The „tango of the East” – the Csárdás

Preachers denounced it, aristocrats disowned it, but „csárdás” dance captured the hearts of the ordinary people of Hungary. In the middle of the 19th century, during the so called „reform age”, this dance rose to become the symbolic expression of the “national” soul, and – instead of the Austrian waltz - was danced even by aristocrats in the Redout of Pest.
„Csárdás” dance is just a little older, than 200 years. Its origin can be traced back to the 18th century Hungarian „verbunkos” music, used as a recruiting dance by the Hungarian army, played mainly by traditional gipsy bands.
The „Csárdás” is an improvised dance, characterized by a variation in its tempo, starts out slowly („lassú”) and ends in a very fast tempo („friss”, literally “fresh”). There are other tempo variations, called „ritka csárdás”, „sűrű csárdás” and „szökős csárdás”, which we could translate word by word as „sparsely, densely and skippy danced”. The music is in 2/4 or 4/4 rythm. The dancers are couples, formed by one man and one woman. Women are dressed in traditional, multilayer wide skirts, usually coloured red, which form a distinctive shape when they whirl. The man leads his partner as he would in most “modern” couple dances. However, unlike the polka and the waltz – the two dance fashions born around the same time - the „Csárdás” has a far richer repertoire of steps for the dancers to choose from. More importantly, the ” Csárdá” maintains a tradition of individual and couple dancing that goes back to much older dances throughout the world. In the fast „Csárdás” the partners often separate to dance apart, teasing each other in a romantic dance-relationship that brings possibilities for playfulness and enticement to the” Csárdás”. The man’s part in this love play often changes into a virtuoso performance that can include spectacular boot-slapping sequences.
Classical composers – Emmerich Kálmán, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss and many others – used often „Csárdás” themes in their compositions. Probably the most famous among them, at the same time an example for this dance’s vocal variation is the song of Rosalinde in Strauss’ operetta, „The Flitter-mouse”. The most known „Csárdás” of the world is perhaps the composition of the Italian composer Vittorio Monti, a rhapsodical concert piece written in 1904. It was originally composed for violin, mandolin or piano. Nowadays, it is usually played on the violin, but can also be played even on saxophone.
The Csárdás is a dance tradition of Hungary. It can be simple and slow. It can be fast and furious. It can be romantic love play. It can be a dynamic exhibition piece. The music can be fiery, intense or exotic, but it can also strike the familiar chords played by café-gypsy orchestras. The Csárdás is a living tradition that’s still guaranteed to set toes tapping and hearts beating faster.

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