Folk Dance – Russia

My mom said in her Russian community, all children had to have at least one artistic talent. The youth were expected to entertain their elders.

Her specialty was Russian folk dancing. The boys and girls who learned this dance were around 11 years old.

The costumes were very distinct. Boys wore special tunics, belts, and leggings. Girls donned elaborate headdresses adorned with real flowers and ribbons on each side. Both wore a lot of embroidery on the sleeves and aprons and danced in special boots.

The dance was passed on in the churches from the older women and performed on social occasions. The girls would dance in a circle with the boys doing kicks, leg lifts, and squats called “yesginka” in the center. Most of the time, they would dance to Balalaika music.

It’s interesting to me that this dance, unlike most folk dances, was not necessarily performed in a celebratory fashion. Instead, it was more to please the adults at a social gathering.

This concept speaks to the level of discipline and familial hierarchy in Russian culture, which contrasts greatly to American society, where kids are never forced to pick up a hobby merely to entertain guests. This is an old-fashioned idea that maybe prevailed in previous centuries in America, but certainly not during my mother’s time.

Perhaps this forced acquisition of a “talent” was a way to teach discipline Russian children. My mom also mentioned how some kids had to memorize long Russian poems by authors like Pushkin and recite them from memory. That must have been incredibly difficult to accomplish, and is certainly not something we even consider a kid capable of doing in America.