Tag Archives: Folk Dancing

An Interview with Andrew Carnie, Folk Dance Enthusiast and Linguistics Professor

Andrew Carnie
Andrew Carnie

Over the years, I’ve relied on Folk Dance Musings to help me learn folk dances and prepare to lead them. I also refer to the website whenever I prepare another installment of my I’d Rather Be Dancing series on ARHtistic License.

Andrew Carnie, the creator of Folk Dance Musings, agreed to an interview for ARHtistic License. I think you’ll agree that what he has to say about folk dancing is interesting and enlightening.

ARHtistic License: Do you teach at the University of Arizona?

Andrew Carnie: Yes, I’m a professor of linguistics at U of A. I am a syntactician – that means I study how the mind processes and produces the sentences of a language. I specialize in the syntax of the Celtic languages, particularly Scottish Gaelic and Irish. My work is largely around principles governing patterning in grammatical systems, which I think is why I’m so fascinated by folk dance and folk dance description. Folk dances are also governed by principles of pattern and form.

I got my BA (hons) from the University of Toronto and my Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’ve taught at the University of Calgary, University California Santa Cruz, University of Michigan, Harvard and at MIT. I’ve been at the University of Arizona since 1998. From 2012 to 2022,S I was the Dean of the Graduate College and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

In addition to my linguistics classes, I also teach a General Education class for freshmen in the dance department which is an introduction to Folk Dances of Europe and the Middle East. I’ve been teaching it for 3 years now and it’s very popular.

AL: How long have you been dancing?

AC: When my parents immigrated to Canada from Scotland in the late 1960s, my mother joined the local Scottish Country Dance club. I was brought along from the start. I’m not sure exactly when I started SCD, but there are pictures of me as a pre-teen dancing. I also did highland dancing as a teenager – my knees can’t do that any more.

My first exposure to international folk dancing came when I was around 16. A friend who was a student at the University of Calgary took me to the international dance club on Campus. The first dance I learned was Arap. I was an instant convert and have been going to folk dancing as often as I can wherever I am in the world.

AL: What is it about folk dancing that you love?

I’m a pattern guy. I love figuring out patterns in things. Folk dancing of all kinds is filled with patterns. But I’m also a big fan of different rhythms and cool music. A great tune will transport me. I find that if I’ve had a hard day at work, an evening of folk dancing calms me,  revives me and raises my spirits.

AL: Do you do other styles of dancing besides folk dance?

AC: As I mentioned above, I started with Scottish Country Dancing and Highland Dancing. I’ve also dabbled in Contra dancing, Square dancing and Clogging.

AL: What are your favorite dances?

AC: There are too many to mention. Good music and a pattern that make you “fly” are often favorites. My personal favorites are dances from Macedonia and Albania, but I like all kinds of dances.

AL: How do you learn dances?

I’m a visual learner. I often don’t stand up during the teaching of a dance, I just watch, and then I can do it. I know many people need to feel the dance by repeatedly doing it. I rarely do this except when a step is exceptionally hard. People are often surprised when I stand up and do a dance after watching. They’ll say “have you done this one before?” Nope, I just prefer watching to learn. It drives some teachers nuts.

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

AL: Do you usually dance to live music or recordings?

AC: In Tucson we normally dance to recorded music largely due to our wide ranging repertoire. However we do have a couple of local bands that play for us occasionally which is a special treat.

AL: Have you traveled to some of the countries whose dances you’ve danced? Have you ever danced abroad?

AC: When I travel abroad, I often travel for work which means going to Scotland and Ireland. I’ve done Ceilidh/Ceilí dancing in both places.

AL: Do you have any ethnic costumes you like to wear for dancing?

AC: When I performed with Vinovana, Mandala and TEDE I had a full range of stage costumes. Sadly most of these don’t fit anymore. I do have a kilt that still fits that I can use for family events and formal occasions. But for most evenings of dancing I wear the IFD ethnic costume of a T-shirt and sweatpants!

AL: What sort of footwear do you prefer for folk dancing?

AC: Because of injuries to my knees, I now mostly wear sneakers. These don’t always work well on Marley floors which are found in many dance studios, so I wear glides (little socks) on the toes to help with turning and twisting.

Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas via Pixabay
Photo by Dimitris Vetsikas via Pixabay

AL: Do you ever go to dance workshops or dance camp?

AC: For many years my work has really prevented me from traveling to workshops and camps. So I’ve been restricted to local workshops here in Tucson and a few up in Phoenix, when instructors travel through. Over the past 10 years we’ve had small local workshops with Shlomo Bachar, Tineke and Maurits van Geel, Elena Dimitrova, Joe Graziosi, Lee Otterholt and Iliana Bozhanova.

Ironically the pandemic and virtual workshops and camps have been an amazing resource for me. The past 3 years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend virtual Laguna, Stockton, Texas, June Camp, Mainewoods, Kolo Festival, Door County and more. I’ve also been able to attend virtual workshops given by the Eastern European Folk Life Center, LIFE Balkan in LA, and the New England Folk Arts Center. Instructors I’ve been privileged to take online classes from Alex Markovic, Steve and Susie Kotansky, Michael Ginsburg, Joe Graziosi, Ahmet Lüleci, Sonia Dion and Cristian Florescu, Yves and France Moreau, Mihai David, Alexandru David, Tom Bozigian, Aaron Alpert, Alix Cordray, Roo Lester, Andy Taylor, Bata Marčetić, Ben Koopmanschap, Bianca de Jong, Caspar Bik, Erica Goldman, Franklin Houston, Gary and Susan Lind-Sinanian, Genci Kastrati, Gergana Panova, Ira Weisburd, Janet Reinek, Jan Pumpr, Jitka Bonušova, John Filcich, Kyriakos Moisides, Yianni and Simo Konstantino, Penny Brichta, Richard Powers, Rena Karyofylldou, Roberto Bagnoli, Šani Rafiti, Sevy Bayraktar, Shmulik Gov Ari, Vlasto Pekovski, Yanni Economou, Yvonne Hunt, Željko Jergan and more! I never would have been able to attend in-person classes with all these fabulous instructors, so the shift to virtual dance teaching was a blessing in disguise for the richness of my folk dance life.

AL: Do you have any favorite dance instructors or choreographers?

AC: Folk dancing is blessed with many excellent teachers and instructors – see the above list. But my favorites are Steve Kotansky and Yves Moreau. Both of whom are not only masters at choosing material that IFD audiences will love, but are scholars of the dances they teach and bring more than the footwork to the dance floor.

AL: Have you choreographed any dances?

Yes, and there’s a few that have even caught on in various places. Here’s a list.

AL: Tell me about your dance group.

AC: There are three international folk dance groups in Tucson.

The group I run is the Shala Folk Dance Club that meets at “Movement Culture” in midtown Tucson. The group started as a class in 2001 at the YMCA, but we eventually moved on to our own identity. This is probably the largest group in town. We have a beginner to intermediate focus. It’s also the only group that’s now hybrid. In addition to our in-person class, people can join us from all over the world via Zoom. We regularly have dancers from DC and southern California who join us virtually. The Shala club meets on Tuesdays 7-9 PM. For those that want to join virtually, use this link.

There’s one group in town that I’ve only ever been able to join on special occasions because they meet on Friday mornings when I’m at work. Ironically this one is the one that meets closest to my home! This group was founded by Harvey Gardner and is now run by Shirley Hauck and Raven Siva and it meets at Sun City in Oro Valley. This group is more beginner focused and every dance is taught (or at least reviewed).

Finally, we have the Tucson Folk Dance Club which meets on Monday afternoons also at Movement Culture. This group, which was founded by Bill and Karen Faust as a University Club back in 1963. It is in its 60th year! Bill and Karen, along with Nancy Bannister, run this group.

We also have the university general education class, but this class is only open to enrolled University of Arizona students. But we have an enthusiastic group of 18-22 year olds who are learning to love folk dancing. This class is taught by me, Nancy Bannister and Shirley Hauck.

Some participants of the Phoenix International Folk Dance Festival in 2015

AL: What advice do you have for someone who wants to learn folk dancing?

AC: Folk dancing is for everyone — all ages and abilities. It’s about community and it’s about developing social connections. I think a lot of people, especially men, have fear of starting dancing or dance classes because they won’t be skillful. But I think the best kept secret about folk dancing is that for most people, it isn’t about skill or performance but about developing interpersonal contact through the medium of movement.

AL: What advice do you have for someone who wants to teach or lead folk dancing?

AC: I think my first piece of advice is “know your audience”. Are you teaching 20 year olds or 60-80 year olds? Choose your material appropriately. What goes over well with the over-50 crowd may not cut it with the younger dancer. Second, I’d recommend understanding the structure of the dance before you start to teach it: How many parts does it have? How many measures are there in each part? How many beats are there in each measure? Third, I’d be really careful about terminology. For example, are you doing a stamp (no weight) or a stomp (takes weight). When you say turn R, do you mean turn by the R hand or do you mean make a clockwise turn? Etc. Fourth, choose good music. Many of us fell in love with the old crackly and crunchy tunes from 78s recorded at the beginning of the last century, but those aren’t necessarily the best recordings to dance to or to bring people into the world of folk dances. When teaching beginners I always try to find high quality sound files with sounds and rhythms that are accessible. Only later do I introduce slightly more esoteric meters and recordings. Finally, make sure you emphasize the fun. I’d prefer to dance with a dancer who is doing the dance slightly wrong, but is having a blast than with a dancer who is paying so much attention to the detail about getting the style right that they forget to actually dance and forget they are dancing with people. Folk dancing is about community.  

For additional information about folk dancing or about Andrew Carnie and his work in linguistics, check out his websites: Folk Dance Musings, International Folk Dancing for Kids, Folk Dance Tucson (although this one is probably of most interest to members of the Tucson club), and Andrew Carnie.

I’d Rather Be Dancing French Canadian Folk Dances


The dances of Québec are a lot of fun!

One of the Phoenix International Folk Dancers’ favorite folk dances is La Bastringue. It’s a mixer, a couples’ dance, and you get a new partner at each repetition. Sometimes your partner is very enthusiastic and you do the turns very, very fast:

When I was teaching elementary general music, one of the dances popular with the first graders was Le Salut, a French Canadian dance that requires you to listen to the music carefully and respond to the cues as the tempo changes and pauses:

Look at the fancy footwork in C’est une jeune mariée:

I found the name of this dance in a list of Québec folk dances: La Fée des Dents, “The Tooth Fairy.” It looks to me like it has a lot of Irish influence:

La Valse de Cerfs Volants (the waltz of the flying kites) is choreographed to music that was  composed in memory of a kite maker. It’s a graceful dance that requires a scarf in each hand:

Set de Fortierville is another mixer:

Le Capitaine Trompeur is a couples dance with a single dancer, the capitaine, in the center. The capitaine dances solo until a certain point when he/she is allowed to select a partner. The new partner’s former partner is now the new capitaine, and the dance continues:

I’d Rather Be Dancing Norwegian Folk Dances


Norway is known for Vikings, fjords, and long winters, but also for its beautiful dances, which often involve a lot of twirling.

I don’t know the name of this dance, but the children are performing at the Oslo Museum in a celebration on St. Han’s Day:

Gudbrandsdals Mazurka:

Hallingdans (highlights the male’s skills and is sometimes danced as a male solo):


Hans og Hånån:


Reinlender (the Norwegian equivalent of a Schottische):

Sandsvaerril (adorable; a lot of flirting potential in this dance):


Wengurka (the translation is “the Hungarian,” but the dance probably originated in Poland; this is the Norwegian version):

I’d Rather Be Dancing Polish Folk Dances


Dancing is a popular pastime and an important facet of Polish culture.

The Mazurka is one of the most famous Polish dances. This film clip discusses its significance:

W Moim Ogródeczku. This is one of my all-time favorite dances:

Ada’s Kujawiak is a beautiful, graceful couples’ dance:

Goscie Jada was choreographed by Ira Weisburd. The name means “the guests are coming.” Ira calls it the Polish Dance of Welcome:

Trojak. You’ll notice in this dance that each male has two female partners. Tradition has it that in the province where the dance originated (Silesia), females greatly outnumbered males because so many men perished in the mines. This performance appears to be a dance competition, judging by the numbers on the men’s backs. There are many variations of this popular dance; not all of the competitors are doing the same patterns.

Klapok is a mixer that alternates between two patterns—a polka and a hand-clapping pattern. At the repetition of the clapping pattern, you quickly turn and find yourself a new partner. As you can observe, it’s a lot of fun:

Krakowiak is a performance dance from Krakow. There are many different versions. This performance starts with the folk song:

Swir Swir Mazur. This performance occurred at the Pulaski Day Parade in Philadelphia, October 1999:

Varsovienne originated in Warsaw:

Zbójnicki is the Hatchet Dance. You don’t dare zone out during this one:

I’d Rather Be Dancing Ukrainian Folk Dances


Ukraine is on our hearts as the Ukrainians defend their country against Russian aggression.

Let’s celebrate their culture. Ukraine has a vibrant folk dance tradition.

Several of these videos were made when the Tucson International Folk Dancers performed at the 2019 Phoenix International Folk Dance Festival.

Bandura Kozachok. Bandura is a stringed instrument; Kozachok is a Cossack dance. It seems this dance is telling a story. A flirtation is attempted, and is not having the desired effect. But all’s well that ends well:

Donetskii Kozachok is a cute mixer:

Honei Viter  means “whirlwind”:

Hopak Trio is a dance usually done in couples, which has been adapted here for trios. This performance includes a couple of surprises:

Hutsulka means “girl from Hultsulshina”:

There are a number of variations of Khorovod, which is customarily a women’s dance. This one is a couples’ dance, usually done only at weddings:

Kolomeyka W Dwi Pari:

Kozachok Mixer:

Kozachok Trio:

Oj Maju Maju:

Oj na hori stoit khata (A house stands on the hill):

I found all of these wonderful dances on Folk Dance Musings. You can find the instructions there too.

I’d Rather be Dancing Dutch Folk Dances


The Netherlands (Holland) is known for windmills, wooden shoes, tulips, Rembrandt, and Delft tiles and porcelain. The Dutch also have a long history of folk dancing.

Baonopstekker is a dance we do at Phoenix International Folk Dancers, though we end the sequence a little differently. Instead of dropping hands and turning in place, we keep holding hands in the large circle and do eight quick sidesteps in line of direction before starting the sequence over again. We call it the pancake dance, because of the flattening of the circle that occurs during bars 9-12. But the lyrics of the song have to do with the bean harvest.

De Horlepiep is the Dutch version of the Sailors’ Hornpipe:

Gort Met Stroop means “grits with syrup.” Very cute dance:

Mazurka voor een Mus means “mazurka for a sparrow.” Kudos on the film editing:

Ronde has courtly 16th century styling:

Te Haerlem in den Houte means “in the woods of Haerlem.” The music is from the 17th century:

Zigeunerpolka means “gypsy polka.” The music is very familiar to me. My German parents may have had this on vinyl (or even shellac). It may have originated in northern Germany, but was also danced in the Netherlands.

Bellendans (bells dance) is done to the tune of Jingle Bells. I wish I’d known this dance when I was teaching music in the elementary school. This would have been a good activity for the last day before Winter Break.

M is for Moldova: I’d Rather be Dancing Moldovan Folk Dances

Location of Moldova. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported License.

I had to look up where Moldova is. It’s that country colored red in the map above, in eastern Europe. That’s Romania on its west, and Ukraine wraps around its eastern side. It’s had a complicated history. For a time it was called Moldavia (or that was its English name, depending on what you read). Part of Moldova was included in the Soviet Republic for a time. Part of the territory traditionally known as Moldova is now within Romania’s borders. Some Moldovan people speak Hungarian.

Of course, I had to check out their folk dances. All the ones shown below are new to me except for the first one.

Mari Kiz is a dance we do at Phoenix International Folk Dancers. It consists of a 4-measure pattern danced in line of direction, and a variation danced into the center and out again:

Çekirgä, danced beautifully (though solemnly) by this group of children:

Hora de la Soroca:

Long Hora:

Ördög Útja (also known as Drumul Dracului):

Ostropat, a pretty couples dance:


Sârba ca la Sud. I think there is more than one version of this dance; this is particularly spirited:

Video of the Week #352: F is for Folk Dancing


I’d Rather Be Dancing Kurdish Folk Dances

The Kurds are an Iranian ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan located in southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. Their dances (at least the ones I found on YouTube) are characterized by line formation and joined hands (often pinkie holds). Dancers at the end of the lines typically twirl scarves. There is a sameness to the dances, though variations in steps, direction, arm movements, height of foot raises, bounces, shoulder involvement, and music. Sometimes heads turn in unison.

A men’s dance group:

Beautiful Kurdish costumes:

Kurdish dance from Iraq:

Women’s dance group:

I remember learning this dance at Phoenix International Folk Dancers: Şemmamê

Aliyo Dino Grani Halay. Being danced in the street in a multi-generational setting, this may be a wedding or a festival:

This dance is called either Tin Tin or Teen when danced to the song Tin Tin Tini Mini Hanem; it’s also known as (Hey) Ghuma Ghuma or (Hey) Khuma Khuma, after the original song it was danced to:

Oee Naze:


Creative Juice #275

Creative Juice #275

Instead of getting bombed at some lame New Year’s Eve party, stay home and read these awesome articles! Something for everyone here.