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Sword dances

The kraljice or queens – the sword dance that had existed in northern Pannonian region of Croatia and in Slavonia until the mid-20th century, has been performed exclusively by women as a part of the Whitsuntide customs. The queens' procession was always accompanied by a bagpiper (gajdaš), or, in more recent times, by tambura-players. When making their rounds of the village, the queens, also called ljelje, sing special songs and perform their dance when they stop in front of the houses. Because of the interesting female sword dance they are often presented on the stage. The figures are performed with the rattling and crossing of swords, dancers passing under the raised swords, and the like. The wedding theme is emphasized. Some of the girls are dressed as kings – kraljevi, while the others are dressed as queens. Other roles are of those of the flag-bearer, the bridesmaid and best man, as well as that of the collector of gifts.

At carnival time the sword dance in the form of a contradance – an isolated example of such a dance in the southern part of Croatia – is performed on the Pelješac peninsula. This dance is performed by a male group that dresses in face-covering white veils. Half of them play the role of females, and the other half of males. In their carnival wedding procession, they do the rounds of the village Putnikovići hamlets, performing their dance for a wedding (svatovka), accompanied by the lira, a traditional three-stringed instrument. They have to be mute all the time. Only the performers playing male roles are armed with swords, and they hold them raised and resting on their own right shoulder during the dance.

The chain sword dances were fashionable throughout Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, and were also performed in several of the Dalmatian towns. They have survived up to the present day on the Pelješac peninsula, and on the islands of Lastovo and Korčula. The chain sword dances in the villages of the island of Korčula are performed by the kumpanije - male societies - from which the dances take their names - kumpanije, or moštre. These dances are organised at Carnival-time. In some of the villages, an ox is ritually slaughtered for the occasion and there is a feast. The dancers are accompanied by a bagpipe (mijeh) and drum and perform various figures. After the chain sword dance is completed, young women join the dancers and together they perform the tanac dance.

On the island of Lastovo the male group of dancers performs the chain sword dance pokladarsko kolo. Apart from the male variant of the dance with swords, one also finds that the woman of Lastovo perform their own version of the same dance, holding kerchiefs in place of the swords in the male dance. A similar chain dance with kerchiefs instead of swords, kolo sv. Tripuna is performed by members of the Boka mariners, a male society hundreds of years old from Boka Kotorska.

The third type or sword dances – mock combat dance Moreška is performed in the town of Korčula. This is believed to have spread from Spain throughout almost all of Europe, as a symbol of the conflict between the Spaniards and the Moors. Historical sources speak of the dance having been performed in the Dalmatian towns of Split, Zadar, Trogir, Dubrovnik, and Korčula. When danced in Korčula, the dance depicts the struggle between the Moors and the Turks. The dancers are always dressed in sumptuous red robes – naturally, "white" always wins out over "black.”

Source: HrvatskaZora.com


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