The dance without music

The Nijemo Kolo was inscribed in 2011 on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and it truly deserves this title.

A dance unaccompanied by music is a rare phenomenon in the traditional cultures of the world

In the Dalmatian hinterland, the southernmost inland part of Croatia, the Nijemo Kolo is a traditional dance performed at village festivals, weddings, carnivals, and other special events. The dance is mainly associated with the towns of Vrlika, Gata, and Sinj and is unique compared to other folk dances in that it is traditionally performed in silence.

While there are variations in how the dance is performed from village to village, Nijemo Kolo dancing is typically performed by dancers in a closed circle. The dancers move harmoniously, jumping from one foot to the other as they run in a circle. Couples’ movements are more spontaneous during the dance, when male dancers alternately lead their partners to the middle of the circle. The heavy but rhythmic sounds of traditional opanci — the heavy leather peasant’s shoes or boots worn by the dancers — of up to twenty dancers on the floor serve as a cue to speed up or slow down, depending on inspiration.

A beautiful, attractive part of the silent circle dance is the simultaneous jump of the dancers and the change of steps. Some believe that the silent circle dance of the town of Vrlika is the oldest; numerous variations, steps and dance figures, and even different names point to its being a widespread phenomenon.

The Nijemo Kolo is still a way for young people to meet, show where they are from, and state their heritage and identity to themselves and others. A young man would take a young woman by the hand and draw her into the dance circle, announcing to everyone his intention to court her. The meaning behind the silent aspect of the dance could be more precise, but it may have developed as a way for peasants to protect landowners or rulers who would not permit them to dance or celebrate with music. The rhythmic thumping of shoes on the ground is another form of protest and defiance.

When performing before an audience or at a special event, Nijemo Kolo dancers will wear traditional costumes of the Dalmatian hinterland. For women and men, this means a combination of several layers of clothing in black, white, red and gold. Women wear richly embroidered tunics or aprons over a skirt and white blouse, and men will also don an embroidered tunic over a white shirt and dark pants. Both men and women wear a bareta or crvenkapa – a red pillbox hat, with women attaching a white veil to the back of theirs. Other additions may include silver coins attached to costumes and colorful sashes, belts, and fringe.

Although no music is involved in this dance, there are plenty of things to watch and listen for!

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