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
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
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.
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.”8 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.
Translated into English by Nadezhda Tsyba. “Russian clothing”. Accessed September 13, 2017. https://www.rusclothing.com/blog/khorovod-folk-dance-of-russia/.
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.
“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.