The dances are not dead as long as there is at least one dancer alive

Davor Sedlarevic
Community engagement, Diversity, Education, Cross-frontier collaboration
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The story speaks of a man's fight, and also a fight of one micro - community, to preserve the old dances of a small region in Montenegro - the city of Kolasin with the environment around it. Montenegrin archaic dances never were studied on a scientific basis. After the end of World War II and the arrival of the Communist Party to power in Yugoslavia, whose part becomes The Republic of Montenegro, state management considers unwanted the archaic/traditional elements of heritage. One man, we can say accidentally, starts to deal with Montenegrin traditional dances and realizes that the old dances were danced completely different and that there is almost no serious scientific research about that. He starts to go around the villages and countrysides, asking old people, filming their stories and with every day realizing the real truth about the dance heritage of his birthplace. And now, how to show that truth to the public? After college, he goes back to his birthplace, gathers a dance group and together they learn old ways of dancing and singing. The goal of this small group in Kolasin is for more people to get to know their dances. They are, after the death of most story tellers, "the last keepers of tradition". Today, they also have an international Ethno-camp where students and professors from different countries exchange the knowledge of old dances and music. Hidden deep beneath the Montenegrin hills, one small dance group gives a new life to the heritage and wants Europe and the world to find out about her...

The dances are not dead as long as there is at least one dancer alive Kolasin is a town located in the middle mountain part of Montenegro. The village was founded as a Turkish war fort in XVII century. Up until the final surrender of the town to the Montenegrin authorities in 1878., continuous battles have been lead by the "Kolasin Turks" against the surrounding Montenegrin Christian tribes Moraca, Rovca and Vasojevici. After they have freed the town the members of those tribes took over and settled in Kolasin. With that, their - rural cultural heritage - becomes, on one hand, the main thing for the development of the city culture. However, Kolasin tended to be developed according to modern European standards, so the rural culture started to marginalize very fast. In that kind of a "mix" of cultures, the one that lost the most was the rural heritage. Also, not even the city heritage has developed in the right direction, because it was often interrupted by wars in witch the town Kolasin was "the war capital" of Montenegro, especially in World War II when it was bombarded 24 times. Dances and music are the main part of culture heritage. The study of the old way of dancing and singing have scientific, but also specific character for the community. Kolasin region (the town and the tribes around) in that way is very interesting because the heritage of the tribes (rural culture) is immersed in the urban culture by virtue of the reputation of the larger city regions. Kolasin region is special because of the native dances which were performed only with singing or rhythm of steps, therefor there was no instrumental music that could have followed the dance! Real archaic! Because of that in the tribe Moraca, in thirties of the XX century, a famous explorer Milman Pearry comes to Montenegro. The instrumental musical accompaniment, we find only in dances that are "imported" from other regions, although it is also performed on local archaic instruments, very arbitrarily with a significant limit. Traditional singing "na glas" , "izglasa", also , was performed in a sound system that is not in accordance with "modern tempered musical system". After World War II the communist regime of Yugoslavia does not look with sympathies on the types of old dance/musical heritage. Then we have the appearance of the art dancing ensembles that process traditional dances on the reputation of the "Russian ballet school", which implies the elimination of everything that is "primitive". Archaeological heritage is transmitted only thanks to rare individuals. Old dances are getting lost because the gatherings on which they were appropriate to perform are not desirable by the city. The dances were performed and preserved only in the rural areas of Kolasin region (in the tribes from the begging of the story). The explorers of dance (amateurs) in Montenegro describe only the dances that were connected to the former capital of Montenegro - Cetinje. Those dances are presented as "authentic" although they are very customized to the mentioned "ballet school". Artistic ensembles dance them, convinced that this is their tradition, unaware that it is a "made up tradition". Each ensemble dances the same Montenegrin choreographies, with very scarce artistic value, without original dance elements. The repertoire is choreographed with motifs of the legacies of other Yugoslav republics (Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia,...) This trend lasts until 2006 when Montenegro renews its independence and breaks the joint state with Serbia - before that Yugoslavia has divided in war. Until then, the ensembles had most of the Serbian and Yugoslav choreographs on the repertoires, and only one or two Montenegrin ones. A problem occurred - "what to dance now when we haven't researched our own heritage for decades?". We have practically danced someone else's dances (Serbian/Yugoslav), and didn't know our own (no one researched them). Montenegro has never had, not even today, education courses for ethnomusicology and ethnochoreology. (Montenegro is the only one of the former Yugoslav republics and probably the only one in the countries that are striving for the European Union!) Now it is time to introduce myself. My name is Davor Sedlarevic - "Salman Ruzdi of the Montenegrin dances" how my colleges call me. I was born in Kolasin. I am the first Montenegrin to specialize on the topic of the Montenegrin dance heritage. I did it in Kikinda, in Serbia. My mission is to, no matter how rural, light up the dance heritage of my birthplace and join it to the great European people. It's the differences that make us richer, and the skills and knowledge, that we posses or form during our learning, that make us more valuable, us and the whole country. I want the whole Europe to learn our dances, and then the whole world. These are the remains of the oldest dance practices in Europe. They are only preserved deep down the Montenegrin hills, in the memories of old people, that are mostly all, unfortunately, dead. In the year 2009 I talked with my mentor about the old dances of Kolasin region, and I realized that what we see on stage is not the same as it was described in few books that were written. This is later confirmed by going to field research and interviewing the elderly members of the community. Literary, two thirds of our dance heritage is made up and adjusted to the stage! The people did not dance and sing like that! I'm recording the interviews with old women and men that remember old tribal meetings. They demonstrate the dances and songs to me. I archive memories... I interview hundreds of people, go around the country sides, to places that most often don't have the most primary roads. People welcome me warmly as they find out what I want to know. There I listen to disturbing life stories that this "war zone" is full of. Every day I die and get born again in the role of one of my story tellers. I film and analyse everything. With the subject matter of Montenegrin dances, I graduate as the best students in my class, and then I also finish postgraduate studies of the same category, again with the highest grade. I come back to live in my birthplace - Kolasin. I take over the local dance ensemble - "Mijat Maskovic". They are still dancing by the choreographies with motive of heritage of the former Yugoslavia. I round up the older dances. To them I, honestly, present my discoveries, risking that I could be rejected and called crazy. Yet, to them, I looked like I really learned something and I was convincing. The old, and then the young dancers, and also the management of the center for culture of Kolasin accept my "Learning ways" and we continue the research. Now there are many more people that I teach (As I said there is no educational ethno schools in Montenegro). We begin with the revitalization of old dances and songs. It really hard on the workshops. But, my team is still persistent. We learn archaic dances and songs and we fit them in stage performances that seem educational. We succeeded in learning a lot. Some old people - storytellers - join us on stage. We differ from all the other ensembles! Yet we, still, learn! Our motive is popularity, it is the revitalization of heritage and it's promotion. We take down the hard shadow of the "communist artistic practices" and we are not ashamed of who we were. Soon after we establish an Ethno-camp, an international study of the elements of intangible heritage threatened by disappearance. We have respected professors and students from different countries, as our guests. With them, we go and visit tribes and the city, we're recording old memories and contemporary events. We have dance and singing workshops on which we present our skills, and also learn other vocal and dance traditions. All the workshops are totally free. Every year, during the first week of August, Kolasin becomes the center of old dances and songs. On the main square we organise performances in which our guests participate - professors and students from different countries. Everyone is obliged to portray a part of their tradition as well as to learn dances of the Kolašin region. We recorded over 40 old dances that were once performed in our region. We revitalized thirty. In 2016, by the decision of the Administration for the cultural heritage of Montenegro, 14 archaic dances are declared as Intangible cultural good under the name of "Traditional dances of the Kolasin region". These are old dances that are danced only with the singing or rhythm of the steps. Without our work, they would be forever forgotten and this is considered to be the greatest contribution an ensemble can give to its city and country. It is the only example that a cultural good contains more than one dance element. The Ministry recognized the urgency of our activities. Among the protected dances are the remains of those dances related to funeral rituals that are drawn on the "stećci" – “Medieval Tombstone Graveyards” dating back to the 12th − 16th centuries and which are under the protection of UNESCO as a common heritage of Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Also, we have preserved dances of a remarkable sacred character - ritual dances with motives of abduction or giving away the girl. Through these dances, the old forgotten symbolism is seen. Dances with choosing a partner who then perform a pair of archaic Montenegrin dance jumps accompanied by a song that is conceived exactly at the moment of dancing, intertwine with the European heritage of " dancing choices ". We have also found the only gender mixed dance in Montenegro that is performed only with the rhythm of the steps - trusa. In our dances we see the traces of the former spring ceremonies in which the whole community participated and their distinctive feature is going through a “tunnel” formed from the hands of dancers that are raised up. We also have a female dance in which a girl is disguised as a man, and this was preformed the night before the start of fasting (“poklade”). Old people are grateful to us because we have preserved a part of the rich tradition, and the younger ones increasingly accept old dances as part of their identity. My fight was hard and it's still going on. At first, discarded by choreographers and folklore artists, after I publicly said "The King has no cloths on!", I am slowly being accepted. First, I was accepted by my dance ensemble, without witch I would have not succeed, then a small scientific community and then the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro. To me, the most important thing was to be accepted from by dance ensemble, that are my friends. Although I'm learning the tradition, I'm not a traditionalist. I also support modern dance forms based on a true dance tradition. I consider that archaic dances are the most difficult for stage performances, especially in Montenegro because we sing and dance "the old way" at the same time. This rural characteristic is their advantage. The unsuccessful attempts to "make them beautiful" have led to the fact that many dance artists did not know anything about tradition, and the stage performances were presented as "tradition". Now we have a good and rich base to create on the basis of the true tradition that was transmitted to me by its oldest bearers. The knowledge I have, material and advice I share completely free to everyone. In the tradition of Japanese and American Indians, a community member is valued by how much he knows the old stories and songs and how much he passed them on to the next generation. I do not need popularity, money and recognition. It is important that I have fulfilled my own vow. Our dances are alive again. We are waiting for Europe and the world to meet them...

European Dimension

Europe is one story, but it is a story made of many different cultures. That is what makes her rich and special. Dances and songs are increasingly becoming the subject of stage processing in the modern days. Different types of traditions are combined and the result is some kind of "world-dance". That is good, but... There are fewer bearers of the knowledge of the old types of songs and dances. In that way, Montenegro is the most endangered in Europe. Old songs and dances are not studied in schools. The impression is gained that before 1945. there was no musical - dance heritage. The one that is known right now has been modified for the needs of the performance. Yet, it has existed way before and it was very rural. Music in the Montenegrin hills has lived beyond the "tempered tone system", and the dances were followed only by the archaic singing or rhythm of steps. They are often nonrhythmic. Are the Montenegrin dances hiding, maybe, the oldest preserved type of dance in Europe? A group of twenty, more or less, dancers and singers of all ages from Kolasin have learned, from their ancestors, special archaic dances with different ritual elements. Those dances have lasted for centuries and they are evidence of continuity of a small group of people on the grounds of Europe. Without acrobatics and "the theory of spectacle", these dances and songs really deserve to join the European family of heritage. Europe has less and less rural and preserved elements of heritage, and stage performances go for the spectacle and resemble one another. In that whole story, honest, naive and seemingly primitive dances, of the Kolasin region, give a new dimension to the European heritage by telling a story that has been hidden in the far away mountain tribes. From Kolasin they say that Europe is not only ballet, classical music and pop - rock culture, but archaic heritage needs to be joined there. "Small people" often hide big stories. Montenegro and Kolasin have a confirmation of continuity. They have the right, after 7 decades of bad relationship based on communist ideology, to become an equal member of European family of dances and songs. Dancers have done everything that was in their power. The decision is in the hands of Europe, is she going to accept it or not.

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