Introduction to Albanian Dance Forms in Kosovo
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Kosovo is bordered on the north and east by the Republic of Serbia, in the south by the Republic of Macedonia, and in the west by the Republic of Albania. It covers an area of close to 11,000 square miles, divided in 22 administrative districts. Kosovo has a population of approximately 1.6 million: over 80% Albanian, 13% Serbian, with smaller numbers of Montenegrins. Turks, ethnic Muslims, and Romanis (1982 statistics). The majority of the Albanian population is Moslem, with a smaller number of Catholics.
Kosovo dance falls into the broader family of north Albanian folklore, but contextual and choreographic factors make it unique. Among the Kosovo Albanians century-old forms of dance and music are not only still vital in lives of parents and grandparents, but are surviving the effects of urbanization, maintaining functional integrity among the youth. In many rural settings, these forms retain a strong, unadulterated character rooted in the historically tribal patriarchal social organization and agricultural and pastoral subsistence patterns of the Albanians.
The separate male and female realities that Muslim Albanians experience are reflected in dance events. Movement styles display the epitome of the Albanian conception of "feminine" and "masculine" expression and take on contrasting forms that must be described independently.
WOMEN'S SOLO DANCE
The most common contemporary dance form in Kosovo is the dance of unmarried women and brides know as kcim. It is usually performed to the accompaniment of unison singing and one or two def (large tamborine), typically as a solo, duet, or by several maidens performing the kcim single-file, unattached, in a closed counterclockwise circle (kcim në rreth të mbyllur). The kcim occurs today among Albanians throughout Kosovo at most festive gatherings including calendrical holidays St. George's Day (Shingjergj) and the first day of Spring (Verza) circumcisions and engagement celebrations, but its most essential function comes into play during the wedding process.
Stylistically, during the kcim, the head and torso are held relaxed and upright with subtle movements sympathetic to the hand gestures. In solo dancing, the eyes are usually cast downward. In duets, the maidens tend to focus upon each other. Expression is centered in gentle gestures of the hand and fingers. The hands are held at shoulder height, arms relaxed and bouncing slightly from the shoulders in a steady beat usually on the even 4/8 meter, creating a contrapuntal rhythm in opposition to the syncopated step pattern. The ost common step pattern is symmetrical, most typically a walk forward in a small counterclockwise circle or from side to side, syncopating the even 4/8 meter.
The roots of traditional Albanian men's dancing are in the ancient valle liftarke (fighting dances). Albanian dance scholars believe that these dances involved in northern Albania and Kosovo as a demonstration of skill by warriors gathered in anticipation of battle, and as a reenactment of important battle motifs. Through time, these improvised pantomimic gestures became more and more stylized and dance-like, while maintaining their essentially "epic" character. Today in Kosovo this epic motif appears among Albanians in two basic forms: as an improvised solo or duet, and as a set sequence performed by several dancers on a counterclockwise circular path. Both forms are accompanied by zurna (double-reed horn) and lodër (lodërti or daulle or tupan large double-headed bass drum).
In the solo or duet form, arm, leg, and torso movements are improvised within a defined movement vocabulary to a 2/4 or 7/8 rhythm. Arm movements mimic the brandishing of weapons. The style is strong, broad, and heavily accented. Arms are held away from the body, slightly flexed, and lifted to the sides, occasionally crossing the body in front and back. Legs tend to be turned out 45° at the hip joint, maintaining a slight knee flexion, while executing wide traveling steps, holds, lifts, advances, retreats, and heel-toe touches, accenting each movement with a heel drop from the supporting leg. The dancer casts a concentrated gaze upon his "opponent." The most well-known version of this dance is from the ethnographic region of Rugovo in western Kosovo.
The second form of valle luftarke is performed by men in a circular formation, executing a series of movement patterns cued by the dance leader. Often, these dances are grouped in a fixed series comprised of from 5 to 12 dances based upon a set of motifs that are linked together in combinations improvised by the dance leader. Each dance in the series is distinguished by the rhythm in which it is performed (3/4, 4/4, 7/8, 9/8, and 12/8 meters) and the manner in which the dancers are attached (hand, shoulder, and finger holds in an open or in a closed circle of unattached dancers). This is still the dominant male dance form in Gora, Has, Karadak, Opoja, and Podrimja.
MALE AND FEMALE LINE DANCES
Open-circle dances are common in towns and villages throughout Kosovo. The two most popular step patterns are also performed by Macedonians, Romanis, Serbs, and Turks where they are sometimes known as Lesnoto and Čupurlika. In Kosovo, both dances are usually referred to simply as valle (line dances as opposed to kcim, solo and duet forms). In some regions, Čuipurlika is known as Sheriange (the city dance). Depending on dance context, the dances may be sexually segregated or mixed. Musical accompaniment ranges from zurla and lodër to tambourine to accordion ensemble to amplified urban orchestra, complete with keyboard and trap drums. Rhythms for the valle are 7/8 (counted slow-quick-quick) and 2/4 meters.
An introduction to dance in Kosovo would not be complete without touching upon the widespread dance form known as Shota. Popularized through the performances by Albanian and non-Albanian amateur and professional ensembles since the late 1940's, Shota is often recognized (by Albanians and non-Albanians) as the symbol of Kosovo folklore. The dance, which was choreographed to be a flirtatious love duet between a boy and girl, is simply an expanded version of the kcim. The name Shota is derived from the song "Shota, Shota Marshalla" which is often sung or played as accompaniment.
Used with permission of the author.
Printed in Kolo Festival Syllabus, 1985.