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Ron Houston Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Quo Vadis, Domine?
By Ron Houston


Quo Vadis, Domine? (Whither, Lord?)

Kolo Kalendara moves to your left. I know that for a fact, but should I forget, I'd recognize it for a Drmeš-type dance done only in Croatia. So what? Well . . .

Croatia is to the left of that MAGIC LINE through Yugoslavia from the Hungarian – Romanian – Yugoslav border triple point, down along the Dinaric Alps, to Albania. Left of that line, dances frequently move left, or clockwise (CW). To the right, dances frequently move right, or counterclockwise (CCW). Why?

This story starts with Alexander the Great. Throughout his empire, the Greek style of dancing to the right, or CCW, was the custom. The rest of Europe danced in circles moving clockwise, which in those days we referred to as "with the sun" as opposed to "against the sun" because those silly monks hadn't burdened the human race with that invention of the devil, the alarm clock . . . but that's another story. In those days, before monks and alarm clocks, we worshiped the Sun by dancing CW; CCW movement was considered to be an insult to the Sun, like opening your umbrella indoors.

Anyway there we were in 1071 CE. (now those were the good ol' days), dancing happily to the left with furled umbrellas, when along comes this hoard of Turks: Squash! They defeat the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071, the Serbs at Kosovopolje in 1389, and hold most of Eastern Europe, Iberia, the Middle East, and North Africa by 1529. Well, we stopped 'em at Vienna and pushed 'em back over the next 300 years to their present beachhead in Thrace . . . but what does this have to do with dancing? (I'm glad you asked. I tend to drift sometimes.)

Turks dance to the right. Some say they picked it up from descendants of those Greek soldiers I told you about. Furthermore, Turks are Islamic. Men didn't dance with women and women didn't dance much at all. Why? I don't know. We could make all sorts of jokes about it but we're too polite. The first point is, wherever Turks occupied Europe, dances move counter-clockwise. The second: when Arabs reintroduced Greek civilization to Europe (the Rennaissance) and couple dances (which move to the right or counter-clockwise) became popular, Turks kept all that decadence out of their subject lands.

So, by making the most extreme generalizations, we can draw that magic line dividing Europe into two choreogeographical regions: areas of long-term Turkish occupation, and areas outside their reach. In the first, we find a predominance of non-partner dances moving to the right, or counter-clockwise. In the second, we find ancient non-partner dances moving to the left, or clockwise, as well as post-Renaissance< dances allowing men and women to touch each other while they move counter-clockwise.

So Croatia has the couple dance (Ples, plural Plesovi) and the circle dance (Kolo or Drmeš). Brittany and Scotland have their ancient Celtic non-partner dances moving to the left as well as their better-known couple dances which move right. These countries are to the west of our magic line.

Serbia has the Kolo. Bulgaria has the Horo. Macedonia<, Greece, Turkey, and Armenia have their dances moving to the right. They're to the east.

Older Israeli dances move to the right. Because they're to the right of our magic line, right? Not quite. Israel is a country of immigrants; immigrants from countries to the east of the line like Bulgaria, as well as countries that never felt the Turkish yoke. But countries that never felt the Turkish yoke, such as Germany, Poland, and Russia, gave Israel its couple dances, not its circle dances. So the paradigm still works for us. Anyway, it works for me.

Well, there it is. Please remember that this is a delicate framework which will not bear the weight of too many facts. For a more thorough and scholarly treatment of Choreogeography, you should refer to Hugh Thurston's serialized article in the May through November, 1967 issues of Viltis magazine. If you're interested in folk dancing, it really will be the single most useful article you've ever read.

Used with permission of the author.