Dance Keeping Heritage & Culture Alive

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Circle dancing, sees dancers connecting, often through hand holding, in a circle, semicircle, or curved line. They move to the rhythm of singing or instruments.

The beauty of circle dance is its inclusivity. Accompanied by the relevant musical styles, it flexes in terms of catering for a full span of ages, abilities and fitness levels – creating a range of varied dance styles.

Circle dances vary from ancient, traditional formats to modern contemporary. The pace is anything from slow and meditative to lively and upbeat. You find some performed inside venues and others often outside and more connected with nature.

At DanceBibles, we love to explore the different dances from round the world and circle dancing is no exception. In this article we’ll dive into this fascinating dance, find out what makes it special, where it comes from and how you can get started.

How to Circle Dance

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·      Often the music will start quietly and will allow people to get into the mood

·      Typically one person begins the circle dance and others will follow as comfortable

·      Sometimes we will join hands with our neighbours. Often dancers present the left hand open palm rotated backwards to ‘give’. The right hand is presented with an open palm ‘to receive’

·      There are a number of common steps depending on the dance. Have a look at this glossary

Circle dance of Females in Slovakia in full regalia, with musical accompaniment behind them
Image of circle dancers by Jan Hrasko from Pixabay taken in Hriňová Slovakia

Typical Aspects of Circle Dancing

Inclusivity

Whatever your age and ability, there is a circle dance to suit. No partner needed, simple steps and a welcoming atmosphere. This dance truly has community at its heart. Unlike most other dance styles, circle dance is non-competitive. With this in mind, the genre is very understanding and forgiving. ‘Circle Dancing for All’ say ‘There are no mistakes, merely variations!’.

 

Connectedness

The circle is no coincidence. For many the circle has symbolism to everything of circularity. This could be life & death, the changing of seasons, or even a connection to the earth, giving unity and wholeness.

People are also physically connected in the dance through their touch, energy, artistic expression and movement as they move in unison. This has ancient traditions in social and cultural occasion. The result is a shared feeling of community spirit.

At it’s most basic level circle dancing is a highly social form of dance. You can come without a partner, meet new people and make friends. Circle dance is an opportunity to immerse yourself into a new group of often likeminded people.

Image of Shiva statue
Shiva creating the world by dancing. Image by sabinevanerp on pixlebay

Reflection

For many historically and today, Circle dance has had an element of reflection to it, with some of the slower paced dances having a meditative element of mental quietness woven in. This is increasingly making circle dance a go-to tool for therapy tool in various settings.

The reflections, depending on the occasion, whether that be self-reflection, can have a spiritual or religious layer to them also.

Some styles of circle dance will have a centre piece in the middle of the circle. This serves a practical purpose of keeping the circle in a steady shape but also has an alternative meaning for some. This may include being lit with candles or around a fire, with all the symbolism light can bring.

Fun

For all the potential symbolism, ritual and deeper meaning we may find in some types of circle dance, one common thread you find across virtually all of these is an approach which is light-hearted and fun.

 

Musical Styles and Dances

Circle dancing incorporates various musical styles to reflect the broad nature of its participation. These can be loosely grouped into:

·      Self-made rhythm – Elements such as sticks, bones and handmade sounds were present during early circle dances for percussion.

·      Folk Song – Folk songs and dance have had the largest  presence in circle dancing

·      Classical & Contemporary Music – Circle dance repertoire has expanded to include classical and contemporary music. This brings a new dimension circle dancing, allowing for it to appeal to new audiences and with different levels of skill and physicality. Many choreographers now create dances to well-known classical pieces which can be beautiful to behold.

·      Meditative – The mentally refreshing and wellness properties of circle dance are compelling. These are intricately connected to the choice of relaxing, rhythmical song guiding the dance.

History of Circle Dancing

Circle dancing is believed to be the oldest form of dance. Some of the highlights include:

·      3000BC, Ancient Egyptian – rock petroglyphs (carved pictures) of girls circle dancing

·      10th Century, Germany – dance of Reigen originates from early Christian festivals

·      12th Century, Bosnia – tombstones in the depict dancers in a chain holding hands

·      14th Century, Macedonia – chronicles and monastery descriptions in show men dancing with linked arms.  Giovanni Boccaccio describes men and women circle dancing to their own singing or accompanied by musician

·      1588, Constantinople – German Reinhold Lubenau, reports on circle dancing a Greek wedding on his travels

And circle dancing has continued to this day, preserving many of the stories, customs and traditions through the generations. Many of these are often not written down, but have been passed generation to generation across the centuries.

Male and female dancers hold hands in a traditional circle dance
Image by ctvgs from Pixabay

List of example of circle dances around the world:

There are so many cultural variations of circle dance that its beyond the scope of this post to capture them all here but here we list a few examples:

·      An Dro – a Circle Dance from Brittany, France – linking little fingers and swinging arms as the group is lead in a spiral of dance patterns.

·      Chain Dance – From the Faro Islands.

·      Danke – For example the Lawweeh, danced in a semi-circle at family celebrations in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Turkey.

·      Deuda – part of the cultural heritage of the Karnali Province, Nepal. Holding hands in a circle. The first group sings a question, whilst a second group then answers this.

·      Dhan Nach – (Often also known by the name ‘Yalang’, ‘Chalakma’ or‘Yalakma’ depending on local language) A folk dance from the Limbu region of Nepal, accompanied by a song called ‘Palam’. It’s roots traceable to scaring the birds away and celebrating the harvest.

·      English folk dance; you can find instructions and music for circles dances with names as wild as ‘Brawl’ and ‘The yellow cats jig’ on Colin Hume’s page

·      Farandole and Bourrée – are examples of French circle dances with distinct regional influences.

·      Fugdi – Performed by women around the Go region in India, often during Hindu religious festival. The name ‘Fugdi’ actually comes from there being no percussion to the dance, the dancers create a rhythm by blowing air in a sound of ‘Foo’.

·      Govend – A traditional Kurdish dance.

·      Hora – a highly energetic circle dance, found in the Balkans, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria and Israel at weddings and celebrations.

·      Kalamatianos  & Syrtos – performed at weddings in Greece & Cyprus, two variants with different pace and formality. Often handkerchiefs and used as part of the dances.

·      Khigga  – Assyrian circle dances, often performed at weddings, in either a line or a circle. It uses handkerchiefs embodied with beads and bells, as well as a ceremonial decorated cain.

·      Khorovod – Russian dances, traditionally performed during village gatherings and festive occasions. Each dance tells stories of local folklore and history, with Pagan origins and symbolism of moving around the sun.

·      Kolo – folk dance from Bosnia and Serbia holding hands or waists, with a stiff upper posture held throughout.

·      Kochari  – An Armenian folk dance, danced with hands across each others shoulders, in a closed circle.

·      Mayim Mayim dance; which celebrates the finding of water during 40 years of wandering in the desert.

·      Native American circle dances; serving various purposes like healing and preparation for war.

·      Nati & Harul– A lively Indian folk dance most popular in Himachal Pradesh and Himalaya region. In 2016,  9892 women danced Nati in their colorful Kulluvi dress, which is a world record.

·      Sacred Circle Dance – With a small centrepiece of flowers and dance, through the Findhorn Foundation, by Bernhard Wosien, starting in Scotland.

·      Sardana – A popular dance from Catalonia.

·      Sakela – a traditional Nepalese and Indian festival dance, connected to prayer for a good harvest and protection from natural disaster.

·      Syabru – a traditional Nepalese Himalayan folk dance, from within the Sherpa, Tamang and Yolmo communities at festivals and gatherings.

·      Tamzara  – An Anatolian folk dance with connected little fingers.

 

Final thoughts

Whilst circle dancing might not have the same individual skills elements at the level of other dance styles like Ballet, circle dance is about connectedness with the group. A true joy to watch or be part of. It’s beauty is in it’s intertwined links with rich song, customs and stories. Circle dances preserve history and culture to the point many are listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage lists (which are definitely worth checking out).

Give it a try and let us know how it goes. Happy circle dancing!

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Cover Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

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