Folk choreography is a part of folklore and it is as original as all nation’s folklore is original. Folk choreography is the creative work of the people where artistic images are created by rhythmical movements followed by vocal or instrumental music. Folk choreography as well as other branches of the folk art has always been closely related to the mode of life, work and customs of the nation. Since ancient times the dance has been inevitably accompanying all important events in the life of the people. The life of the Lithuanian nation, its character and morals are reflected in the content of Lithuanian dance.

Every movement and step has it purpose. They always mean something or show something. It is even the slightest change of mood that can expressed by movement of the dance. Dance movements are subjective; visible expression is based on emotion. Dance originality is being formed by methods of expressions under the influence of geographic surroundings, clothing, relationships with other nations, racial characteristics and so on. By creating a dance, people without realizing it creates beauty as well. Dances distinctiveness depends upon the originator as well - whether it has been created by man or woman. Lithuania has basically been an agricultural country; therefore folk art primacy belonged to women and was related to the scale of feminine themes (for example, works done by women only). This of course had influenced the lexicon of choreography - for example simplicity of steps was influenced by the women’s long skirts. The characteristics of the Lithuanian folk choreography are also shown through music, which is calm, symmetric, the rhythm is monotonous, the tempo moderate and in the quarter form. Lithuanian folklore is based upon the farmer’s outlook on life. It is lyrical, there is no epic narration, in war songs the actual battle is never sung about, and there are no war dances left. No hunter dances have survived either and in folk choreography there are no movements left typical on this theme.

The first information about the art of Baltic movement appeared at the end of the IX century. The traveler Vulfstan wrote that it was no doubt about the Balts played during funerals. Later chroniclers and travelers mentioned that Prussians and Lithuanians played and danced; some of them even stressed the dance’s character. Up to XX c. dances were documented only occasionally and only fragments of the dance description could be found, most often only the name of the dance and its mood were mentioned. All the dances during this time period were recorded in narrative style, not a single one was recorded with music, steps or movements. For the most part from these recordings one could only reconstruct the character of the dance or the image of the form.

The situation hardly changed throughout the whole of the XX century if compared to the description of song folklore and song’s book printing. In addition, starting with the middle of XX century two completely separate genres had been formed in Lithuania which in the West had been understood as folk choreography. (A new genre emerged which was stylized one, designated only to the stage author’s “folk dance”, which is created by professional choreographers, using a special music written by a professional composer specifically to that purpose an adopting the name of old traditional dance and its ideas).

The genre of the traditional folk dance is still alive. People used to learn dances from parents or grandparents whose lives have been still greatly influenced by customs and traditions and who mastered dancing folk dances directly from their parents in outdoor country parties. Folk ensembles, who still participate in folklore collection expeditions in rural areas willingly dance these dances.

Lithuanians, as well as their Baltic neighbors, have always loved to dance. Young people gathered to dance in field parties (in summer), or in farmer houses (in winter). Older people and small children also took part in these festivities talking, socializing, and generally amusing themselves.

Looking still further back into the history, dance was also a part of ancient Lithuanian calendar celebrations and rituals.

Lithuanian folk choreography can be classified into four groups: polyphonic singing dances, ring or circle dances, games and other dances.

Polyphonic singing dances (Sutartinių šokiai). As mentioned earlier, sutartinės are unique archaic polyphonic songs. About a third of these songs have accompanying dance elements. The movements are quite simply and easy to perform. Three or four women perform a circular or quadrille type dance as they sing. [Example “Šokinėjo žvirblalis po pievų”]

Ring dances, circles (Rateliai). The number of participants in such a dance is unlimited. The dancer themselves sing the lyrics without any instrumental accompaniment. Stepping around in a circle, the participants perform various movements which sometimes illustrate the song’s text. But usually, these are just simple movements repeated again and again: linking elbows and turning, weaving circles, and other figures. Ring dances have several forms: simple circles [ex.”Pasėjau žilvitį”, “Gražus mūsų jaunimėlis”, “Verdu bulvienę”], double circles, rows [ex.”Esu dailiai išmokyta”], bridges [ex. “Upytėlė teka”], chains and gates.

Circles are typical for: unlimited number of participants, accompaniment by participants singing the song themselves, and during one part of the music the dancers walk a simple step or execute actions in place. The circle dance’s metrorhythmic structure as well as text is commented on. There are several forms of circle dances: the circle, the circle with a center, double center, lines, bridges, chains, gates and variations of these forms. The forms themselves are older than the circle. Comparisons of various types of dances show that circles with the same content often differ from one another.

Games (Žaidimai). Dances-games are rarely sung, and when they are, they do not follow strict rhythmical patterns. These game hinge on creative improvisation, spoken text or dialogue [ex. “Šarka”, “Žvirblis”], and the performance of “tasks”. Some types of games are quite similar to ring dances [ex. “Katinas an pečiaus”].

The following characteristics are typical of games circles/dances: the text does not necessarily need to be sung, singing doesn’t necessarily have to match the rhythm, free improvisation, the text or dialogue is followed by action or task. Like circle dances games similarly are divided according to their form or are of a free form.

Dances (Šokiai). These dances are accompanied by instrumental music and sometimes singing as well. Separate pairs dance in loosely structured form space while only group follow a large plan. Dances consist of consecutively repeated movements, steps and figures.

Lithuanian paired dances [ex. “Šokinėkit, berniukai”, “Kiškelis”, “Gudo dūda”, “Pjoviau šieną”, “Drailinas, “Anės polka”, “Grečinikė”] of specific steps and movements differ very little from those of neighboring countries. Lithuanian group dances, like “Našliukas”, “Polka keturinė”, “Noriu miego”, “Malūnėlis” are based on paired dances too. However, the character and the spirit of our dances is unique. Even foreign dances which made their way to Lithuania (i.e. Krakoviak, Latrišas, Aleksandra, Vengierka, Lelenderis, Valsas, Kadrilis and others) acquired many new variants and distinctive characteristics. Judging by names of dances it is apparent that Lithuanians borrowed many dances from their neighbors, however, these dances gained new features and were danced in a different manner; some movements were changed. Lithuanian dance is characterized by inward great emotional energy which is never manifested externally. Since traditional Lithuanian lyrical folklore originated among farmers and peasants, it still retains their outlook. There are no war or hunting dances, no high jumping or kicking. Lithuanian traditional dances are dominated by subdued ring dances and games whose lyrics center around growing crops and livestock or relations between young people and match making. Dance music has a moderate tempo, is usually symmetric and without large interval jumps.

Staged art is constantly looking for new forms, new means of expression. This include staged dance. Staged dance is not only influenced by Lithuanian neighbors, but by general cultural environment as well. Folk dance is being constantly created anew, it moves out from the sphere of the mode of life as onto the stage where it is meant to be looked at. The choreographer and his personal outlook on life plays a large role here because he takes on creator’s “producer” function and the public audience remain only as “users”, mostly passive. Concert programs are constantly in demand for new dances, which are created by individual choreographers, however continually moves away from the folklore tradition. The staged dance is becoming more important in the community and such dances are often referred to as folk dances but actually they have been losing their creative communal principles. Folk choreography objectively remains as an aesthetic value, but many professionals look at it as of lesser creative value. They rely mostly on their own generalized cultural background. Therefore a large number of these dances are thought-up and only their titles that are taken from folk dances that remain. Folk dances about the mode of life are being replaced by popular dance. As a reaction to such choreography pure folklore ensembles have been started to be organized who cultivate folk choreography, but don’t solve this problem. Classical dance mannerisms have been infiltrate into the staged dance mainly because the leaders of dance groups have been taught the classical dance. Classical dance as a method to train dancers is being used as a means of expression thereby it is becoming the main criteria for evaluation. Staged dance’s tempo has become faster, technical elements have become more difficult to perform. Because of this the dance expression suffers, as well as exposure of content and the relationship between dancers.

Recreated and transplanted onto the stage folk dance gained a new quality and its purpose changed. The question about the enrichment of the dance has been seriously raised - should it be supported by it’s own resources or should choreographers borrow from others all the best that has been discovered and created. Music is an issue too. It is often written by professionals; there are no typical folk song elements or repeated refrains, the meter is mixed, the duration is varies and there is no symmetry. The new music is remote from folk dance music traditions.

Because there are few researchers of folk choreography the direction of evolution depends on practitioners. Naturally in Lithuania staged dance forms of expression are chosen according to individual taste. For this reason foreign elements infiltrate, national color disappears, the cultural remembrance of folklore dies.

There are plenty of groups of both genres: about five hundred folklore groups, whose members sing, dance and play games that are inherited from their grandparents and about five hundred of the stage dance ensembles. Representatives of both genres organize various festivals and gatherings, local and international, and participate in international festivals in Europe and all over the world if the group can afford it financially. The groups also participated in World Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival (about 35000 participants) Folklore Day.

Compiled by Eugenija Venskauskaitė