Bulgarian Traditions Nestinari Nestinari Dances Bulgarian Folk Bulgarian Folklore

A young girl is dancing barefoot, dressed in a simple white dress. Her eyes are closed, she carries an icon. Her feet step over hot embers but she seems to feel no pain. She has managed to achieve some state of trance that makes her able to experience no burning sensation.

Nestinari dancing is a very old Bulgarian ritual. It is still practiced in several Strandzha Mountain villages. Strandzha is located close to the Black Sea shore and to some of Bulgaria’s biggest seaside resorts.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the ritual spread to several northern Greek provinces and can be seen in both countries.

According to some historians, the ritual has pagan roots, despite the fact that the dancers carry an icon while stepping on the hot embers. For many years, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church persecuted nestinari dancers and claimed they were possessed by the devil.

The ritual itself takes place on May 21 – the day of St. Elena and St. Constantine. Today, nestinari dances are performed regularly to entertain tourists.

Only a few people are able to step on the embers without getting hurt. The skill is passed from one nestinari generation to the next. The lead dancer usually receives the title after the death of his mother or father.

On May 21, nestinari dancers used to attend a church mass. The icons of St. Constantine and St. Elena were preserved in the church. The lead dancer was said to ‘transfer’ his skill and inspiration to all other members of the group. Once the mass was over, the dancers started performing special melodies that helped them achieve the state of trance needed for fire dancing.

Some nestinari prefer to spend the entire day before the dances in prayer.

Meanwhile, people used to get ready for the dancing. They lit a huge fire and arranged the hot embers in a circular shape. Its diameter was two meters exactly. The main dancer was the first to perform. He or she crossed the circle three times, carrying the icon in hands.

While in a trance, nestinari dancers are believed to gain the ability of predicting the future.

There are no documented cases of nestinari dancers getting hurt or burned. Similar rituals are taking place in other parts of the world, but the unique spirituality of the nestinari dances makes them something an observer can never forget.

Authentic nestinari dances can rarely be observed today. Most often, performances are staged to simply entertain tourists. Only few dancers still have the ability of old nestinari to achieve a state of trance while performing.