompanied by "strigături" (humorous or satirical verse chanted during the dance) and the tunes sung by the groups of interpreters. Dancers wear white trousers and white tunics, with brightly coloured ribbons streaming from their hats. Bells are attached to their ankles, and dances include the use of sticks held upright whilst dancing, or pointing at the ground as a prop. The dance includes the following elements:
- The starting figure of walking (plimbări), or a basic step, in a circle moving counter clockwise.
- More complex figures (mişcare) performed in place between walking steps.
- Figures are formed from combinations of elements, often have a beginning-middle-end structure.
In Slatina (a town in Southern Romania), every year opens the Festival of Căluşari, presenting the distinct style of each separate team of dancers. Thrilling competitions of virtuosity are interrupted by solo dancers, some of whom are very old men, and even children who have inherited their parent's talent.