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“A Dance around the Sun” — the Meaning behind Traditional Russian Round Dances

slavic round dance

Round dance in Romania, a painting by Theodor Aman (1831-1891). Public domain image found here.

Russian round dances are a popular form of ancient folk dance that comes from the Slavic tradition, commonly performed at festivals and pagan celebrations.1 Round dances can be found in all Slavic cultures, and in Russia this ritual dance has remained particularly popular. In the modern day, this dance is known as “khorovod,” which is derived from old Russian, meaning “moving around the sun.”2

Traditional round dances are said to be an expression of the sun and the universe.3 These dances are quite varied, ranging from simple circular formations to choreography mimicking celestial movements and universal principles, such as for example the process of creation, as well as patterns echoing ancient labyrinths when seen from above.4

Slavic Round Dances

A round dance performed during a festival in Russia. Photo by Димон Рышков [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Many dances incorporate various formations that feature symbols of the ancient Religion of the Sun, such as for example the circle, the astronomical sun symbol, spirals, serpentine movements, swastikas, and so on, which for onlookers creates the effect of observing a “cosmic” performance.

For example, one dance is described in the following way: “women stand in a circle and move from east to west, as the Sun goes across the sky.”5

Another more complex dance from Northern Russia (where these dances are said to be typically slower, more meditative, and expressive), is described below. In this dance, a strict sequence of events is observed, with each participant having a specific role, performed to a specific rhythm:6

“First, all the participants form up in a large stationary square as “Columns,” which symbolize the four primary elements of nature (fire, air, water, and earth). The entire world, the entire universe is formed as a result of their mixing and interaction.

Beginning in a leisurely manner, from figure to figure, from action to action, the tempo of the round dance gradually increases, the rhythm becomes faster.

The process of creating the world is demonstrated by the second figure, which flows directly from the first—the “Rein”—that constitutes a wavy line (the cosmic waters of undifferentiated chaos), gradually reducing in amplitude and becoming a point—the Cosmic Egg (in Old Slavic mythology, the Universe has the form of an egg).

The second figure symbolizes the disruption of the primordial equilibrium, polarization, and the division into masculine and feminine principles, namely, the moment when the formation of energies within the universe begins. Since Neolithic times, a wavy line has symbolized the waves of the ocean of Chaos, the abyss of the cosmic waters, the confluence of the first elements. Everything is born from it and, ultimately, everything returns to it, this is the beginning and end of everything that exists.

Then follows the third figure, called the “Braid,” which is represented in the form of a spiral originating from a central point (the nucleus of the Cosmic Egg), gradually becoming larger in size. Just as a craftsman who gradually weaves his basket from a central point, the Higher Intelligence of the Universe creates the universe from a point. The fourth figure is a “Circle,” showing thereby the cyclical nature of the cosmos and the universe over the entire course of its existence.

The fifth figure is “Side to side.” When it is performed, all the participants, having been divided into men and women, form themselves up in a line opposite each other; they in turn come together (and in so doing the men and women come into immediate contact, symbolically adjusting each other’s clothing), and then again move apart.

This figure demonstrates the psychic activity of the universe, expressed in the form of the interaction of the two first principles—the male (sky) and the female (earth). Everything in the world exists thanks only to their constant interaction. The last figure—”To the four sides”—completes the process of forming the universe. It is a square (the four corners of the world), which demonstrate the birth of life, and the stability and harmony of the world as revealed in time and space.”

~ The Earth: An Online Monthly Newspaper 7

In The Path of the Spiritual Sun some of these cosmic principles are explained in detail, and it is interesting to consider how these universal patterns and forces have been incorporated into various ancient traditions and expressed in the form of ritual dances. For example, when it comes to creation, it is explained that:

“The waters are the feminine aspect of creation, found symbolized in Mother goddesses throughout the world, and the spirit moving upon is the masculine aspect, symbolized by Father gods.

These dual creative forces can be found within every atom as negatively polarized particles called electrons and positively polarized particles called protons, and have been symbolized in ancient creation myths throughout the world as a great Mother and great Father who come together to make creation.

They are the dual masculine and feminine aspects of the creator that underlie and give rise to everything in the universe.”

~ The Path of the Spiritual Sun 8

Likewise, the number four is also explained as connected to creation in the following manner:

“Four forms the foundation of life and encompasses the bounds of creation. It is found in the four cardinal directions; the four points of the cross of the year, which are the solstices and equinoxes; the four elements; the dimensions of our physical world which are length, width, height, and time; and the four material bodies within each person—physical, vital, astral, and mental.”

~ The Path of the Spiritual Sun 9

Below is an example of a round dance performed by the popular professional Russian dance ensemble “Berezka.” This round dance is also known as “Berezka,” meaning “birch” in Russian, where symbols such as the astronomical symbol of the sun, spiral, swastika, etc. can be observed within the formations:

Another interesting dance by the Berezka ensemble, where the participants are wearing dresses featuring a sun symbol known as the three rings of the source of creation symbol, and where symbols such as the “egg”, swastikas, as well as patterns mimicking twinkling stars can be seen below:

Unfortunately over time the deeper meaning of these ancient dances has largely been lost. According to Daria Krylova, an author at Russia Beyond, by the 1700s, centuries after the advent of Christianity in Russia, “the khovorod was already no longer considered a pagan rite, but a form of entertainment for young people and a way for them to meet potential partners.”10 However, glimpses of the spiritual principles encoded and transmitted through these ancient dances can still be observed in some forms of the round dance today, and by regaining an understanding of the significance of these ritual dances, their sacred meaning can be revived and understood anew.


Lucia Beznik contributed research to this article.


  1. Translated into English by Nadezhda Tsyba. “Russian clothing”. Accessed September 13, 2017. https://www.rusclothing.com/blog/khorovod-folk-dance-of-russia/

  2. Krylova, Daria. Russia Beyond: Arts & living. “8 facts about the khorovod, Russia’s oldest dance.” Russia Beyond. January 05, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2017. https://www.rbth.com/arts/2016/12/07/8-facts-about-the-khorovod-russias-oldest-dance_654295

  3. “Russia: Traditional Slavic Round Dances.” The Earth: An Online Monthly Newspaper. August 2012. Accessed September 13, 2017. http://www.ringingcedarsofrussia.org/anastasia/round-dance.html

  4. Ibid. 

  5. Translated into English by Nadezhda Tsyba. “Russian clothing”. 

  6. “Russia: Traditional Slavic Round Dances.” 

  7. Ibid 

  8. Belsebuub and Lara Atwood, The Path of the Spiritual Sun: A Guide to the Solstices and Equinoxes (Mystical Life Publications, revised second edition, July 2017), 89. 

  9. Belsebuub and Lara Atwood, The Path of the Spiritual Sun, 117-118. 

  10. Krylova, Daria. Russia Beyond: Arts & living. “8 facts about the khorovod, Russia’s oldest dance.” 

About the author

Jenny Belikov

Jenny Belikov is a researcher and practitioner of the ancient religion of the sun and the Managing Editor for The Spiritual Sun, where she also researches and writes about ancient sacred sites; spiritual texts and practices; the latest discoveries in archeology, archeoastronomy, and related sciences; as well as the exploration of various facets of the lost civilization of the sun.

25 Comments

  • Though I think I may be the only one who doesn’t particularly like the ‘floating’ effect in the dances (can’t help but think they have roller blades under those skirts!) I DO really like to participate in round dances! 🙂

    As a kid growing up in Wales we used to always get dressed up and dance around in circles for holidays and festivals, making archways and lines and moving to and fro in rows of girls and boys. There was something so joyful in those simple steps and moves – I’m sure now there must have been a higher meaning at the kernel of what we were doing!

    This is a little example of the kind of dancing that’s still quite common in the UK, from a midsummer festival.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dScekjYL5-s

    • Well that was fun to watch, Ella — made me want to up and dance 🙂

      I remember enjoying round dances and line dances as a kid as well. They were really joyful and uplifting. I had no idea there might be a special spiritual meaning at their root either at that time.

  • Thanks for this post, Jenny and Lucia! These dances are beautiful, and that hovering effect made my jaw drop.

    This whole research into dance is quite revealing to me. Coming from a Slavic background, I’ve danced our local types of circle dance (‘horo’ as we call it) all throughout my life, but I never knew much about its deeper significance and origin.

    Now that I think about it, the circle dances that we have go counter clockwise (as I’ve heard is the movement of the planets in relation to the sun’s north pole) and some can also go into a spiral shape. Really interesting to piece these things together. 🙂

    Thanks!

    • Yes, isn’t it 🙂 As I mentioned to Ella in a comment above, I also danced in many circle dances and related traditional folk dances throughout my childhood and early teenage years, but had no idea they could be so full of meaning with the right choreography. I guess maybe that’s the merit of encoding spiritual expressions into festival dances — they can be enjoyed and performed by people from all walks of life, and even if the meaning isn’t always understood by everyone it can be carried it forward for those that do.

  • All this symbolism is quite interesting indeed!
    It’s also interesting that this kind of dances are focusing on the formation of the group and not on the steps so much. It’s like a folklore classical ballet with a certain type of choreography. It’s also like sending a message to someone who is looking from above 🙂

    I checked also the Khorovod dances in a circle and yeh they have this meditative, relaxed style you said.

    Thanks for putting all this information together.

    • I was thinking about the view from above as well. I’ve seen some videos where the choreography is captured from up top and it was quite interesting to see massive human-formed spirals and other symbolic formations. Almost crop circle-like 🙂

  • Thanks Jenny, it did feel that the Berezka dance had a cosmology feel to the movements. In one of the movements there was also something of a fibonacci sequence movement, like how the fern unfolds but in the movement it was as though it was closing , as though it was returning to it source.

    I was wondering what the birch tree may represent since they are holding a branch of one, and it was interesting to learn online that the birch tree is symbolic or associated with the Mother Goddess and with the planet Venus. In this link, http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/myogham_birchpage.html, it explains its old symbolic meaning of new beginnings, “Birch is the first of the tree symbols, for the first moon cycle in the Ogham Tree Calendar. Known by the celts as Beith (pronounced ‘bay’) it is the symbol of new beginnings, regeneration, hope, new dawns and the promise of what is to come.
    The tree carries ancient wisdom and yet appears forever young.
    The Druids were believed to have used the sap to make a spiritual cup for the celebration of the Spring Equinox.”

    So perhaps this dance movement represents the story of creation in more ways than one? I wonder what the blue scarf represented?

    It’s interesting to consider and hope find out how many more cultures around the world carry remnants of the ancient religion of the sun in their songs, dances and art; kept alive if only through tradition while keeping their message hidden and waiting to be uncovered like an old archeological site?

    • Hi Layla. I tried to find some information about the meaning of the Birch tree in Russia (and in the Slavic tradition in general), and it appears that although it’s one of the most beloved symbols / trees, the original significance of it has been lost. I’m not entirely sure if/how it’s related to the Druid tradition though (could be, but maybe not..) — interesting thought though.

      The article where the dance symbology is explained mentions that rings of Birch trees, like you know when a group of trees naturally grows in a circular formation, and that such Birch “rings” are considered to hold a special energy. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but just relaying that this is what that article shared about the significance of Birch as perhaps related to the dances.

      Birch sap is a popular drink today as well btw — especially in Europe. I’ve never heard of it being used in a spiritual context though, which is very interesting.

  • Thanks Jenny and Lucia. That quote explaining the forces of creation symbolism behind the dances is amazing! I wonder where it’s from or how it finally reached that person who wrote it down.

    I like the form of spiritual group dance, not even necessarily by professionals like this but anyone, in celebrating the solstice for example. It’s something one has to actually get up and do, a beneficial activity for the modern-increasingly hooked up to the screen- person.

    Nice that these things have survived, at least to some degree, and also to see that revival groups and such are dancing them again. Would be so nice to see or join in person!

    • I know what you mean, Karim. I find certain forms of dance to be good mood lifters, and also a very meditative and creative activity in many ways. In an outdoor group round dance there can be a certain sense of joy and simplicity that comes along with the movement. Definitely different to being glued to a seat in front of a screen all day 🙂

      I was curious about the origin of the description as well. It appears to have likely come from a dance school, but I couldn’t really get any further coherent or useful information. I imagine, as with other spiritual dance traditions (such as for example the Odissi dances of India) that perhaps in some way it’s been passed down from teacher to student. From what I’ve seen explained, apparently the more spiritual meaning / symbols are better preserved in the northern dances. In the south they are more rhythmic and entertaining.

  • Thanks Jenny for further research into this. I really like the Berezka ensemble, they are such professionals and perfectionists! And the costumes in the second video are just breathtaking – how amazing they used solar symbology in such a prominent way on their dresses. The dresses have a very nice cut too.

    I also like the sliding movements very much, to me it exhibits the self-control, harmony, a “mathematical” sort of perfection you mentioned before Jenny, which reminds one of the harmony of movement that can be observed in the universe/stars.

    The trilling/warbling sound of the music is also interesting, and made me think if there is maybe more to a ‘trill’ sound as such than meets the eye (like for example it is also present in Andean or Andalusian music, which often sounds spiritual too).

    And the last but not least – what a great painting you found! 🙂

    • I like that painting as well 🙂

      I thought the same about the dresses in the second dance — they integrated the symbol very nicely. I also like the feel of the outfit in combination with the dance. Since it’s a northern dance, the outfits and movements really paint a beautiful picture of serene white vastness, the color of the moon and stars reflecting on the snow, the stillness and magic.

      I haven’t thought about the “trill”, but I think you’re onto something there 😮 Very interesting.

  • It’s so cool to see spiritual principles embodied in the art of dance! It seems the religion of the sun, although obscured, has been preserved in countless fragments throughout the world.

    Like others have commented, that “hovering” effect the first dancers produce is very unique. I really enjoyed that.

    • I know what you mean about that first point Mike. It’s amazing that every form of art and expression in the past seemed to have been geared towards passing on this important spiritual message – be it in music, dance, visual art, building construction, etc. It’s a shame that today this aspect is almost completely lost, whereby the main purpose of art and expression seems to be almost always to entertain (and often in base ways), make money, be functional only, or a combination of those factors. It’s quite a change of pace and meaning watching these dances as compared to what we get from most modern forms of dance today!

      • Yeah, it is regrettable to see the state of most modern art *shudders*, dance, or architecture. It makes some select modern music and art all the more special when you discover that the artist actually thought about their work consciously, with the intention of conveying something spiritually meaningful. Some of the modern music posted here is so refreshing.

        From another perspective, I guess the fact the messages are so well hidden in these small pieces here and there has allowed them to survive as long as they have… Given the hostility towards spiritual knowledge that has been rampant throughout history, I wonder if these small nuggets of knowledge would have made it to modern times if the meanings were more apparent.

  • Beautiful. Thank you Jenny for the research and links. The harmony, serenity, simplicity and innocence (in spiritual sense) is such a contrast to the heavy agitated western impoverishment. It’s a blessing to know that such pockets of spirituality still exist in the world, where feeding the essence is more attractive than brutal animal instincts.

  • It’s quite amazing to see symbols and principles of the religion of the sun expressed in traditional dance movements, conveying cosmic realities like the process of creation.

    The explanation of the dance that is cited here correlates so strongly — it really shows how cultures descended from the ancient religion of the sun carried its principles on in their cultures in lots of different ways — architecture, art, music, dance, mythology etc. It’s amazing that these Slavic traditions even survived this long, continuing on after christian conversion and through communist rule, even if the deeper meaning may no longer be understood in most cases.

    On a purely artistic level, the way these dancers move is amazing — when they move around in a circle in the first video, it looks like they are gliding or hovering over the floor — their elegance and poise is incredible, and the effect of them all moving in harmony like that is very special. I like the costumes better in the second video though, featuring the symbols of the sun.

      • That particular movement is something developed specifically by the Berezka emsemble apparently, and has been a signature movement for many years. Here’s an older example of this same dance being performed in 1964 (dance starts at around the 1 min mark).

        Personally, when I saw this dance for the first time I got the sense that with that movement the dancers are forming a moving “time belt” of sorts, or a chain of events set in motion. It’s definitely very unique.

  • These dances are really beautiful, and having a bit of understanding about what is encoded into them makes me appreciate the way they convey their messages even more.

    It makes me wonder how old this form of traditional dancing is. It could be that watching these careful movements is like getting a glimpse into a choreographed spiritual story from a thousand years ago, or perhaps even more.

  • The level of detailed symbolism in those dances that was described is pretty remarkable, especially as it aligns quite specifically with the Religion of the Sun in many respects.

    Interesting to think that non-written traditions like dance, storytelling, etc. can preserve knowledge like this over such a long time.

    The description also reminded me of the sacred movements that Gurdjieff reportedly learned about, especially as portrayed in the film Meetings with Remarkable Men. Those seem to be another example of how movement can be used to communicate spiritual principles (such as the one dance, which I recall seemed to relate to the three primary forces of creation).

    The idea of using the whole body to express something spiritual is very interesting, and this makes me curious to learn more about it. Although no one has yet accused me of being a good dancer, perhaps I’ll learn to be more coordinated 😉 .

    • I had the same thoughts about Gurdjieff too but am still learning about how the body can be used in a way to represent spiritual principles through dance.
      To see these dancers ‘floating’ around the stage, it reminded me of the way planets and stars move through space — without a ripple. I found it very engaging indeed!

  • This form of dance is so interesting!

    That’s very cool that there is this history and meaning behind it as well. I’ve always wondered what dancing that expressed or embodied cosmic principles would be like. This gives a pretty interesting example of how it could be done.

    Although I think I’d have to try the ‘simple circular’ formation first. 😉

    • Yes, totally — I thought this was an interesting example of something achievable, and something that can be done with many levels of dance and co-ordination in mind (i.e. simple and complex dances that anyone can participate in).

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