Over the past weekend we had the pleasure of visiting the small yet beautiful town of Suzdal. After being served a lovely dinner at the hotel, we had the opportunity to see and listen to a group of girls dancing and singing traditional Russian folk songs. Although I am not an expert on dancing styles, the dancing resembled a lot of other folk dances I have seen in the past with a few twists. The girls would often dance in pairs and it mainly consisted of footwork and moving across areas into different formations. However, the dance also included a lot of stomping in rhythm with the songs, especially during the faster and happier songs. The girls would also sing as if they were speaking to each other and having a conversation, changing their facial expressions and raising their arms as if they were using hand motions to convey their emotions. This made the content of the songs much easier to understand from the point of view of a foreigner as it was easy to distinguish a questions from a statement for example. When a question was asked, the girls would raise their arms and hands up in the air and when a statement was made the girls would put their hands on their hips in a stubborn and confident manner.
The singing itself was very different from anything I have heard. The singing technique included the use of what I have only heard referred to as “breast voice”, creating a much louder and fuller sound. The songs usually had a somewhat simple melody with a lot of verses, breaking into harmony sometimes between altos and sopranos. The girls would also improvise sounds during the songs, usually rolling their R’s or yell out sudden shouts of joy.
As a former music student, it was interesting to analyze the structure of Russian folk music. It seems to me like the girls were all portrayed as very strong and persistent women, although this could be due to the absence of male singers. However, according to several Russians I have spoken to, it seems like the general opinion is that women have a quite strong presence at home. For example, our host in Suzdal said the following: “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck”.
I think a general understanding of culture is important when creating a global partnership. The UN sustainable development goal number 17 calls for a partnership for the goals and I believe that can only be achieved when understanding the cultural context of the parties involved. Although dancing and singing can seem like a very trivial aspect of creating global partnerships, dancing and singing is usually what brings people together and creates a platform on which everyone can connect on a personal level. Although the songs and dances were all completely foreign to us, we were able to connect and have fun. We could not understand the words of the songs, but we understood the meaning and value of them and sometimes that is all that matters.