Dance on Gloving Embers: Nestinarstvo Ritual and Fire-Walking Practices in Bulgaria

Dr. Daniela Ivanova-Nyberg
Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 5:30pm
Communications 202

About the topic:

Scholars today describe  nestinarstvo as a part of the folkloric system of the so-called panagyri (sing. panagyr) – major village festivals honoring various saints. The nestinari (sing. nestinar) themselves are leaders of the ritual act through which the saints express their “orders.” Nestinarstvo is defined as “a Palaeo-Balkan substratum of the solar ideology of the Dionysian-Sabazian fire rites that existed in the Thrace-Phrygian contact zone” (Neykova 2013). This overview of the studies of  nestinarstvo  (Arnaudov, Angelova, Fol, Neykova and others), is followed by the presenter’s  own observations of  panagyr (village of Bulgari, June 3, 2001).  

Next, views of fire-walking practices, some dressed in Bulgarian folk ensemble costumes, are offered. Video recordings from a Bulgarian ethnic restaurant will be presented and discussed.

The final part of the lecture summarizes interviews with several ognehodsi (fire-walkers). The lecturer highlights their motives for entering the circle of glowing embers and comments on them. At this point the floor will welcome discussions.

In 2009 nestinarstvo has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


A documentary movie about nestinari may be accessed here: (In Bulgarian,  Ruzha Neykova – author; published by Svetoslav Petrov)



BULGARIAN MUSIC AND DANCE LECTURE SERIES – Commemorating traditional rites and celebrations is an initiative of BCHCS based on continuity in offering Bulgarian culture-related activities. The series so far included:

-  Male Winter Dance Practices (Koleduvane)

- Carnival Practices (Kukerski igri)

-  Female Spring Dance Practices (Lazaruvane)


About the presenter:

Dr. Ivanova-Nyberg received her PhD from the Institute of Art Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her academic career includes lecturing at St. Kliment Ohridski SU Slavic Department, New Bulgarian University (Bulgarian Folklore Program), National Academy for Theater and Film Arts (Scenography Department), Lyuben Groys Theatrical College, and other institutions in Europe and USA. As an author Dr. Ivanova-Nyberg has published the monographic study “Bulgarian Folk Dance Ensemble as a Cultural Phenomenon” and more than 30 articles in the fields of music and dance. Currently she serves as director of  both BCHCS (  and Portland’s  Podkrepa Bulgarian-Macedonian Association Folklore and Literature  programs (

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