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Image: Three Kukeri dancers walking through the streets of Belgium.

Monsters You Must See: The Bulgarian Kukeri Dance Away Evil

Imagine you are a child living in modern day Bulgaria, sitting by the hearth on a quiet winter night. You begin to hear bells clanging from outside, and the strange sounds start to get closer and closer to your house. Suddenly there is a rap on the door followed by a rushing of large, wild furry creatures swirling around and dancing in your living room! Their dance is terrifying and electric, and yet, it fills the home with a sense of comfort and good things to come.

At first, this may sound like the beginnings of a potential traumatic childhood memory, but when we dig a little deeper, we’ll discover that the true meaning of this wild, furry, dance is really something to be celebrated!

The captivating sight of this costumed dance is not likely to be seen in most areas of the world. But, tucked away in Southeastern Europe, community members join together every winter in the inky dark of night to ward off evil and invite goodness. This tradition and its performers are known as the Kukeri, and it’s something you will definitely want to see with your own eyes.

Image: Three Kukeri dancers walking through the streets of Bulgaria.
Source: Flickr

So who are these fuzzy dancing monsters? And why are they roaming the streets at night in the dead of winter?

Communities in Bulgaria have been dancing the Kukeri for centuries. While its origins remain a bit of a mystery, the beliefs in its power are so strong that the performers are highly respected and the tradition continues to this day.

Every January, shortly after the new year, the Kukeri (typically unmarried young men–and as of more recently, girls too!) descend upon their streets and into peoples’ homes at night to scare away evil spirits and welcome the good ones to bless their communities through a sacred dance. 

The Kukeri create their own elaborate one-of-a-kind fur-clad costumes with masks and bells. Some of which are passed down through generations and can take 7 months to a year to construct. The furs are typically made from wool or goat’s fur, and are often from animals that the family has raised themselves, symbolizing the connection between man and nature. Each costume is oversized to maximize scariness because hey, it takes a lot to scare an evil spirit! 

When asked what they consider to be “Evil” in an article by the New Yorker, a Kukeri dancer replied “Evil is poverty. No wheat, corn or potatoes to eat. Evil is when we don’t want to be together.” 1

And the good that they are inviting with their dedicated ritual dances? The Kukeri dance to encourage bountiful crops, happiness, and closeness within their communities—an important part of the tradition to pass down to the next generations.

You’ve really got to see it for yourself.

I guarantee that this short documentary from the New Yorker by director Killian Lassablière will have you mesmerized—because the sight of the Kukeri dance is just as breathtaking as it is strange!

Via: The New Yorker 2

Is that not the most awe-inspiring thing you’ve seen today!? Something about watching these dancers in slow motion brought out a primal fascination in me that has yet to be matched. You can see more from director Killian Lassablière on his Instagram.

If you want to see the Kukeri perform during the daytime, your one shot is at the annual Surva Festival of Masquerade Games in Pernik, Bulgaria. Typically the Kukeri only dance at night so the sun can’t catch them on the road, but when winter is just about to fade into spring, a crowd of thousands of fur-clad dancers will parade through the town’s closed streets. A true spectacle to behold 3!

Celebrating something wild, and awesome, and good.

The thing that really struck me when I began my research on this topic is how lovely it is that these communities, built up of neighbors, families, and farmers—who may not always get along in everyday situations—can all agree that this is a tradition worth coming together for. A tradition worth saving and passing along to their children and theirs.

No matter your beliefs or background, and even if you’re not a fan of furry home invasions, I think we can all agree that when traditions help people come together for the greater good, it’s worth celebrating.

Keep dreaming, and notice the beauty around you!


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  1. The New Yorker. “Dancing to Ward off Evil in ‘Kukeri.’” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 3 May 2023, www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-documentary/dancing-to-ward-off-evil-in-kukeri. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
  2. The New Yorker. “How a Bulgarian Village Dances Evil Spirits Away | Kukeri | the New Yorker Documentary.” YouTube, YouTube Video, 3 May 2023, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsmAUHeuWOE. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
  3. “The Mystical Origins of the Kukeri: Bulgaria’s Strangest Folk Festival – Ex Utopia.” Ex Utopia, 27 Jan. 2016, www.exutopia.com/the-mystical-origins-of-the-kukeri-bulgarias-strangest-folk-festival/. Accessed 1 Sept. 2023.
Image: Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Outreach Coordinator & Writer

Renee is a graduate of FIDM, and has held jobs in several industries such as apparel manufacturing, retail, professional office work, and even hospitality. Her creative outlook, wide variety of experiences, and desire to notice the beauty around us make her a great addition to the Goodness Exchange team.

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