From legendary folk dance to world-class ballet, Russia has a worldwide reputation for dance stretching back centuries. As any Russian would tell you, it is in their blood, and has become an intrinsic part of Russia’s national identity. As our way of paying homage to this much-loved art form, we will teach you about five Russian dances, from soaring leaps to high kicks and squats.
When you think of ‘Russian dancing’ your mind probably conjures a man in a furry hat, doing a seemingly impossible, tip-toe squatted Can-can. The good news is that you’re right! This infamous dance isn’t simply a cartoon caricature of Russian culture, but the genuine thing; called, the prisyádka. The dance is an Eastern Slavic folk dance, not Cossack as many people assume. The moves originated centuries ago as a form of athletic competition, where excited onlookers would place bets as to which dancers would Kazotsky kick the most times, kick the highest or who might lose balance first. Reputation, masculinity and even fortunes have been won and lost for the sake of a Russian squat dance, and prisyádka is just the tip of the pointe shoe when it comes to the fascinating cultural history of Russian dance moves.
If you lack the balancing skills or leg muscles needed for successful squat dancing, you could attempt the gravity-defying ‘Russian Split’. This move, seen famously in figure skating routines performed by world-class skater Sasha Cohen, is a gazelle-like leap, achieving a straddle split five feet up in the air. Whilst these splits are considered ‘basic’ moves in the figure skating world, they are far from easy and when performed well and with height, they are breathtaking. In fact, a version of the Russian Split called the ‘Grande Jeté’ is one of the most exciting moves a ballerina can perform on stage. No wonder the best ballerinas in the world are Russian.
So perhaps not everyone can Kazotsky Kick or Russian Split, but there is good news for those of us who are less athletic. If you have little fingers, then this next dance could be perfect for you. The ancient Khorovod dance is documented for at least the last 1000 years in Russian and probably originates as far back as the dancing of Chorus groups in Ancient Greece. To get the moves right, you simply link pinkies with a fellow dancer and weave around the dance floor in a circular motion. In Belgorod, the locals achieved a world record of 2511 dancers in one Khorovod. But mind your geography, as in the Northern regions of Russia the dance is known to be gentle and restrained, but in the South, the dance has a more exciting reputation for hot-blooded frenetic movements and complex patterns.
“But it is so hard to find a dance partner” I hear you cry. Well, should you find yourself in a dance hall where the number of women far outnumber the men then show no fear, simply request a ‘Troika’, a wholesome ménage a trois. Named after the traditional Russian ‘Troika’ chariots pulled by three horses, one man and two women imitate a prancing horse, much as you may have done as a child pretending to ride. With plenty of bouncing and elegant hoof work, you then duck under each other’s arms in a pleasing pattern. It’s a sociable and light-hearted folk dance that gives everyone a turn.
If you have no skill whatsoever, but possess determined enthusiasm for Russian cultural dances, then try the simple and passionate Barynya dance. Performed to lewd and humorous poem songs called ‘chastushkas’ in alternating tempos, this dance simply requires an un-choreographed, but heartfelt stomp around the dance floor. I think most of us can manage that at least.
So, there you are, five Russian dance moves for you to practice in your living room before you visit the real Russia and encounter these dances first-hand. But maybe wrap up the more valuable ornaments first!