The Calusari dance is considered one of the fastest and most spectacular dances in the world and was included by UNESCO on the list of non material masterpieces of the universal culture.
The tradition of the Calusari comes from the ancient times of Dacia and even today still keeps its pagan core. Once upon a time, Calusarii were priests of a solar cult. Lead by a great priest, their dances were much more then an initiation, were an exorcism. The great priest was the one that was asking the god for help while leading the army of the Calusari in their war with the evil spirits that took over the villages. More so, they used to take a vow of silence, the only one being allowed to talk being the leader who at varied times was requesting them to release certain war calls.
The Calusari are described as groups of odd numbered men, sworn to stay together in celibacy and ritual dancing for a period of nine years. Their secrets are to be never known. They are feared warriors who fight the “iele” (“them,” magical dancing maiden fairies). They have to stay together for the sworn period to remain invulnerable and invested with the supernatural powers and if they break away from the group they would fall prey to the iele. But together, they can heal those possessed by evil spirits by performing their dancing and rituals around them.
According with UNESCO: ‘Performed in the Olt region of southern Romania, the Căluş ritual dance also formed part of the cultural heritage of the Vlachs of Bulgaria and Serbia. Although the oldest documented music used in this dance dates from the seventeenth century, the ritual probably derived from ancient purification and fertility rites using the symbol of the horse, which was worshiped as an embodiment of the sun. The ritual’s name derives from the Căluş, the wooden part of the horse’s bridle.
The Căluş ritual features a series of games, skits, songs and dances, and was enacted by all-male Căluşari dancers to the accompaniment of two violins and an accordion. Young men used to be initiated into the ritual by a vataf (master) who had inherited the knowledge of descântece (magic charms) and the dance steps from his predecessor. Groups of Căluşari dancers, sporting colorful hats, embroidered shirts and trousers adorned with small jingling bells, perform complex dances, which combine stamping, clicking of the heels, leaping and swinging of the legs.
The costumes worn by the Calusari are white, decorated with colorful sticks, hand made hankies, while the hats have beads and colored ribbons. The most important instrument is the flag, a four-five meters long stick on top of which are tied plants as garlic and wormwood, salt and white and red ribbons, sacred colors in the Dacian vision who connect the dance to the ancient rituals of Zamolxe.
The dance of the Calusari seems to be one of the oldest and most complex of the folk dances of Romania. The men who wished to enter the group of the Calusari came together outside the village, on the shore of a water, where, in a ritual, sworn to respect the rules of the group, including sexual abstinence. For ten days they live in a sacred time and space. During the entire period they wear a specific costume with bells on the legs, a stick, and sleep under churches to be protected by attacks from the Iele. The ceremony included magical practices and invocations, dances and ritual acts executed by the strictly organized group of men. After the ceremonial dances are finished at the end of the ten days, the men meet in the village, greet each other like after a long absence and life goes back to normal.
The dance of the Calusari, in the popular tradition, meets different functions including the magical transfer of the divine fertility through spells during the dance over salt for animals and a bowl with seeds for sowing in the fields. Other benefits were of speeding up the marriage and fertility of the young women who were admitted into the end dance, healing of the sick and the sending away of the Iele (malefic fairies) through the practice of warrior acts and the used of magical plants during the dance.
According to tradition, groups of dancing and chanting Căluşari, who were thought to be endowed with magical, healing powers, went from house to house, promising good health and prosperity to villagers.
Until today, Căluşari meet to celebrate their dancing and musical prowess on Whit Sunday. Testifying the rich cultural diversity of Romania, the Căluş ritual is also widely promoted at folklore festivals.