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Slavonijo Dance Ensemble


Slavonijo Dance Ensemble formed in 1985 as the resident performing group of the Croatian American Cultural Center. The original membership was a mix of Croatian Americans and non-Croatian lovers of the culture. Later, in the 90s, recent Bosnian immigrants joined the group. This cultural mix has given the ensemble a special vitality which breathes life into our performances and other activities.

The mission of the group is educational, historical, cultural and social. Some dances we have learned from members of the group and from the Croatian American Cultural Center members, and others from professional dance ethnologists. In our presentation -- dance steps, music and costumes -- we try to be historically accurate and to convey the context in which the dances were originally done. We also attempt to convey the importance of community in folk dance, and whenever possible, we encourage audience participation in our performances.

John Daley, as Cultural Director for the Center, has provided the overall vision and leadership for the group, and acted as artistic director for a number of years. Neal Sandler was the first artistic director and helped to launch the group. Rasim Arnautovic, a professional choreographer recently arrived from Bosnia is the current artistic director. In addition, dance ethnologist and scholar Elsie Dunin has played a large part in the the development of the Ensemble as teacher, choreographer, consultant and friend.

Below is a description of the dances in our repertoire.


Starobosansko Kolo Danas is an example of a "silent dance", performed with no instrumental music accompaniment. The dance originated in the Glamoc Valley in Bosnia. It was performed at public gatherings, such as a local patron Saint's day, regional and national holidays, and weddings.

One of the implicit functions of dancing in the past was to test the health of the dancers, particularly unmarried women, before family arrangements were made for marriage. During this dance, families kept an eye on the village girls to see which one could dance the longest and jump the highest. It was not unusual for the men of the family to take turns dancing with the prospective bride to test her endurance. 

The silent dance has a dance leader/caller, or kolovodja, who is either male or female depending upon the requirements of the dance. In Starobosansko Kolo, first a female, then a male leads the dance. He or she gives verbal or movement cues to designate the change of steps, rhythm, dynamics or pattern of the dancing. The kolovodja is usually recognized as the most skilled and dynamic dancer within the dance group. 

Choreography for our version of the dance is based on Elsie Dunin's observation of the dance in the villages of the Glamoc Valley in the 1950s, and Jelena Dopudja's interviews with elderly persons from Glamoc who had danced Starobosansko Kolo in their youth. 

We performed this dance suite at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival in 1989 and 1992.

Olib Island (Croatia)

Olib is a small island in the Adriatic Sea off the Dalmatian coast. The inhabitants developed a dance unique to the island. Though few people are left on the island now, sizable communities of immigrants have settled in New York and San Francisco. The dance lives on and is done at the Croatian American Cultural Center when the people of Olib gather. The dance was taught to Slavonijo in 1988 by Slavo Dijanic and labanotated by Elsie Dunin.

Carnival, or Polklada as it is called in Croatia, is an important event in Olib. To launch the festivities a village king is elected on St. Stephen's day and, with his court of attendants or kavaleri, reigns over the twelve days of Carnival, replacing all civil authority for this time. His primary duty is to preside over the public feasting and drinking.

During Carnival, groups of costumed participants, maskari, take the celebration from house to house in the village, dancing the kolo, singing songs, eventually returning to the main square, or koledisce to perform satirical skits and comic antics. The people of Olib believe that it is good luck for dance, merriment and public celebrations to take place in the village square.

Korcula Island (Croatia)

The province of Dalmatia is well-known for the wealth and variety of cultural traditions and folklore forms which are preserved to this day. The island of Korcula, on the Dalmatian Coast, occupies a special place in this picture. Marco Polo was born in Korcula, when all of Dalmatia, including Korcula, was part of the Venitian Empire.

Despite the island's turbulent history, the people of Korcula are extremely proud of their Croatian heritage, which is reflected in their folklore. These islanders have maintained some of the older folk customs associated with Carnival festivities. 

In the early part of the century many people from Korcula immigrated to San Francisco, especially to the Portrero Hill area, where their descendants have kept the musical and dance traditions alive. In the 1930s - 1950s these dances were done at the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco. 

Carnival Suite. Korcula Islanders love to dance and appreciate a good dancer when they see one. Carnival is the most important time of the year for public dances. The festival officially ends with a community dance on the main square. The people promenade, sing, and do a variety of dances including the monfrina, pritiliza, and polka. A rendition of tanac, the oldest and most common folk dance of the island, always concludes the event. The kolovodja, or dance leader, calls the dance and decides who partners whom. The steps are free and light.

Moreska. The most significant and representative folklore form preserved on Korcula is the sword dance. Once common throughout Dalmatia it is now done only on Korcula Island. The best known sword dance is the Moreska, performed exclusively in Korcula City, the largest city on the island. A second sword dance, called the Kumpanija, is danced throughout the various towns of Korcula Island, especially Blato. It is danced most often during Carnival celebrations.

In spite of the impressive sword fighting, the dance is more than a stylized war dance. It stems from old pagan springtime fertility rites. The traditional Slavic figures of the kolo or circle symbolize the sun and new life. The king is sacrificed so winter will end and the crops will grow. The simple repetitive movement and the heterorhythmic music adds to the magical tension of the event.

Experts disagree as to when the sword dance began on Korcula, but they do agree that the dance predates the arrival of the Croatians on Korcula in the 9th Century. Some authorities propose that it was introduced by the Greeks who colonized the Croatian coast in the 6th Century BC. Interestingly, records of the Moreska are found only where the Greeks had colonies. Elements of the dance could have been introduced by sailors in the 1700's when trade was active between this area and the rest of Europe. There are similarities between Moreska and the sword dances done in Spain, called Morisca, and first recorded in Aragon, in 1149. These dances, representing defeat of the Moors, spread from Spain to Italy, Corsica, France, Flanders, Germany and England undergoing various transformations. 

The music for the dance is played on a bagpipe, or mih, and drum. The bagpipe we used in our performance is copied from an original one and is tuned in a scale that differs from our modern music. 

The Klapa singing in the performance is traditional throughout Dalmatia. Many towns on the island of Korcula have a Klapa group and continue the tradition of singing informally at social gatherings in this style. 

The Moreska has been danced periodically in San Francisco since before the turn of the century by the Croatian immigrants from Korcula. Some local families still have old costumes. The full dance includes seven figures and a folk drama and is danced in the villages of Korcula. 

The entire dance suite was performed at the Slavonic Center in 1993 by the Slavonijo Dance Ensemble and Dalmacijo Singers with the help of their friends, children and grandchildren. 

For further reading see Moreska

Krk Island (Croatia)

The most beautiful and the most developed forms of the Istrian dances are danced on the island of Krk, the largest Adriatic island. The melodies for the dances are based on the ancient "Istrian scale". Nadine Krstic, the presenter, has done field work in Croatia and actively choreographs for Croatian groups in Los Angeles. 

Krcki Tanac was presented at the Croatian American Cultural Center in February, 1993.

Dalmatia (Croatia)

This suite consists of four dances from Cilipi, a village near Dubrovnik. They were traditionally done in the gumno, a circular stone area used for threshing grain. 

Potkolo - kolo, or line dance, done to tamburitza music

Poskacica - couple dance done to the lyrica

Seljancica - kolo dance popular in Croatia & America

Nemigusa - "winking dance" couple dance

The line dance, Seljancica, has been danced for one hundred years in Croatia and America. This dance is a standard, and is bound to be enjoyed at least once at every Croatian gathering. At traditional events, it is be the first dance played. 

We learned the dance tradition from Elsie Dunin, who observed these dances on field trips over the years. In our choreography, we added slides, songs, and a brief procession with the patron saint of the region, Sveti Vlaho, carrying a replica of Dubrovnik in his hands. 

The suite was first performed in November 20, 1993 at the Slavonic Cultural Center.

Macedonia, Rom culture

This suite of Rom dances includes Cocek, Osman Aga, Cuperlika, Cignica, Kristino and slow Cuperlika. Rom people, also known as Gypsies, live throughout the Balkans. Although there are still traveling bands of Rom, most of Macedonia's Rom have been sedentary for many generations. The largest concentration of Rom in the Balkans is in Macedonia, with at least 40,000 living in and around the city of Skopje, the capitol Macedonia. 

The svadba celebration is a common sight in Rom neighborhoods, with crowds dancing in the street or in the yard in front of a Gypsy home. The occasion may be a wedding or circumcision celebration, and takes place over three days. A band of musicians playing accordions, clarinets, saxophones, synthesizers, or whatever is available, accompany the lines of dancers, who move in a circular counterclockwise line. 

The svadba performed by Slavonijo depicts a wedding celebration and includes several social events which take place over the three days. The bride's women kinfolk meet alone with the bride and dance with each other and for her. They rub hana, a sweet substance like honey, on her hands and feet for good fortune and dress their faces with apusme, glittering decorations. A party has been going on at the groom's house. The party travels in a procession to the bride's house. Much dancing in front of the brides house ensues. The mother-in-law and the groom's family go inside the gate to take the bride. Often they have to force their way in past a barrier, or pay money. When she is led out and given by her mother to the groom's mother, the dancing begins again with everyone eventually joining in. The procession starts up again and returns to the groom's family home. There she is shown her face with a mirror to emphasize her new role as a married woman. 

The traditional women's dresses are colorful, wide pantaloons called cintianti, made from twelve meters of cloth, sheer blouses or slips, short jackets, and high heeled shoes. The women decorate their faces with apusme, constructed of gold and silver thread. The men wear stylish contemporary clothing. 

We learned the dance from Elsie Dunin who choreographed our suite, based on her own observations of svadba in the Rom communities in Macedonia. A group of Slavonijo dancers traveled to Macedonia in 1990 to study the music and dance first hand. Rom music and dancing is always popular at the Croatian American Cultural Center and is played and danced regularly. Esma Redzepova, a famous Rom singer from Skopje, always does a concert at the Croatian American Cultural Center when she tours the United States.

Backa Region (Serbia and Hungary)

Bunjevacko Kolo is a suite of three dances of the Bunjevci people: Bunjevacko Momacko, Tandracak, and Malo Kolo. The Bunjevci (BOON'-yef-tsee) are an ethnic group living in the Backa district of present day Serbia and Hungary. Their ancestors migrated to the area, then part of Hungary, in the 17th century, coming from Turkish-occupied Hercegovina and Dalmatia. Through the intervening years the Bunjevci have maintained a distinct sense of identity vis-a-vis the Serbs, Hungarians and other ethnic groups among whom they live.

While they do the same regional dances as the other inhabitants of Backa, they also have several dances exclusively their own. One of these is a trio dance they call Momacko Kolo Bunjevacko (BOON-yeh-votch-koh), meaning lad's dance. According to natives "Lad's dance", emphasizes the role of the lone man in the trio: he is expected to lead his two female partners through various graceful figures, all the while lacing his footwork with rapid-fire heel-clicks, tiny kicks and stamps accompanied by the furious jingling of his spurs 

Momacko kolo is reported to have died out in the 19th century and to have been revived in the 1930's through the efforts of a group of Bunjevac dance enthusiasts. 

Slavonijo members learned the steps from various sources. One teacher had lived and studied in Backa. Another member of the group, Rasim Arnautovic, directed a kolo group in Prijedor, Bosnia and learned the dance as part of the repertoire. 

This rendition of the dance was first done in 1995 for the Marko Polo Festival at the Slavonic Center.


Location: San Francisco, California

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