The word ‘Kolo’ is derived from the Slavic word meaning a ‘wheel’, circle or circuit and can be found in the same form in all the Slavic languages. It is also often associated to a group of people organised under the same interest, activity or purpose. The Orthodox Serbs kept Kolo as their national dance as the dance existed long before Christianity was adopted. The circle used to be performed near churches, at war fronts, weddings and other occasions and hence, the Serbian community described it as a circle dance around the church. The Serbs most often danced among their families or at social gatherings of feast days in the evening, during the time of Ottoman Turkish Empire. These were accompanied to the vocal accompaniments such as the wedding kolos. However, it was by the end of the 19th century that the instrumental music for indoor entertainment was used. Also, the social gatherings among the Serbs around the churches and the monasteries believed that everyone should dance to these instrumental accompaniments to secure sound health. However, this circle dance was replaced by the European dances in the 19th century. Due to the influence of the urban fashion, the village social gatherings changed. Despite this, the Kolo dance survived through all the influences and is still danced vigorously.
Each region has its unique Kolo. It may be performed in a closed circle, in two parallel lines or in a single chain. Some of its versions show the solo dancers displaying their skills inside the circle. Kolo is where a group of several dozen of people or at least three of them hold each other’s hands or around the waist and dance ideally in a circle. There are no movements above the waist. In Croatia, the dance is performed outdoors on occasions such as harvests, weddings, religious celebrations to honour a special saint or outside in the garden of the town tavern. Recently, one can see the dance being performed in meeting halls, during concerts, festivals or ethnic celebrations. There are variations in its tempo and it is difficult even for the most experienced dancers to master this dance.
With the accompaniment of two–beat music, the dance is performed on old musical instruments such as flute, a pipe which is a herdsmen flute–like instrument, bagpipes, a kawala which is an old reed instrument, drum, timpani, an accordion, frula which is a traditional recorder, tamburica, sargija, zurla, gajde, tapan or harmonica. However, there are ‘mute circle’ dances that are performed without the accompaniment of music. Although there are no instruments or singing, the rhythm is given in other ways.
Some of the types of Kolo dance include:
- Moravac Kolo: Originated from Sumadija, the ethnochoreological zone of Central Serbia, the dance structure is performed to a 2/4 beat in an open mixed circle of dancers, the movements of which is counter–clockwise.
- Nijemo Kolo: It is a silent dance originating from the Dalmatian Hinterland in southern Croatia. The dance is performed in a closed circle with men leading their female partners in quick steps. One characteristic feature of the dance is that it is performed without music.
- Kraljevo Kolo: It is believed that this dance was organized by the Ballroom dances at the Serbian royal court. It has many versions and was named after the Kraljevo town where it got registered.
- Uzicko Kolo: It is one of the most popular tunes for dancing as it was composed by Milija Spasojevic, the greatest accordionists in former Yugoslavia in his time.
Although the style and costumes of Kolo vary from region–to–region, there is a similarity of the costumes between the Bosnian and the Serbian. Men are seen with a cap and a loose blouse which is tucked in to the trousers. These trousers are ballooned around the thighs and tighten at the knee down to the ankle. Women, on the other hand, adorn themselves with white long embroidered dresses with bright flowers and heavy velvet aprons that are tied at their waist. One unique and notable feature of the Kolo costume is their shoes. The shoes are called Opanciand and are made from cured pig skin molded to fit the foot of the dancers.