The word kolo is an old Slavic word and it can be found in the same form in all the Slavic languages, meaning a wheel, circle, circuit. It also means a group of people associated or organised under the same interest, activity, or purpose; then a series of books published within a certain period; a series of sports competitions, matches occurring at regular intervals. There is also an electric circuit. But the word is most often associated with a circle dance, a type of folk dance (a chain of dancers holding hands, making a full or a broken circle), a group of people participating in such a dance, and once it used to be associated with a public gathering with dancing, a dance.
In the eastern regions of the Balkan Peninsula we can also find the words oroor horo in Macedonia and Bulgaria and also among the Serbs (southern Serbia) and in Montenegro. It comes from the Greek choros, meaning a dance, a gathering with a dance.
It can be said that circle dance is a Serbian national dance. Whenever there is any sort of celebration, the Serbs start a circle dance. In circle dancing people hold each other’s hands, making a chain, a union, following the same rhythm. It is danced in a circle, but often the chain is broken when others join in, extending the chain, or when it winds around the dancing area led by the leader. The leader leads the dance in a certain direction, so his role is a special one. The role of the last one in the line is also special. The circle dance leader is usually the best dancer or someone of a special status in practicing a particular folk custom (depending on the occasion).
There are also so-called “mute circle dances”, without music accompaniment (without instruments or singing, but the rhythm is given in other ways). Besides singing, circle dance is accompanied by music played on old instruments: a flute, a pipe (a herdsmen flute-like instrument), bagpipes (made of bellows), a kawala (an old reed instrument), a drum, timpani, and more recently an accordion, reed instruments and strings.
Circle dance existed long before Christianity was adopted, so no wonder the Orthodox Serbs kept it as their national dance. Once it used to be danced near churches, at war fronts, weddings and other occasions. It used to be so important that some would describe the Serbian community as a circle dance round the church.
Circle dance best reflects the Christian community spirit, where everything is an unbreakable whole, the community the supreme value, but without suppressing any individual traits. Everyone looks at everyone else in a circle, everyone is close to those next to them, but also everyone brings in something different.
Music and dance steps differ from region to region in Serbia. Almost every region where Serbs lived or still live have a special dance: the Morava dance (moravac); the Čačak dance (čačanka); the Užice dance (užičko) , the Banat dance, Bačka, Srem and so on … But then, it is all the same circle dance. Everyone dances, men and women, children, the elderly. Some dance better, some do not, but it does not matter.
In the 19th century, circle dance – as a dance reflecting joy of living and the strength of a community – started to be replaced by European dances introduced in Serbian town and cities. Balls of European fashion took over, with dances according to the urban taste of the time: the waltz, the mazurka, the polonaise, but also the King’s Circle Dance, Srbijanka, Kukunješte(Kukunyeshte). Gradually, the urban fashion made its influence on the rural people, so the village social gatherings changed. However, circle dancing has survived all the influences and is still danced vigorously – when an occasion is merry and bright. The dance chain can be endless, everyone’s invited – the Serbs and anyone else!
Hajd’ u kolo,
ko će tu da drema…
Brže, braćo, amo, amo,
Da se skupa poigramo!
I vi drugi, tamo, amo,
Amo da se poigramo!
Hvatite se kola toga,
Od višnjega je ono Boga!
(Circle Dance Lyrics from the poem Parting of School Friends by Branko Radičević)