Europe has a rich Dance culture that dates back to the middle ages. Through multiple eras and upheavals - of the Crusades, the Renaissance and Reformation - European Dance has endured. Though almost all the countries of Europe, and indeed many regions therein, boast a rich folk and traditional culture, a few Dance styles have stood out - in terms of their evolution and charm.
This beautiful Central European country, lying within the mighty Alps, is home to a traditional thousand-years-old Dance. Schuhplattler is a courtship dance, and is popular in the region of Bavaria; it is similar to another Austrian dance, Landler. As the men jump, they strike their thighs and knees; they also tap their soles and clap their hands to woo the women. Schuhplattler is now also performed by Austrian women.
The former Soviet Republic of Georgia, a Black Sea bordering country, boasts of a dance called Khorumi, which originates from Adjara (in Georgia). Khorumi is a warrior dance. Ancient Georgians used to perform the Dance when the army was leaving to fight the enemy; the Dance depicts valour. The movements of Khorumi are simple, yet innovative. Khorumi also involves much clapping. The ‘perfect’ movements, synchronised to the sound of a drum and bagpipe, are a visual treat. The celebrative tradition of Khorumi is still alive and well in Georgia.
This Central European country on the Carpathian basin has an excellent cultural ethos. Legenyes is popular among the Romanian and Hungarian origin people around the region of Cluj (Romania). It is essentially a male performing art; the women sing. It is a freestyle dance, wherein men take turns to dance in front of a band. Legenyes is performed to the counts of four or eight. There are many regional variations of this Dance in Hungary.
Unfettered by present day political boundaries, Zwiefach is also popular in Austria and the Czech Republic. It is primarily a German dance, dating back two centuries. Zwiefach means ‘double’: it is a ‘couple dance’, strikingly similar to the waltz. Performing ‘beat by bar’ orchestrated movements, the couple hold each other tight and dance closely, in two different ‘lines’.
Clare Lancers Set (Ireland)
This beautiful island country in the North Atlantic ocean has a very different culture from neighbouring Great Britain. The Irish love their culture and also love to amuse themselves. The Clare Sea, on which the Dance is named, brushes the shores of Ireland. The dancers’ movements are flowingly smooth and their heels barely scrape the floor. Couples dance while facing each other. There have also been many dance guides that demonstrate the Clare Lancers Set, notable among them being Tom Quinn’s ‘Irish Dancing’.
A former Soviet Republic (and very much in the news), Ukraine has a distinct folk culture. Kozachok is a nearly five centuries old dance. It is a ‘couple dance’ that slowly increases in tempo. In a role reversal from the traditional, the woman leads and the man follows her steps. Kozachok is also performed in a circle. The movements change on the claps from the woman. Some variations of Kozachok are the Kuban and Ker.
Osman Taka (Albania)
The Albanians revere their leader Osman Taka, who fought valiantly against the Ottoman Turks. The Osman Taka dance commemorates his valour. A lone dancer begins his steps very slowly and progressively speeds them up. The dancer then turns backwards to form a bridge, while the other dancers step on his stomach, while holding each other. The beauty of balance in the dancers is matched by the strength of the dancer on whom they balance.
The Iberian country of Portugal is home to a folk dance that is performed in pairs. Bailarico is a courtship dance. The men face their women partners; they have their backs to the other dancers. As the dancers bounce, they throw their hands up in the air, while also spinning and hugging each other on turning. Bailarico demonstrates flirtation and prowess in men, while exhibiting chastity and virtue in women.
This Southeast European country is well-known for its rituals. Romania, during the medieval times, had secret societies. The recruited men participated in a ritual dance known as Calus. The dancers would seem to gallop like horses or fly through the air. In present day Calusari, there are bells bound to their ankles, and sticks are used as props. Acrobatic movements and jumps are the main features of this Dance.
Croatia has become internationally recognised after the break-up of Yugoslavia. The Dubrovnik region of Croatia has an ancient culture. A three-stringed instrument, known as the Iljerica, is linked to the dance called Lindo. Iljerica gives rhythm to the Lindo dancer, who moves in a circle and responds to the commands and rhythm of the conductor - who guides him to turn and change position, while improvising his dance steps.
The writer is a renowned Kuchipudi danseuse and choreographer