A brief tour of Russia – through dance!

Folk dance is an important part of Russian culture. Traditional Russian folk dance has its origins in various ethnic groups, including the Slavs and Tatars.

Some of the first Russian folk music and dance appeared around the 10th century, when the Slavic tribes moved into Russia. As other countries invaded the country, the cultural mix of music and dance they brought with them helped develop Russian folk dances.

Many of these early dances were performed by the lower classes, the upper classes watching the performances rather than joining in themselves.

Costumes were beautifully designed with great detail. Typically, clothing was based on specific events, such as holidays, and would vary between events. Women wore holiday headdresses, embroidered blouses, belts and ornamented aprons. Men wore shirts, a belt, narrow trousers and high boots. The colour red was incorporated into many of the costumes because of its association with beauty in the Russian tradition.

Russian folk dance traditions continue to play an important part in the culture of Russia's many ethnic groups. For example, the Ballets Russes invokes Russian folk dances and music in its performances.

Although most Westerners immediately think of ‘Cossack dancing’ (properly called the Ukrainian Hopak stage dance), where the dancers squat down with arms folded and kick their legs out in front of them, there are many other traditional Russian folk dances, including:

  • Khorovod, a traditional Slavic art form that combines both a circle dance and chorus singing.
  • Barynya, a traditional Russian folk dance that combines chastushka (a traditional folk poem) with spirited dancing. The dancing usually has no set choreography and consists mostly of elaborate stomping and squatting. The refrain “Barynya, barynya, sudarynya-barynya” (landlady, landlady, madam-landlady) is also typically repeated throughout the dance.
  • Kamarinskaya, a traditional Russian folk song and dance that was used in Mikhail Glinka’s orchestral work ‘Kamarinskaya’ (1848).
  • Chechotka, a traditional Russian ‘tap dance’ performed in Lapti (bast shoes) to the accompaniment of a Bayan (accordion).
  • Karelian Dance, originating from the Karelian peoples of the present-day Republic of Karelia, Leningrad Oblast and Finland.
  • Ingush Dance, from the native ethnic group of the North Caucasus who predominantly inhabit the Russian Republic of Ingushetia. Closely related culturally and linguistically to their Chechen neighbours, music, song and dance are highly regarded in the Ingush culture.
  • Tatar Dance – Russia’s largest ethnic minority, there are around 5.5 million Tatars, centred mainly around the Kazan (Volga) region. These ethnic Tatars (Bulgars) have managed to preserve their language and culture, which includes a wide range of traditional folk dance.

Almost every region of this magnificent country has its own traditional style of dance (Bashkir, Chuvash, Kalmyk and so on). To experience Russia’s traditional dance culture first-hand, the best option is to visit the country yourself. And for all your travel and accommodation needs, you know where to go – RNTO!