Carpatho-Rusyn Folk Dance

Copyright © 1997 by Jerry J. Jumba and used here WITH permission.
Any other use of this material, or any other material authored by Jerry Jumba, is strictly prohibited and a violation of international copyright law.

The art of folk dance in Carpathian Rus' goes deep into its Slavic roots and draws upon the experience of village and city life in the Carpathian Mountain environment. It has been influenced profoundly by religious and political history, and as well by the interesting geographic fact that Carpathian Rus' contains the exact geographic center of Europe. (This is the town of Kostylivka on the Chorna Tysa River in the former Marmarosh County -- now in the Rachov District.) Border lines have changed many times around Carpathian Rus', but today the homeland of Rusyn dancing is in three adjacent areas known as the Transcarpathian District of western Ukraine, the Presov Region of northeast Slovakia, and the Lemko Region of southeast Poland. A conservative estimate gives the total Rusyn population as 1,700,000, including the Rusyns of the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia and descendants of Rusyns in North America.

Village life in Carpathian Rus' encouraged a receptive mentality for community singing and dancing for many centuries. Songs and dances were a treasured commodity as an important part of a culture that provided a process of renewal and resiliency in community living. Throughout their history Carpatho-Rusyns were deprived of political independence and a reasonable standard of living. Since the 7th century Carpathian Rus' has been governed by some sixteen administrations of which only one was self-governing. Religion, traditions, customs, and song and dance were critically important to the survival of Rusyn society.

The natural expression of Rusyn dance is found in the events of the yearly cycle involving folk rituals which included young adult games, weddings, birthdays, christenings, children's games, shepherds' dances, recruiting, harvest, the spinning bee, and Christmas.

The Khorovod is a women's dance that contains lyrics and movements derived from ancient Slavonic times. The melodies are rather haunting and beautiful. This dance has walking and circle figures which embellish folk rituals such as the greeting of spring, the death of winter, the celebration of the winter solstice, and the celebration of harvest.

The Karichka, Kruhlyk or Koleso is a lively and popular circle dance form which most often includes singing and a second tempo which is quicker. It is used by various age and gender groupings, but in some areas it is more often danced by women. Some variant terms are: koljeso, kolesko (little circle), and kruzhok.

There are dances with implements such as Fljashkovyj Tanec -- the Bottle Dance -- which is especially performed at weddings, summer village dances, and harvest time. The Palychkyj Tanec is a somewhat gymnastic shepherds' stick dance which now is performed mostly in the traditional Bethlehem Play where the shepherds honor the Christ Child. The Sokyra Tanec is the skillful and always dangerous axe dance that originates with the foresters of the Carpathian Mountains. The axe dance is also called Tanec Lisorubov or Hajdukovyj Tanec -- Forester's Dance. This dance is also associated with two freedom-loving Rusyn "Robin Hoods": Nykolaj Shuhaj and Il'ko Lypej.

Several forms of Rus'ka Pol'ka (Rusyn polka) exist throughout the Presov Region. The Chirjana Tanec is a flirtatious trios' dance in which partners switch places in order to meet a new partner. Vykruchena and Vechurka are a type of women's dance that feature stamps, steps, and spins. Medvid' or Medved'ku Tanec is the sportive and acrobatic Bear Dance in which dancers skillfully execute steps in the style of the Carpathian mountain bear. Chapash is a men's dance using rhythmic claps, kicks, slaps, and hops. It is derived from Verbunk, an Austro-Hungarian recruiting dance. The Rusyn Chardash is a couples' dance with a slow and then contrasting fast tempo. It is derived from the Hungarian czardas. The Rusyn style uses its own music and is characterized by more swaying along with lighter and more buoyant movement.

Over the centuries, songs and dances are created within a specific political, educational, economic, and social climate. In 1360 the St. Nicholas Monastery (known as Chernecha Hora -- Monk's Hill) was rebuilt in Mukachevo by Prince Fedor Korjatovych. This became the foundation of religious and secular education in Carpathian Rus'. By the 1800s, monasteries and church schools existed in Krasnyj Brid, Bukova Hora, Malyj Bereznyj, Imstychovo, and Boronjava. Into the 1800s, dances were a natural and rich community expression which became valued in such a way as to become gradually integrated into the curriculum of the Rusyn Greek Catholic school system. The teaching of Carpathian chant and some partitura singing was organized in these centers of learning. In 1833 Konstantyn Matezons'kyj established the first 40 voice choir at the Rusyn Greek Catholic Seminary of Uzhhorod. Six years later another Matezons'kyj choir was established in Mukachevo by a lay people's organization affiliated with the Chernecha Hora Monastery. Other choirs were established in Khust, Svaljava, Berehovo, Sevljush (now Vynohradiv), Korolevo nad Tysoju, Verec'kyj, Presov, Bardejov, Medzilabirci, Svidnyk, and even Marmarosh Syhot (which is now in Romania). The repertoire included religious and folk music. These choirs were followed by the organization of local dance ensembles.

The shaping of the Rusyn national identity became enhanced considerably in June of 1849 when the Rusyns fed and entertained the Tsarist Russian troops who had crossed the Carpathian Mountains into a turbulent Austria-Hungary. They had come to assist the Habsburg Empire in ending the Hungarian revolution of 1848. The Tsarist troops were amazed at such organized singing and dancing from the Rusyn population.

After 1849, native song and dance could be performed formally in public places without governmental restrictions or reprisals, however, the cultural renaissance of this area lasted until 1868. After 1868 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy began an official policy of Magyarization which brought Rusyn cultural progress to almost nothing by 1918. The Monarchy collapsed in 1918, and in 1919 a second Rusyn cultural revival began. This continued until 1939-1940 when the strife of World War II began to touch Subcarpathian Rus'. In that time period Subcarpathian Rusyns were a semi-autonomous member nation (as Podkarpatska Rus') unified with the Czechoslovak Republic. Cultural organizations such as the Prosvita (Enlightenment) Society and the Dukhnovych (b. 1803, d. 1865, Rusyn national awakener) Society organized and sponsored folk art groups, drama groups, and reading rooms.

In 1945 after World War II, the political boundaries of Carpathian Rus' changed to its present situation. A difficult recovery period in the newly established socialist republics after World War II eventually led to the government promotion of folk art ensembles in the early 1950s. An enthusiastic league of local ensembles and the Pioneer Palaces of Culture provided song and dance training for young people. Experienced folklore workers began teaching with methodical materials in order to train leaders of ensembles as choreographers and conductors. Several folk art festivals were established. Today in 1986 the 31st annual Svidnyk Festival in Slovakia continues as a centerpiece for Carpatho-Rusyn song and dance culture as it hosts Rusyn ensembles from Slovakia, Transcarpathia, Poland, and the Vojvodina region in Yugoslavia. The Rusyns of Slovakia have the famous PUL'S ensemble (formerly the Duklja Ensemble, established 1955) of Presov as their professional champion. In Transcarpathia, the merited Transcarpathian National Ensemble and Choir (established 1945) of Uzhhorod is highly regarded for its artistic and professional performances throughout Europe.

Since 1945, a great many dances that were known only in their regions or in a few close villages became known and shared throughout Carpathian Rus'. For example, this is especially true in Transcarpathia where we have dances such as Tropotjanka from Svaljava. This dance is characterized by shoulder holds, circles, lines, lively footwork and sometimes a buoyant syncopation. Bereznjanka is a women's dance from Velykyj Bereznyj. Bubnars'kyj Tanec from Velykyj Rakovec' is a dance in which the couples take signals from a bass drum which is in the middle of the dance area. Huculs'kyj Tanec from Jasinja is a vivacious couple dance with various solo figures. Rakovec'kyj Kruchenyj is a crossing dance from the Irshava district. Other lively dances include Skakana Tanec, Dubo Tanec (from Tjachovo), Chynadijka (from Chynad'ovo) and Rakivchanka (from Rachov) in the Rusyn Hutsul area.

Two of the chief exponents of Rusyn dance culture in Transcarpathia have been Ivan Popovych, followed by Klara Kerechanyn Balog. They are choreographers and ethnographers who look for and find forgotten Transcarpathian dances. This provides a great service in the development of the folk arts. Klara Balog feels that is the duty of those who take this culture to develop and enrich it. She states, "The choreographer-artist must understand a body of characteristics before preparing material for performance. Specific musical accompaniment, singing, costumes, time, place, and nature of the occasion all give a unique body of human characteristics that bring the substance and structure of life to an artistic creation."

-- Jerry Jumba is a Carpatho-Rusyn music, dance and culture specialist. He has taught courses and given seminars for the past 25 years and he has helped to establish nine Carpatho-Rusyn folk ensembles. This article grew out of his study tour of the Soviet Union during 1983 when he was invited to research Carpatho-Rusyn culture as a guest of the Soviet government. Mr. Jumba's writings have appeared in publications of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, and the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. He has also been involved as an instructor in the Archeparchial Cantor School.

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