Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland

Nijemo Kolo, silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland

A dance unaccompanied by music is a rare phenomenon in traditional cultures of the world, which is why the silent circle dance of the Dalmatian hinterland truly deserves its UNESCO world heritage title. Although there is no music involved in this dance, there are plenty of things to listen for. The heavy, but rhythmic sounds of traditional leather peasant shoes opanci of up to twenty dancers on the dance floor serve as an indication to quicken the pace or slow down, depending on inspiration. A particularly attractive part of the silent circle dance is the simultaneous jump of the dancers and change of steps. Sometimes it can be accompanied by the traditional singing ojkanje in the background, which is another example of protected intangible heritage, turning this type of dance into a lavish display of local customs and traditions.

 

Some believe that the silent circle dance of the town of Vrlika is the oldest, but the numerous variations, steps and dance figures, and even different names, point to a widespread phenomenon. Local folklore festivals and traditional fairs, celebrations and weddings are a chance for every village to showcase their version of the circle dance in a friendly competition. Although there are no standard male-female pairs in the silent circle dance, everyone is welcome to join. Circles are organised by alternating men and women, but more often than not, the dancers are exclusively male or exclusively female. It is unknown where such a distribution of dancers comes from, but it may have something to do with the fact that there is an element of romance to the silent circle dance. At a time when it was a regular cultural practice, the silent circle dance was performed during traditional festivities called dernek, held in honour of local saints. A young man would dance towards the girl and slowly introduce her into the circle, thereby letting everyone know he was trying to court her and that the girl belonged to him.

 

Romance aside, it is believed that the silent circle dance was actually created in protest of the various conquerors who didn’t allow music for dancing, as well as to show a connection to the barren land where the people of the region led difficult lives. Indeed, the silent circle dance and the heavy stomps “speak” to the importance of spite in local traditions.