Text from the Society of Folk Dance Historians website: http://sfdh.us/encyclopedia/slovak_folk_dances_brown.html Author: Vonnie Brown. “Odzemok, considered by many to be the “national” or most typical dance of Slovakia, has been well preserved up to the present time. The physically strenuous and virtuoso movements of Odzemok, along with its martial elements, make it basically a man’s dance that is very special, indeed.
Variants of the dance are known throughout the Carpathian region by various names and are often referred to as “weapon dances.” Such dances were originally danced by soldiers, robbers, and shepherds, but later they were also danced by the nobility. Accounts of this dance form survive from the 16th century and by the 19th century information became more profuse. Still, in this century, its vigor is quite remarkable.
Odzemok is found everywhere in Slovakia but is richest in the central and northeast parts, especially in the High Tatra Mountains.
According to the Etnnografický Atlas Slovenska, fifty-seven different names for the dance have been identified. The most common name is Odzemok and it appears primarily in Middle Slovakia and part of West Slovakia. The second most common name is Hajduk and its variants, and this name is found especially in Spiš, Gemer, and Orava southern Slovakia. The name is tied to the weapon dances of the Hungarian nobles and especially the Heyduch soldiers of the 16th to 18th centuries.
The third comprises a group of variants of the word Kozák found in the Northeast Slovakia and a scattering of other places. In East Slovakia, the name points to a relationship of the Ukrainian dance of the same name. Less widespread names come from various sources: 1) the beginning text of a song; 2) names associated with Jánošik or robber traditions (only in this century has it become known as the dance of the highwayman Jánošik); 3) shepherds and their work; and 4) implements used in the dance. Odzemok is an improvised men’s dance usually danced solo (especially in the past) and characterized by vigorous jumps and squats. Odzemok, roughly translated, means “from the earth” (or floor), and is descriptive of the dance movements. The dance is also danced in quartets, groups, and in rare instances by couples and women. In the group form, part A is the resting part and the dancers circle with simple, uniform steps. Part B becomes more lively and is characterized by agile jumps and squats.
Often the agility of the dancers is enhanced by the addition of implements. The most common of these props is the shepherd’s valaška, an axe or hatchet that during an earlier time served as a weapon as well as a tool. In Central Slovakia, this is the older and more common implement. New props include sticks (found especially in East Slovakia), broom (found in Šariš), hats (found in West Slovakia), scythes (found in mountainous regions), and bottles. With the exception of the bottle and hat, all such props had their origin in the earlier weapon dances.
While holding a specific prop, the dancer performs various actions, that is, swinging it beneath his feet or over his head, jumping over it, passing beneath his legs from one hand to another, and (in East Slovakia) twirling it between his fingers. Odzemok is usually danced to violin and bagpipe music played in 2/4 time in moderate tempo. The most common song or melody is the well-known Po Valašský od Zeme and its numerous variants.
Only rarely in certain areas and under special circumstances do women participate in Ozdemok. Such dances take place chiefly where men’s Odzemok dances are common and they have similar forms and names. In Orava northern Slovakia, among the Gorale, the women will join the dance. Also in the High Tatra Mountains is the very special dance called Cindruška or Cipovička (chicken). It is a type of party game done when girls and women gather together for an evening of spinning. The dance is performed as a solo, in pairs, or in a group, and has elements of squatting, jumping, and clapping.
A rather unique form of Odzemok exists in Šariš and Spiš where it has a ceremonial function. At weddings in these places, the master of ceremony dances a solo form of Odzemok.
Since 1945, the Odzemok has continued to develop. This is due primarily to the the popularity of various village, amateur, and professional ensembles who have kept it alive, and in some instances have added their own variations to the dance.
Comment by John Uhlemann:
The tune used in the first, and several other of the YouTube videos, is well known among the Podhale Polish (Górale). Where the dance is similar. A lot of these steps were learned group to group at post WWII folk festivals. I particularly like the first video because the styling was so different and is not from any of the Tatra mountain related areas. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMblmC3qcGs – “Zbojnicki” (= outlaw dance). Believe it or not, the Górale Polish in Chicago do this at their festival and some weddings (which they hold separately from the other Poles; I was told that the other Poles in Chicago admire the Górale, but can’t stand the music…).