We all know Orijent – one of the all-time most popular folk dances. Introduced by the dean of recreational folk dancing – Dick Crum in the 1950’s. No one knows for sure what this dance has to do with the word “orijent”, but it is commonly believed there is some connection to the train called the “Orijent Express” that used to run through Serbia on its way from Paris to Istanbul.
Dick taught Orijent as a Serbian dance and indeed there was a dance known as Orijent that was popular in Serbia when he learned it there. But what he presented to North Americans was not what he saw. The most important difference was that Dick’s version has 3 different motifs in one 3-minute record. The 1997 Stockton notes accompanying Dick’s teaching of the dance states that:
“The three figures below are an arbitrary selection from a number of local and individual variants of Orijent, arranged by Dick Crum in a sequence intended for convenient learning and enjoyment by recreational or performing groups. In its native setting, the dance’s sequence is determined by the whims of the leader who, not at all rarely, may limit himself to a sole variation (give or take a flourish or two here and there) throughout the playing of the music. Fig.1…. is the most common variant, the “basic” Orijent, as it were. Fig.3 is really a variant on Fig.1. Fig 2 is a rarer, more individualistic variant. Dick noted Figs 1 & 3 in Zelznik village, Easter Sunday, 1954. Fig.2 was later learned from a group of Belgrade young men.”
In other words, the Orijent Dick presented was not the way Serbs danced it at the time, and the 3 figures may never have been danced in the same place. In fact, it was Dick’s choreography for his performing group, the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, which he later taught to recreational dancers.
For further information on Orijent the dance, see Dick’s article
In 1966, Zoran Vasilijevich introduced a dance called Ciganski Orijent, which translates as “Gypsy orijent”. Dick Crum, in notes to his NAMA #1 LP, says “Consensus of both dance researchers and native dancers is that Orijent, though widely danced by non-Gypsy Serbs, is of Gypsy origin. For this reason it is sometimes called Ciganski Orijent.”
In 1974 John Fitz published a Sremski Orijent with no indication of provenance. In 1978, Ciga Despotovich presented yet another Ciganski Orijent at Stockton. Each of these later Orijents contain several variations – choreographies for recreational dancers – not like their “native setting”.
What about Serbia today?
Well, for starters, the music known as Orijent is different from Crum’s Orijent, but similar or identical to Ciganski Orijent. Here’s 3 versions of today’s Orijent, I have 5 like this, none like Dick Crum’s arrangement.
And the dance? I could find no YouTubes of Serbians in Serbia dancing anything called Orijent in a “village” setting, and only one by a performing group – here it is.
The music again is like Cigansko Orijent, and the 1st figure is like a souped-up first figure in Crum’s Orijent – what he calls the “basic” Orijent – though starting on the right foot instead of the left. The 2nd figure seems a different dance entirely – in 3/4 time! The 3rd figure is yet another dance, and the 4th is a transition to Moravac, the 5th is a kind of Čačak. So this would more accurately be called a Šumadija Suite.
The “real” Orijent, a relatively simple but highly variable Serbian dance of Gypsy origin, known only regionally in the 1950’s, has never been taught to recreational folk dancers. 60 years later, Orijent melodies are still popular in Serbia, but the dance is not “living” among average Serbs, and is only rarely performed on stage. I consider it a 1st Generation dance.
The various choreographies for recreational folk dancers are alive and kicking. I consider them 2nd Generation dances. To me the pertinent question is “can you call Crum’s Orijent a Serbian folk dance if it was never danced by a Serbian in a “native” folk setting.?” Would any Serb accept it as their own; would they be offended at the arrogance or ignorance of an outsider who blithely shows others a Serbian dance that never existed?