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Dances from the Saloon

April 29, 2015

    Every Ukrainian folk dance has its provenance, its history of appearance. Some dances originated from ancient rites, such as roundelays, wedding festivities, physical endurance exercises and even martial arts. But there is also a major stratum of dances borrowed from other peoples or even from posh European saloons. To name a few these are the Belorussian Lavonikha and Kryzhachok, Polish Krakowiak and Mazurka, Czech Polka, Hungarian Czardas, Moldavian Joc, Romanian Invertito and Sirba etc.

 

    Many of the other nations’ dances practiced in Ukraine have undergone significant changes in terms of choreography as well as music. Retaining the original name and general features they have gradually acquired traits of national Ukrainian folk dance art.

Among others these are the Czech Polka and French Quadrille. Quadrille is a French dance which later acquired a new name – ‘Lancier’; in Ukraine it is often called ‘Lintsei’ (Лінцей) or ‘Lanets’ (Ланець).

 

    The Czech Polka spread all over the world and won over all kinds of audiences – starting with young children and ending with senior citizens. Polka was especially appreciated in Ukraine. People came up with numerous choreographic variations of this dance which gradually acquired characteristic features of typical Ukrainian folk choreography. Dozens, HUNDREDS of new melodies were created for Polkas across the country. And now Polka is considered a Ukrainian folk dance.

    The story of the French Quadrille in Ukraine is pretty similar to that of the Polka. One day, while filming a Quadrille performance in Kyiv region, the artistic crew noticed something quite peculiar – whenever the dancers were to switch dance figures, one of them would use a special ‘code word’ to announce it. The word was ‘просо’ (‘proso’ - Ukr. millet). So why would a French dance have Ukrainian words in it? Turns out this dance figure was based on a famous ancient Ukrainian roundelay called ‘Millet’ (Просо). The further study of this dance in Kyiv, Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Rivne and other regions of Ukraine showed that the original French Quarille formed in Parisian saloons lost its authenticity when passed on to the masses. Judging by its present music and choreographic constituents – Quadrille can be now characterized as a traditional Ukrainian folk dance that only retained general features of the original French dance.

A great example of a Ukrainized Quadrille is a dance called ‘Shalantukh’, popular in the Rivne region (describes a young man who wanders among other couples without a partner of his own). The shalantukh-man is the lead dancer, he sets the ‘tone’ in the dance, announces any changes of dance figures as if directing the other dancers with a large birch stick in his hands.

    During World War I, Europe and Ukraine, in particular, were introduced to another dance, brought from overseas by North American sailors. This was Two-step, often also known as "Carapet" (Карапет). This seemingly simple choreographic composition became a model for creating many similar dances throughout Ukraine. However,  the nature of new choreographic patterns and dance moves found in these versions, like ‘holubtsi’, ‘dribyshky’, different swirls, etc, can already be classified as new versions of the two-step, with characteristic Ukrainian national coloring.

 

    It is impossible not to mention Waltz - the "King of Dance". The history of Waltz goes back to a jaunty rustic dance called ‘Ländler’, which was popular in southern Germany and Austria.The Waltz shares similar features with the French ‘Volta’, the Czech ‘Furiant’, the Polish ‘Kujawiak’. And having found its way to Ukraine, this "forever young" dance got its niche in the lives of local people. Famous Ukrainian dances inspired by the Waltz are the “Tropak Waltz” and “Balamut”.

    So we can say that Quadrille, Polka, Two-step, Waltz and other dances served as examples and inspiration for creating new dances, based on Ukrainian folk choreography. Such dances testify that the relationships between different cultures are of great importance not only for the creation of new forms of dance art, but for its stylistic features. Such dances retain common features from the peoples, where these pieces originated and, at the same time, they acquire characteristics of national art.

The interplay between different cultures has been around for centuries. There is no doubt that these ‘borrowed’ dances have greatly enriched Ukrainian folk choreography. Very often, acquiring specific Ukrainian features they would become so dear and close to Ukrainians that they’d be considered true Ukrainian folk dances.

 

References: Humenyuk A. "Choreographic folk art of Ukraine".

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