Slavic Folk Dance

The modern city dweller is convinced that his great-grandparents, while living a simple life in the village, were dim-witted and primitive people. How is it then, then a seemingly unpretentious folk dances possessed such Spiritual richness, harmony with the environment and the depth unattainable by most?

Articles are written quite often now about the traditional Slavic folk dance and culture movement in particular. But I would like to share my personal experience, after analyzing 15 years of work on this subject, based on the materials of the expedition…

I found myself on my first expedition to Pskov region in the abandoned settlements, in distant village, visiting with ancient grandmothers and grandfathers, guardians of the “living” antiquity. And it is here that everything turned upside down in my Soul. I found myself in a completely different world, where everything is different. Where they sing and speak, think and live differently than in the city.

Then, I remember, I was quite confused. I could not understand why, having given all of my life to dance and learning it from morning till night, I cannot stand with these grandmothers in a circle and dance as they do. Although all movements are very simple (and in the opinion of my colleagues, even primitive). And then I realized that it is impossible to name all the movements, for they cannot be separated from the dance. And most importantly, a condition in which a person is, while singing and dancing…

Initially, dance, as the top of the mental and physical state in any ancient culture, was directed to the Divine, to Nature, and was carrying a ritual meaning. Meaning, an individual or a group of people were the central link in an unbroken chain between the Heaven and the Earth. Confirmation of this I also find these days, watching, for example, how Kursk “Karagodov”, or Pomor “Pillars”, or Pskov “Circle” are danced. When the music or a song begins to sound, or just the rhythm, an individual through this rhythm falls into a special state, where he feels the connection with the Heavens, and the “roots”, and in general with all those around him (through his Soul).

If I speak of “roots”, I mean the power that comes from the earth. If I say “heavens”, I mean the sacred Rus, which is over the Rusian earth and preserves within itself all the good that has been accumulated by our Ancestors for thousands of years (for many it is mysticism, but for me it is a real feeling).

And especially in the ancient songs and dances this connection can be felt. It feels like a kind of cleansing power. So, for example, in Vologda, dancers say “you dance and your hair stands up, and you feel as if flying”. You can call it differently. But we are talking about the very real feelings, very closely related to the power of the Rusian Spirit.

However, such a connection does not occur if a person has too many “complexes” and chakras, the “channels” through which the life force flows, are closed. In such case, the individual does not feel anything even remotely similar.

Oddly enough, most of the time, such condition is impossible for those who have received any kind of higher education. Some perceive through their mind, and some through their body. And some see the energy in everything, and here the magic is not too far away: for if the energy is not spiritualized, it will become destructive…

The reason is that the perception and self expression should occur through the Soul, because it is the center of an individual. Then, everything becomes harmonious.

However, often there are people who ask to be explained this perception – “through the Soul”. And, unfortunately, many do not even realize what is going on. They have never even felt the heat of own Soul. Their Soul is closed. This is a clear indicator of how many became removed from Nature, from own Ancestors because of the technological progress.

When we dance our Slavic dances or sing our Slavic songs, sometimes an extraordinary force begins to flow through us. Here, we can immediately see: who creates and who destroys. This is especially true in the ancient forms, such as “breaking” or “fight” dancing. I saw “breaking” in the Pskov region. When the grandfathers were already in full swing, it was obvious, how light and power radiated from one of them, and from the other – a strong aggression. It was frightening to even stand near them. Sensing this, grandmothers began to sing ditties to one of them, so that he would stop as soon as possible, saying this: “Enough! Or someone will become crippled, he is as a deity, and so never believed.”

Now I will attempt to summarize the above and to formulate the first principle:

1. So an individual could pass through himself that, what comes from our roots and experience this special condition, he needs to be open, meaning, free in every sense: both emotionally and physically, and energetically, mentally, and morally, and most importantly – Spiritually.

Here is one example of how our children are “closed up” from childhood and unnatural coordination is instilled in them through various dance clubs, ballet studios and numerous sports clubs.

Take a particular setting of the body under the academic training: “the knees are straightened, the gluteal muscles are tightened, stomach in, shoulders slumped, neck stretched out …” In a word – completely closed, and energy cannot circulate freely in such a body. As a result, an individual’s “channels” and the main “energy centers” are blocked, which means the dance, or rather, the movement, is artificial and is based on own strength. Such an individual will no longer be able to feel that what comes from the earth, the heavens, the sun, the water. Although precisely in the dance you can communicate with the surrounding Nature, not even to say a word about the ancient dances.

But back to the statement about posture. Or rather what village performers say about this: “Stop, girl, move freely. Raise up. Knees also loose, do not bend and do not pull in. Imagine to have a glass of water on your head. This is very good. And your hands? What’s with your hands…” (Belgorod region).

And you try to walk with a glass on your head. Immediately everything is in place: and posture, and the back, and the stomach – with inner freedom.

I remember, in Kursk region, the simple dance of “Timonya” was a discovery for me. Although I, with a girlfriend Nadia Petrova, were not allowed to dance by grandmothers immediately. We were first sat down to observe…

After that, we danced together with them for about two hours without getting tired, without any tension, and even, on the contrary, the Soul rested. Later I understood why, after watching the performance of most of our professional dancers, I get tired. It is because inside, the performers are constantly working, sometimes experiencing strong inner tension, because of the fact that the body is constantly in a tightened, working state. And it needs to be free. To be free, does not mean to be relaxed all the time. And here we come to another principle:

2. Any movement should occur as the impulse-relaxation. It is difficult to explain. Better to see it once. But the point is this. An individual exists in a free state. The impulse is born in the solar plexus and instantly spreads throughout the body. This is followed by relaxation, and so on. But you do not need to think about all this, because impulses are sent to us by a melody or just by the rhythm. It is necessary to unite with the rhythm so perfectly, that it lives inside of us. By the way, this principle of “rhythm” is present in everything. Inhale – exhale. Day – night. Push and rest can be seen in all of this. However, these are the subtleties of professionals, but, oddly enough, this sophisticated technique is possessed by the villagers, especially the elderly. And their rhythm is such, which we never even dreamed of!

Next, let me speak about improvisation…

3. No matter how hard I tried, I could not think of any performer in the village who would not improvise. And vice versa. Among the choreographers – professionals are a rarity. But only through improvisation the individuality of a human, his Soul, is revealed. It is time to remember our pseudo-folklore holidays like “dancer”, where hundreds of dancers are on stage, and all of them (believe me, I do not want to accuse anyone, I just want to explain) move exactly the same. The displayed emotions, however, are exactly the same. Under the lyrical melody, under the same dance: the same sadness, the same joy. And it is difficult to move away from these stamps and go deep inside yourself, to enjoy the simple notion.

It is particularly difficult, with academic training, to obtain pleasure of communicating with another individual that is dancing with you (and life in the village does not exist without dance). And since there is a void in the Soul, that requires different spectacular effects, all kinds of tricks and all sorts of “dynamic” moves, which are, maybe interesting for the eyes, but do not warm the Soul. Although everyone has to make own choice.

4. After numerous inquiries about the old days, I really wanted to spend the entire year as was previously lived: with all the fasts, temples and celebrations. And, having lived it, I came to the conclusion: “all in due time”. And this is another principle … all in due time, none can play folklore.

For example: in Pomor’e, I asked a grandmother to sing the song “Blossomed and Withered the Flowers”, and she told me: “Come back in the Autumn, and then I will sing it to yo.” Or in Pskov: “Grandmother, sing, please, Maslenka”, and she: “You, dear, come during Maslenitsa!” And you begin to understand that for them it is not a game, but life. That is why the celebration of Maslenitsa is held during Maslenitsa-week … and it is much interesting to be present during such a celebration, than on stage. And if we are talking about folk festivals, they should be added to the category of big calendar celebrations, or fairs, so the Spirit of universal joy would prevail. But, unfortunately, only unfortunate folk festivals are remembered, especially if they had no real performers. At times, such festivals can cause harm even to the participants themselves, as sometimes there is a desire to be better than others, the desire to please, instead of just to have fun …

5. It is strange, and for some, maybe even ironic, the joy and fun of folk artists in dance or song – it is not an emotional overexcitement or a “psychic attack”, as is now often the case with folklore ensembles, but inner light and peace of Soul, even when it is a very loud execution.

And in order to learn it, you need live communication. This is a new principle – the principle of live transmission from performer to performer. Through notes or descriptions of dances, this “living force” cannot be transmitted. Although the individual who knows the tradition, may well revive a song from notes or a dance from a recording.

6. I would call the sixth principle – the principle of organic nature and integrity of perception.

It is impossible to dance and not sing, or at least have no interest to the song. It is impossible to sing ditties and not listen to tales, ballads, Spiritual songs. There should be no separation from the whole. Here is a vivid example of this – talented performers who often combine the abilities of the singer, the dancer, the player, the storyteller and even the craftsman. Here, however, occurs a problem of processing. This problem, perhaps, appeared in the last century. If a composer or a choreographer begins to edit, even if he was trained in the best academic style, without the knowledge of tradition, the first thing he destroys is the melody.

I would say this – the folklore is the music of the earth. And through this music from the earth flow the currents that touch our Souls, and we can no longer remain indifferent, while listening to it. But should one, or two notes be changed not in accordance with the tradition (for example relating to beauty) – our heart becomes silent. The melody dies. For example: to “Kamarinskaya”, edited with all classical canons, I never wanted to dance to.

7. The next (seventh) principle flows out of the previous one: a person must be brought up according to tradition.

Creativity, not related to traditional culture, depends on the individual. When a talented individual leaves the spotlight, the genre somewhat fades with that individual. Such creativity may be transferred only from talent to talent. But folklore, as opposed to the academic laws, possesses live transmission. It can be transmitted from all to all, from generation to generation. It is in our genes. And if we want to at least get closer to our traditions, we should “see a lot and hear a lot”, as long as desire and persistence are present, and eventually the skills and confidence will come necessarily. Some individuals need a lot of time, some need little, and with some – they already have everything. If only an individual would not stand still, constantly developing …

It is important that the very early age was not lost, for a child from infancy to about 10 years old should be exposed to their native roots, otherwise it will be too late, because the demand for the natural self-expression through songs, dances and even games is lost. You lose the need to communicate with each other. That’s why, as a child, you need to dive into the depth of national traditions.

This forms the power of the human Spirit. And no matter what profession our children will choose, they already have a visible personality, not “technical”, but a creative approach to life. And I’m sure that no matter what business they will be engaged in, they will have a create approach to it.

Galina Vladimirovna Emel’yanova, leading Russian ethane choreographer, head of folklore-ethnographic ensemble “Kitezh”, an individual with more than 30 years of folklore expeditions experience.

Translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir

Writing is hard work and takes a lot of energy, so if you found this article useful, buy me a coffee or an energy bar.


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