Basic Rusyn Dances
by Dean Poloka
Dance plays an important part in Rusyn culture. Everyday life events such as birthdays, name-days, weddings, funerals and baptisms gave Rusyns an opportunity to dance. This article will explain the more popular dances today in regions where Rusyns reside.
A women’s circle dance with ancient Greek roots. Sung to haunting melodies reminiscent of magical incantations, the Khorovod uses simple steps and slow, snakelike movements. Khorovod dances revolve around pagan ceremonies such as the death of winter, the harvest celebration or the summer and winter solstice festivals.
A circle dance descended from the Khorovod dance. Major differences between these are that the Karička is much livelier, uses more intricate footwork and is sung to songs about everyday life.
Similar to the Karička. They are simplistic and use the same circle and snakelike motifs, are more playful in manner, and are sung to songs that can be classified as Rusyn “nursery rhymes.”
One of the oldest dances for men, Kozačko - “little goats,” is a dance in which shepherds imitate the animals they watch in the fields. These acrobatic steps have names like, “donkey-kicks,” “grasshoppers,” and “horses.” When Russian Cossack soldiers came through the Rusyn lands in the 19th century, war-like steps were added with names such as “coffee-grinder” (leg sweep), “flying splits” and “back-breakers.”
Another military dance derived from the German word “werben” meaning to recruit. Hungarian officers sponsored parties in village pubs for service-age men. Officers enticed the men through drinking, dancing, and praising the “glories” of military service. Throughout the years, these syncopated slapping and clapping movements turned into the Čapaš. Men would try to upstage each other in order to impress girls with improvised routines.
Descendant of the Verbunk and is also of Hungarian origin. This coupleʼs dance migrated to Rusyn villages in the 19th century when Rusyn men returned from working as tinkers or laborers in the Hungarian Plains. This dance starts slowly, ends in a fast tempo, and is led by the man. Before the Csardas, couples would engage in various regional “whirly” dances. Reminiscent of couples embracing, these dances utilize circular patterns and regionally diverse steps.
Also making its way to the Rusyn areas in the 19th century from Bohemia. The term polka means half and it is popularly known worldwide by this 2/4, or cut-time half rhythm. This basic two-step dance has many variations that differ from region to region and even village to village.