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Traditions of Russian Folk Dance
May 31, 2012 21:40

It is difficult to define, how many folk dances there are in Russia – they can hardly be counted. They have a great variety of names: sometimes it follows the song that it is danced to, sometimes the number of dancers or the pattern of the dance. But in all these various dances there is something in common that characterizes the Russian dance in general: it is broadness of movements, daring and special cheerfulness, poetry, and combination of modesty and simplicity with profound dignity.

Russian Folk Costume

Stage costumes have always played a major role in the folk dance performance. The folk dance costume was created on the basis of the folk dress, but was naturally much lightened to make it comfortable for the dance to move in it. The Russian folk dress is beautiful and colourful, rich in ornaments and embroidery. In design of clothes the nation showed as much talent and taste as in creation of songs and dances.

 Russian folk costumes are very diverse. Not only every province, but even every district could have its own style, its peculiar combination of colours, or cut of the sarafan (peasant pinafore dress), shape of the headdress, and specific ornament patterns. In olden times girls would for several years prepare festive clothes for themselves: decorate the sarafan and kokoshnik with ornaments and gems, embroider shirts and jackets. A rich costume that took lots of work to be made would be inherited by daughters from their mothers.

Lads also liked to dress up: embroidered bright coloured shirts and ornamental woven belts were a must for the festive dress.

The sarafan (pinafore dress) was typical for the Russian maiden’s national dress. It was worn both in the north and in the south of Russia, as well as in Central Russia. Maiden hairdresses and headdresses considerably differed from those of married women. Girls braided the hair into one plait and wore various ribbons and bandages on the head.


As for a man's costume, it was peculiar for kosovorotka – a special Russian style of a shirt with the collar fastening on one side, and not in the middle of chest. Kosovorotka had no band collar: the collar and the cut were simply trimmed with a narrow strip of red calico. Trousers were made of linen and decorated with ornamental patterns or strips. Later plain trousers of dark colors started to be made. Read more about Russian National Costume…

Round Dances

 Russian round dances seem to be as ancient as our culture itself. When staying home our ancestors were engaged in games and round dances; when leaving for a battlefield they sang of the homeland in their bylinas (heroic epics). Songs were carried all around Russia and passed from generation to generation. The history of round dances lies in old legends; and all the national legends speak about the past as if it were the present, without indications of the dates and years; they speak about the deeds of our forefathers without mentioning the scenes of action or the persons’ names.

The original meaning of the round dance seems to be lost forever. We have no sources that would directly indicate the way of its origin in the Russian lands and consequently all assumptions remain insignificant. Round dances were present in all the Slavic tribes.

Russian round dances were within reach of people of all ages: maidens and women, young men and old men alike took part in them. The places, where folk round dances took place, got special names and kept this special right for many years to come. Rivers, lakes, meadows, country churchyards, groves, cemeteries, gardens, heathlands, and yards – this is where round dances would be held. Some places were used for festive round dances, whereas others suited regular, common round dances.


Types of Russian Folk Dancing

 Russian national dance includes the round dance, the improvised dances and dances with a certain sequence of figures (quadrille and the like). In every province these dances differ as per the character and performing manner and usually have their own name depending on the name of the district or the dancing song. The measure is usually 2/4 or 6/8. There are slow and fast Russian dances, as well as dances with gradual acceleration of speed. Round dances can be female and mixed. They are performed in a round, and usually accompanied with a song, sometimes in the form of a dialogue between the dance participants.

Female dances demonstrated the fluidity, softness, and stateliness of woman’s natures; they could include slight coquetry and playing with a kerchief. Men’s dances expressed courage and daring, dexterity, breadth and wit.

Dancings Improvisations Certain types of dances were of a competitive character. Along with round dances, improvisations and competitive dances enjoyed great popularity among the Russian people. In these dances there were no limiting compositions or sequences. So, it was an opportunity for every dancer to spontaneously express oneself and show one’s capabilities. Such dancing was always surprising for the public, and sometimes even for the performers themselves.


Game Dances

The special place belongs to game dances, which bring into play the power of observation: they can be about some natural phenomena ("blizzard", "snowstorm"), or about some animals or birds ("Bull-calf", "Corn-crake", "Bear", and the like). These dances can be called dance games or game dances, since their playful origin is vividly expressed. In the dance movements the performer does not merely imitate the habits of animals or birds, but tries to impart some features of human character.

Dance Squatting

 Dance squatting was widespread all around Russia and this is what typically represents Russian dance abroad. In the early Middle Ages the total number of eastern Slavs did not exceed one million, language was almost similar, and communication was quite close. Initially the technique of squatting movements existed in two manifestations: as a way of fighting and as a fighting dance. Men developed the special movement skills and especially endurance necessary for this fighting manner through constant practice of dance squatting and combative competitions.

In olden times there were contests of dancers held in villages, mostly during fairs. People would bet and stake on the dancers. The winner won a good prize in the form of a gift, wine or money. The acquisition was shared with everybody in the crew.

Usually the competitions took place in pairs or as a single dance. One of the dancers showed some dance movement or a sequence and the contester was to repeat them accurately, and then showed his own movements for the other to repeat. Sometimes, the rules were different: the rivals alternately showed their moves, and could not repeat the previous one. The one, whose “capers” finished first, was defeated.

Since the fighting dance was the information carrier of martial art and a way of training of applied movements, it naturally became mostly spread among warriors: Cossacks, soldiers, sailors, officers, and was also very popular among fist fighters.


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian traditions Russian culture    

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