Lithuanian Dance and Ethnography

It is well known that ritual movement, play and dance are all closely connected to each other and to many ranges of human daily being like religion, world-view, traditions, art, historical, cultural, economical circumstances and so on. Lithuanian dance and ethnography is a significant cultural heritage. Former dance and ethnography traditions not only interest scientists and explorers, but also influences the nowadays professional creators of visual art.

First of all, it should be mentioned that the strong belief in parallel of birth and death, of christening and wedding fests, of daily routine and season works as well as celebrations was felt and cherished in historical Lithuanian daily life. Some facts suggest that ritual dancing was very important for Balts already. It might sound strange, but Balts were dancing and playing during burial.  This pagan tradition was even propagated in christened lands for some time.

Dancing round, clapping, tramping, spinning and even jumping formed the pretty swashbuckling valedictory with the decedent.  First suppressions of ritual burial dancing in Christianity appeared in the 6th century, when the sentence of St. Augustine was declared by the church : “Dancing is the circle where there is an evil in the middle”. Dancing was accredited to be the pagan tradition of infidels. In turn, Lithuanian pagans believed that dancing during burial helps for the soul of the decedent to transmigrate into another body.

During burial the most popular dancing forms were ritual circles, horseman races, dancing backwards. Circle symbolized valediction and sacrificing of the decedent, racing was a macabric competition to win the property of the dead, dancing backwards symbolized the preservation of the house where the decedent died. When the new life used to born, various walks were propagated. Slow walking while singing, jumping, lifting of baby during christening, cheerful joy of women when the mother first come to bathhouse after childbirth, various games like “Wolf Tale”, “Ring giving”, “Beat the Žiužis“ were played.

A very interesting rituals were used during initiations of juveniles to the world of grownups. These dances were full of sexuality and eroticism. Ancestry believed that the magic energy of young people is very strong and the awaken sexuality will guarantee not only prolificacy, but also fecundity for the next year. These dances remained wedding imitation. Two young people were set together, they had to swing, imitate marriage, charm each other with their untraditionally sexual appearance and after all, lay in the specially prepared barn for the whole night. Shy describers of Lithuanian traditions did not write down what the young couple used to do that night in the barn. Perhaps the richest dancing culture was in Lithuanian weddings. Not only special dances and games of matchmaking, but also of such moments like “the first dance” of the just married couple, gathering the bride and the groom into couple, covering the bride with the veil, present giving, dances and games of various wedding actors… The wedding fests used to be very loud.  In addition to this, dancing was a strong and well appreciated traditions during various season jobs like haymaking, rye harvest, flax puller and combing and so on. Moreover, various calendar events were also mentioned while playing and dancing.

The really deep and rich Lithuanian dance heritage formatted the nowadays dancing culture which is characterized by inward emotional energy. Typical Lithuanian dance has a music of moderate tempo, symmetric jumps of not very large interval. The most famous paired Lithuanian dances are polkas, grinders, dances named “Šokinėkit, berniukai“ (Jump, Boys), „Kiškelis“ (The Bunny), „Pjoviau šieną“ ( Cut the Hay) and so on.  The main movements and steps do not differ much from those of neighboring countries, however, Lithuanian folk dance owns a unique character.

Nowadays not only the folk dance, but also modern dance and ballet are very popular in Lithuania. The most famous club of sport dance is “Žuvėdra“ which 4 times became European and 4 times World champion. Well known young artists like Eglė Špokaitė, Andželika Cholina, Nerijus Juška, Gytis Ivanauskas are the people who create the nowadays Lithuanian dance. Despite the fact that art is not well supported by government, they try to do their best as they know that art is supported and upheld by society.