The dances of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden roughly fall three categories: Bygdedans, Gammaldans, and Set dances.
Icelandic traditions are not strong in the Twin Cities so those dances are not described here. A rough, common American
pronunciation is included in parentheses after the Scandinavian words.
Bygdedans (BIG-dah-dahns) is a very old form of dance characterized by an almost tribal beat often described as the beating
of a heart or horses' hooves. Although a particular dance may be common across the country, each village has its own version
of the larger tradition. These dances are most commonly couple dances.
Gammaldans (GUM-ul-dahns) is a newer tradition. These dances are couple dances and have their roots in mainland Europe.
However, these waltzes, polkas and schottisches have a unique Scandinavian style to them involving 180-degree turns in one
step rather than the smaller steps used in other traditions. They are almost always danced in the "line of direction"
(counterclockwise) around the dance floor and not in place (spot dancing).
Set dances are choreographed dances that are danced in double lines or a ring or a square similar to Contra or Square dances.
They may have a very old tradition such as the old song dances or be newly designed dances stemming from the wave of nationalism
which swept over the countries in the early part of the 20th century.
Danish dancing in the Twin Cities is comprised of mostly set dances often called quadrilles. They may be the double line dances
or squares or ring dances. There is a caller reminding dancers of the next part of the dance as in contra or square dancing. There
are also a few couple dances such as the waltz as well as the uniquely Danish sønderhoning (SUN-ur-HOE-ning). Music for dancing is
made by a band comprised of a variety of instruments. The fiddle, bass and accordion are most common but clarinet, bass clarinet and
brass instruments are also played.
Anyone who has seen a lively Finnish polka, an energetic or even acrobatic Karelian quadrille (katrilli), or a sedate, formal
minuet from Western Finland knows at once that Finnish folk dancing is unique among Nordic folk dancing. The dances are usually
accompanied by accordion music rather than fiddle music. Even the slim, curly-toed shoes of the dancers differ from the sturdy black
leather shoes of their Nordic neighbors.
Along with Sweden, Norway and Denmark, Finland shares a repertoire of "old-time" couple dances from the 19th century—waltz
(valssi), mazurka (masurka), polka (polkka) and schottische (jenkka)—all danced in a Finnish dance style marked with a bit
more energy, tension, precise footwork and upright body posture than in the other Nordic countries. Two early 20th century social
dances also form a part of Finland's "old-time" dance repertoire: tango and humppa, the latter a distinctly Finnish blend of the
fox-trot, European polka and quick pivot-step in 4/4 time.
The set dances from Finland, including quadrilles and minuets, have their origins in the court dances of 18th century France,
as do those of the other Nordic countries. The quadrilles (katrilli) may be danced with couples arranged in square formation or
in two long facing lines. The set dances of the Swedish-speaking Finns on the western coast contrast sharply with those of the
Orthodox Finns of Karelia in the east, areas where these dance traditions were preserved the longest.
The set dances of Western Finland show a strong Swedish influence. They tend to be sedate and, in the case of the minuet, even
courtly. Men's and women's parts are similar in style and figures, if not identical. Yet in Finland even the minuet (traditionally
danced at weddings) is always followed by a vigorous group polka, as if Finns could not repress their lively spirits for long!
(Finland has preserved a large number of minuet variations.) The corresponding dance music for the Western Finnish set dances is
marked by long, melodious phrases in 2/4 or 3/4 time.
Karelia is a province straddling the border between Finland and Russia, so the set dances from that area have a Russian flavor.
They are marked by a low, smooth running step throughout or a gliding, undulating (uttua) step with challenge moves puncutated by
foot stamps. Some Karelian dances offer the men an opportunity to improvise to show off their strength by using Russian kicks and
fancy steps, but these quick dances provide a good workout for both men and women. Karelian dance music is in 2/4 time and usually
in a minor key. The musical motives are short and repetitive, which give the melody a driving momentum.
The springar (SPRING-are) is a very old bygdedans form commonly in 3/4 time where the accent changes from beat to beat depending
on this village tradition for which it is named: Telespringar is from the area of Telemark, Valdres Springar from the valley of Valdres,
Hallingspringar from the Hallingdal valley, etc. There is usually one fiddler playing for the dancers, rather than a band. Some
traditions, such as those from Gudbrandsdalen in eastern Norway, call for a regular fiddle (often called a flat fiddle) but it is
more common to hear a Hardanger fiddle or hardingfele (HAR-ding-FAY-la) in Norwegian. The national instrument of Norway,
the hardingfele is highly decorated fiddle with under strings that resonate sympathetically when the upper strings are played.
For a more information on this amazing instrument and other resources on Norwegian culture see the
Hardanger Fiddle Association of America.
Another bygedans form is the rudl (RUDE-ul) which is a couple dance in even beat involving turning and før steg (before step).
This relatively simple dance is included in this category because it is always danced to the Hardanger fiddle.
Gammeldans is very popular in Norway with the vals (waltz), reinlander (rine-land-ur) (similar to the schottische) and
polka being the most common. The Røros (RUR-ohs) pols (pulse) is a couple dance which is included in the gammeldans category even
though it incorporates steps and stylings common to bygdedans and a loose choreography common to set dances. It is named for the
town of Røros in eastern Norway where it has its roots.
The set dances (or tur dans) found in Norway may have old roots but most can be traced to the early 20th century. Often the dances
are highly choreographed where each dancer must remember his or her part. There are a few of these dances which are approachable
enough to do at public dances in the form of a mixer but most are done in established dance groups that meet on a regular basis.
Bygededans in Sweden usually take the form of a polska (POLE-skah). The origin of the word is obscure. Each town has its own
form but generally there are two types. The slängpolska is an old type of dance found all over Sweden but retained most strongly
in the southern part of the country. It has an ambiguous 3/4 beat often manifested as 4/4. The other type is not differentiated
specifically by name. If "släng" does not appear before the polska name, it is assumed that the dance is of this second form.
In the Twin Cities, polskas may come from the area of Dalarna, Jämtland, Sormland and others. As in Norwegian bygdedans, the music
is often played by a solo instrument. However, groups of fiddlers play polskas for dancing. In the early to mid 1900s, large
groups called spelmanslags (SPELL-mahns-LAHG) became popular. Other instruments such as guitar, clarinet, bass and accordion are
sometimes included in these big fiddle groups.
The area of Uppland and its bondpolska (BOOND-pole-skah) or farmer polska, is well
represented in the Twin Cities due to the large number of nyckelharpa (NICK-el-HARP-ah) players in the area. This instrument has
its roots in the 1400s and is the national instrument of Sweden. Once found only in Uppland, it has spread over the country. For
more information on this instrument and its history visit the American Nyckelharpa
Gammaldans (Swedish spelling) is also common in Sweden with the vals (waltz), schottis (schottische), and polkett (little polka)
being the most common. There are also straight turning dances called snoa (SNEW-ah) which are sometimes danced to a walking tunes
or gånglåt (GONG-loht). The Røros pols of Noway is also commonly used in Swedish dancing as well as the Swedish hambo (HAHM-boe), which is
usually considered the national dance of Sweden. The hambo is a dance dating to about 1900 and, like the Røros pols, it is
choregraphed but more strictly in that each couple must do the steps in the same order at the same time.
Swedish set dances are similar to the Norwegian tradition and many dances are similar to ones done in Norway and Denmark.
(See Norwegian set dances). The långdans (LONG-dahns) is sometimes used at the end of a dance. It is a very old form of group
dancing which is done in a line. Linking arms, the dancers snake around the dance floor, ending the dance by encircling