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Olivera Vasic

Traditional Oro dances in Serbia.

Vasic, Olivera: "Traditional Oro Dances in Serbia", 16th International Congress on Dance Research, Corfu, Greece, 30/10-3/11, 2002.

According to the present state of knowledge, the entire dance heritage of Serbia can be divided into five ethnochoreological areas: central, western, southeastern and northeastern Serbia, as well as northern Serbia or Vojvodina. Each of them contains countless smaller regions with certain specific traits which nevertheless fit into the above-mentioned division.

Over the previous two centuries (19th and 20th) central Serbia played a dominating role – historically, politically, economically – in relation to other parts of Serbia, and this reflected in its oro heritage as well. The said historical “advantage” which was manifested in the revival of the Serbian state, became a model for many other parts of Serbia in the domain of dance, and it influenced in a specific way the repertoire of other ethnochoreological areas. We should mention that central Serbia is often referred to as Sumadija and Pomoravlje (Morava river valley) – two largest regions in this part of Serbia – hence all dances proceeding from this ethnochoreological area bear names like Sumadija kolo, sumadinka, regardless of the dance which appears behind such names.

The core of the dancing repertoire in this ethnochoreological area is made up of 12 dance patterns, the dominating role played by two: seta or setnja (walk) which is an opening dance at all dancing gatherings; and kolo u tri, kolo u sest koraka (kolo in three and in six steps) kukunjes, moravac, sestica, Zikino kolo with countless dancing and musical variants.

The large number of variants, not only of this dance but of others as well, proceeds from the specific style of dancing practiced by the population of this area. The basic dance pattern is adorned with intertwining, entangling, flickering, hops, deceptions… the steps are made more complicated within a single bar; because of this, dancing becomes “fluttering” and at the same time quite intricate. Such a manner of dancing can be attributed to the carriers of the dancing repertoire, the population of this ethnochoreological area. It is made up of three migration streams: Dinaric, Kosovo-Metohija and Vardar-Morava. The fact that they share the same area accounts for the mixing of the settlers, the process which gradually resulted in a specific mentality, characterized by specific reasoning, a bright, penetrating mind, able to handle all kinds of situations. These characteristics are expressed precisely in the style of dancing, as indicated above.

Musical accompaniment of dancing in this ethnochoreological area is vocal-instrumental and instrumental. The most common instruments were pipes and bagpipes, and somewhat less frequently dvojnice (double pipes). The accompaniment was largely influenced by Roma violin players who in past centuries used to be entertainers in numerous inns along the Morava river. Remaining in these parts as professional musicians, they adopted the accompaniment of local dances, performing in their own way. Round the beginning of the previous century they were largely displaced by accordionists who at the second half of the century took over the dancing accompaniment completely. The most usual form of dancing is a semicircle, with a prominent role of the first dancer, the leader (kolovođa), and the last one (kec). The dancers hold hands which hang down the body, whereas relatives may hold pod ruku (the right hand holds the left forearm of the dancer who is in front).

The style of dancing in western Serbia is completely different. A synonym for beautiful dancing is powerful dancing, with feet always fully stepping on the ground. The basic pattern is adorned with strong leaps, rarely hops and flickering, while entangling and intertwining is practically non-existent. Dance patterns in this ethnochoreological area are simpler, and the core repertoire consists of about 15 dances. The dominating patterns are three-bar patterns accompanied by song – kolanje (titles are given after the opening line of the song), povozno kolo, s noge na nogu, cetvorak, trojanac. Apart from song, the dance can have vocal-instrumental accompaniment; frequently used instruments were pipes, bagpipes, violin (northwestern part) or trumpet (southwestern) ensembles; in the last several decades the dominating instrument has been the accordion.

The dance forms in this ethnochoreological area are somewhat more complex than in the previously described one. It can be a circle, semicircle, it can have a snail-like or a snake-like shape. In the center of the circle or semicircle there can be a single player, or it can be broken into couples; there may be a specific figure called “the kolo gate” through which all dancers are supposed to pass. The dance is called kolo as in central Serbia, and the same terminology is used for the first and the last dancers: kolovoda and kec. While dancing, dancers hold each other's hands, which hang down the body.

This ethnochoreological area has preserved to this day a large number of ritual dances, which used to be an inseparable part of the wedding and funeral ceremonies. These dances are: devojacko kolo (maids' dance), pauna (peacock), sitan tanac and pleti tanac. The end of the agrarian year - harvest with its numerous ritual actions - was also marked with several dances: oj ratare, granatare, tanke slamke, pauna and zetelacka poskocica.

The ethnochoreological area of southeastern Serbia is one of the most interesting parts of Serbia in view of dancing. It comprises a large number of different dances, diverse musical accompaniment (with various meters like 2/4, 3/4, 3/8, 5/8, 7/8) and ritual dances which have largely survived to this day. The core repertoire consists of a considerable number of dances accompanied by song, and they are titled after the first line of the corresponding song (Bre devojce, bre davolce; Sto se sija nane; Oro igra ispod oblak...), or else suva (kratka) ora. Then there are also dances with instrumental accompaniment: cacak, osamputka, cetvorka, selsko oro, po same, trojanac, polomka, rumenka, vlasinka, bugarka (pesacki), sestorka...

Melodies that accompany dance are performed on duduk, bagpipes, zurle (reeds) and tapan; during the last several decades trumpet ensembles have played the dominating role. There is an interesting relationship between the dance and its instrumental accompaniment, namely, the length of the dancing and musical phrases do not coincide, which creates a special kind of tension between movement and sound (for instance, the dancing phrase is ten and the music eight bars long: the dance is repeated four times and the tune five times). Besides diverse musical accompaniment and a specific relationship between dance and accompaniment, the area is also characterized by an interesting manner of dancing, and there appears to be more difference in the style of dancing than in the dance repertoire between various parts of this area. The northeastern part of southeastern Serbia has a specific manner of dancing called podvozenje. To put it simply, while one foot “grabs” the space (performs a step), the other “pushes” and it is done simultaneously with the vertical shaking of the body. From the river Nisava and further in Shosptic regions one dances strongly with full feet on the ground, sharp movements which cover a small area. The dances of Kosovo are restrained and dignified, the inhabitants of Leskovacka Morava and Vlasina are fleet-footed, whereas both dancing and its musical accompaniment in Vranjsko Pomoravlje express grief and nostalgia.

All dancing patterns are to be found in this area: solo dancing, dancing in couples, in groups of four, in lines, circles, semicircles, kolo within kolo, kolo on top of kolo, semicircle with a «gate»... We have already pointed to a large number of surviving ritual dances. These are, in the first place, koledara and sirovara, also lazarica, kraljica and dodola, and a large number of dances associated with wedding rites. These are mostly kolanja (dance accompanied by song) performed during the preparations for the wedding. They are performed when wheat is prepared for making the ritual wedding bread, at the inspection of the bride's outfit, bathing of the bride, shaving of the bridegroom, weaving of garlands... Besides kolanja there is a considerable number of dances with instrumental accompaniment: when the bride is separated from her kin, when she is ushered into her new home, before the newly weds retreat to their chamber, at the closing of the wedding feast and when the bride's virginity is being tested. The best-known dances are: jednostranka, mother-in-law's oro, sareno oro, grandmother’s oro, kitka

Northeastern Serbia is inhabited by two ethnically different communities: Serbs and Vlachs who have lived together for centuries, the fact which is also reflected in their dance repertoire. A number of dances are common: vlaina (in Serbian) ora đe patru (in Vlach); polomka (S), stnga (V), keser (S), kiseru (V), Marinko the priest’s dance (S), sokc, patulu (V). Along with these, the Serbs also dance rumenka, trojanac, popovicanka, osmica, and the Vlachs: arambao, rastu, ungureanu, manastirjanka… It is interesting that the Vlachs still create new dances, the basic pattern of which is vlaina and the characteristic ornament ropot: the stamping of the ground with a free foot. Neither of the two nations have intertwinings, entanglements, flickering; their dancing is strong, with hops at the opening bars of dance patterns.

The dance form is stable with both communities. It is a semicircle of densely packed dancers, so that the kolo appears as compact, unbreakable entity. The name for dance is kolo (Serbs), and oro or danca (Vlachs). Musical accompaniment is instrumental, performed first on duduk, and bagpipes, later by ensembles of duduks, violins and trumpets. Nowadays it is the accordion as elsewhere in Serbia.

The surviving ritual dances are kraljica and dodola (rain-conjuring ritual); also dances associated with the wedding ceremony, namely, the beginning of the feast (Saturday evening at the bridegroom’s house), dances which accompany the bride’s entering her new home: cigancica and ora goviji, and dances which mark the ending of the ceremony: kumovo kolo, ora sokri… Unlike Serbs, Vlachs have numerous dances connected with the funeral rites. They are performed on the day of the funeral, at commemorations up to one year – pomane, and after mourning (dance, delenje ora).

The fifth ethnochoreological area of Serbia is the territory of Vojvodina, or northern Serbia. It is a well-known fact that besides the Serbs (native or immigrants in the 20th century), a large number of other nations live there, and all of them preserve their identity precisely through dance. The entire dance repertoire of this area (that is, of all its inhabitants) can be divided into two large groups: kolo and dancing po dvoje (in couples), which means either dancing in a circle or dancing in couples which can be freely distributed across the available space or not. In the first group we find: grand kolo of Banat, small kolo of Banat, grand and small kolo of Backa, sokacko kolo, sremsko kolo, hora, aksion... The best-known couple dances are cigancica, madarac, keleruj, ficko, duba, ardeleana, cardas, mazuljka

The Dinaric settlers of the 20th century supplemented this repertoire with silent dances: strong kolo, tapkalica, stupanje, triput pa vrati, licko kolo; also kolanje (dancing with singing accompaniment, the title being the first line of the song), and with several dances with vocal-instrumental accompaniment: Milica, kukunjes…

In the past, dances were accompanied by melodies performed on bagpipes, but for a long time now they have been accompanied by ensembles (except the dances of the 20th century Dinaric settlers) of tamburitzas, violins, violins and zymbalom (Hungarians), winds (Romanians) and accordions. The specific trait of this ethnochoreological area (all inhabitants) is the differences between men’s and women’s dancing. Men are allowed to improvise according to their abilities, and thus to elaborate the basic pattern. This is accomplished in various ways: duplari (in Banat), kvrcanje (Backa), hopping (Srem), striking hands against one’s legs (Hungarians), squatting and leaping (Ruthenians), continual movements (Slovaks), swift turns (Romanians). Female dancers are assigned an inferior role: they simply follow men, which is a rather awkward position, considering that one never knows what kind of an ornament her partner will perform. With Dinaric settlers of both sexes, the force and power of movement is synonymous with beautiful dancing.

At the end of this report, it would be worthwhile to mention urban dances which used to be numerous and diverse. The formation of Serbian urban dance repertoire was subject to various influences. The oldest urban dances originated in the major cities of the Nemanjic dynasty, strongly influenced by the Levant. The center of this ancient repertoire was the city of Prizren; the traces are still visible in the city and its vicinity, both in the repertoire and the style of dancing. Somewhat more recent urban repertoire originated under the Ottoman influence and is connected with the town of Vranje and the adjacent parts of the Morava valley. In Vojvodina, a special repertoire was formed under the influence of central Europe, which includes the polka and mazurka, which resulted in the creation of the dance srpkinjica (it was the well known composer Isidor Bajić who created the music and dance, inspired by the Polish mazurka). It has not survived in the repertoire of Vojvodina Serbs, but a new form of dancing - in couples - was nevertheless established.

A specific repertoire arose in the towns of the 19th century revived Serbian state. It was based on certain rural dances (setnja, devojacko kolo, cetvorka, cacanka...) reshaped in accordance with the laws prevailing in European music of the time. They bore various names, generally according to the place of their origin: beogradsko kolo, kragujevcanka, zajecarka, nisevljanka…, they consisted of several parts, were symmetrical in the way the space was traversed and the manner of performance was much calmer than the one of their rural models.

From what we have hitherto stated, it should be clear that the territory of Serbia is a region rich in dance heritage, both rural and urban. A large number of ritual dances survives in many areas (western and eastern Serbia), there is a large number of different dances with various musical accompaniment, and specific styles of dancing. Besides rural dances there is a rich repertoire of urban dances, originating at different times under the influences of both the East and the West, as well as by the reshaping of rural dances in the revived Serbian state in the 19th century.

Olivera Vasic



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