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Dances

Dances, ring dances and games form a branch of folk art integrating vocal art, music, movement, action, ritual and national costume - the words sokti ("dance") and dainuoti ("sing") in some dialects of Lithuania are very close in their meaning.

Among the oldest Lithuanian folk dances are dances sutartines. Their characteristic feature is the repetition of onomatopeic words and polyphony of the text and music (simultaneous sounding of different words and melodies). The sutartine (song) is accompanied by simple movements of a dance - walking, stamping feet, gliding, changing places, coming, turning, and others. The most common figures are walking in rows, facing each other, or going in a circle. Sutartines were mostly danced by women. The name of such a sutartine would usually derive from the first line of the song or its refrain. This type of sutartines were still danced in north-eastern Lithuania in the early 20th century.

Dances accompanied by songs and having elements of drama also date from ancient times. Their movements, in the same way as dance sutartines, consist of walking in rows or a circle.

The oldest dances and games reflect human experience - life and work, customs, various processes work in the fields (Aguonele "Little Poppy", Dobilelis "Little Clover", Linelis "Little Flax", Ruguciai "Rye"), hunting (Untyte "Duckling", Kiskelis "Little Hare"), fishing (Zvejys "Fisherman"), domestic crafts (Audeja "Weaver", Verpesja "Spinner", Siauciukas "Tailor", Kalvelis "Blacksmith"), work implements (Kubilas "Tub", Malunelis "Mill"), rituals of family and calendar holidays (Sadute, Jievaro tiltas).

All older dances had plots, in some - one participant would act a role, in others - a group of participants would act their roles while the others would only sing or just imitate. There are also elements of drama (mimicry, pantomime, dialogues), Ring dances could be performed as dances in their own right or as parts of a game dance. The way of dancing in a ring dance changes greatly: first there is a simple, slow and solemn walking in a circle, later various choreographic elements are introduced. The number of dancers in this type of dances is not strictly defined.

Folk dances are characterized by a symmetrical design; in later times by a compositional complexity, variety of figures. There are various ways of dancing in pairs. The partners can embrace each other in the polka- or waltz-like manner, or they can just hold each other's hands when facing each other or standing in a circle, or hold each other by their bent arms. Dances and games used to be restrained. There were no solo dances. Leg movements are dominant: the steps are short, the feet are not raised high, there are no big leaps. Hand movements are characteristic of imitative dances. The most frequent steps are walking, jumping, waltz and polka steps. Turning, intertwining, going through and changing places are the dominant figures. Purely men's dances are not very popular in Lithuania.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century game dances were gradually replaced by ring dances, Young people liked polkas and other fast-moving dances which came from Western Europe.

At the beginning of the 20th century the first folk dances were adapted for the stage. Since 1940 about 300 folk dances and ring dances have been adapted for the stage. Very many performances given by amateur companies open with the hat dance Kepurine, which is a greeting dance. Among the Lithuanians living in emigration the dance Kubilas "Tub" enjoys great popularity. The dance Klumpakojis "Dance in sabots" became popular at the end of the last century. Ethnographic and folklore groups are doing a lot to revive old folk dances. Each ethnic region has its favourite dances. Several dances, such as Bitute "Little Bee", Noriu miego "I feel so sleepy", Suktinis "Twirler" and Zilvitis "Osier Tree" are popular in all parts of Lithuania.



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Next: FOLK ART Previous: Musical instruments

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.