Did you know that in Bulgaria we play horo instead of dancing it?
This phrase made a group of young enthusiasts so curious that a few years ago they founded an organization dedicated to the study of Bulgarian folk dance and its attractive presentation.
Taratanci Foundation is a cultural organization whose mission is to preserve and promote Bulgarian folklore through contemporary design and innovative presentation. By arousing people's curiosity, it integrates folklore into today's life. The word taratanci means "nonsense" in Bulgarian, but the team gives it a new meaning - starting from "nothing", they want to achieve meaningful change in the field of culture and folklore.
In 2021, Taratanci Foundation was awarded the European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards in the Education, Training Awareness-raising category. The Jury praised Taratanci's innovative approach to Bulgaria's intangible heritage, saying, “The research at the basis of the project has shown surprising links between the dances and natural patterns. It shows the value of taking intangible heritage elements and turning them into a social entrepreneurial project, with a holistic approach to creatе several cultural experiences starting from one cultural element. This represents how cultural beings are holistic - all of our cultural production carries the traces of earlier cultural expressions.”
The idea for Taratanci was born during a three-day social entrepreneurship forum in 2014. In order to increase the popularity of folk dances in Bulgaria, even among people who do not normally dance, a group of enthusiasts decided to present a well-known Bulgarian horo visually through its steps and invite everyone in the nearby park to try and join in. This became the Taratanci Foundation's first focus - presenting dances digitally through graphics.
Horo is a traditional Bulgarian folk dance and an important national symbol, connected to all aspects and beliefs of the community's life and closely linked to people's identity. Taratanci has created a graphical representation of the horo based on its circular symbolic image. They represent the unique patterns that dancers create with their steps as they dance. These images generate great interest both from dancers, who have never viewed dance as a "static" visualization, and from non-dancers, who can better connect to the dance movements and perceive the balance and symmetry of the dances by viewing the patterns.
So far, Taratanci has used this method to digitize and preserve the steps of 40 Bulgarian dances. They develop two different images for each dance - the first image is a learning graphic with steps coloured in two colours for the right and left foot and numbers on each step representing the dance sequence. The second represents the dance through its steps in a perfect circle shape.
Inspired by the variety of horo dances and their unique graphic representations, Taratanci presented them to the public in an exhibition that soon began to "travel" as people from different areas wanted to see them. Until now, the exhibition has visited more than 20 places in Bulgaria and a few abroad. During the pandemic lockdown, all graphics were available in an online edition of the exhibition.
Dancing as a game
In 2015, the team received a financial grant to produce a series of their first game - the "Dance Puzzle" for learning the basic dance moves of 8 horo dances at home. They created another game, "Memory Puzzle", which helps concentration and trains memory while teaching children folk dances in a very entertaining way. In 2021, following feedback and analysis, the Dance Puzzle was updated and given a new name and design.
The good response and interest in the game and exhibitions encouraged Taratanci to open an online shop with games, books and merchandising products with images of folk dances to give sustainability to the organisation.
Graphic images of dances receive exceptionally positive responses, and the more popular they become, the more often viewers ask a question: "How can we learn to dance using these images?" To satisfy this need, the team decided to "animate" the graphics using a mixed reality (MR) mobile game. The Taratanci Dance App allows people to learn folk dances in an entertaining way, regardless of where they are. The game shows the steps of a dance, places them on the floor and guides the player through the dance step by step, movement by movement.
Folk tales as exciting learning projects
In 2019, Taratanci began working on another aspect of folklore - folk tales. They developed an educational programme for children "Tintiri-mintiri" based on Bulgarian folk tales and novels as a source of wisdom and inspiration from the past, developing skills that children need in today's life. The expression tintiri-mintiri comes from the folk vocabulary and is close in meaning to "empty tales".
Folk tales are brought to life as exciting learning projects for children aged 7-12, mixed with the modern education model STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and maths). Through re-enacting and experiencing folk tales, children see how life in the past is connected to life in the present and how such a connection will exist in the future.
The programme has two forms in terms of the setting in which the experiences are had - in a family or at school. They differ in focus and in the skills they develop. Experiences in the family focus on socio-emotional learning and help parents to talk casually with their children about complex life issues derived from the plots of folk tales. Experiences in the school environment, on the other hand, are based on the modern educational approach STREAM and promote logical thinking, problem-solving skills and digital literacy.
Folklore is alive
Bulgaria is divided into six ethnographic regions: Moesia (Northern Bulgaria), Dobrudzha, Trakia (Thrace), Shopluk (Shop), Pirin (Bulgarian Macedonia) and Rhodopes. Each region has its own distinctive dance style.
A knowledgeable observer can often tell which region a group of Bulgarians is from when they perform a traditional folk dance popular in all regions, such as Pravo horo.
According to the National System "Living Human Treasures - Bulgaria", there are more than 300 Bulgarian folk dances. Some researchers even go as far as 600. Bulgarian folk dance literature describes up to 80 variants of some of the famous folk dances. The immense variety of folk dances typical of certain villages and regions of the country has led Taratanci to improve the step representation to become more accurate and authentic.
In 2022, they started a tour of the country to digitize 60 lesser-known dances in collaboration with local dancers and collect information on why, when, where and how they dance. This information is very rare and will soon be lost if it is not documented.
Folklore is like a string that connects us to our past, strengthens our identity and equips us with wisdom and confidence to face daily challenges. And in a global world, a strong connection to our roots is necessary to preserve the identities of nations and the diversity of cultures. With small steps, Taratanci moves toward the future, taking care not to lose the connection to the past, trying to find meaning and joy in the process.
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