This haunting music is, I believe the reason for the staying power of this dance – the music and the unusual footwork.
Anatol Joukowsky is our only source for this dance. Primarily trained in Russian ballet, he became a dance master, choreographer, and, in 1935, director for the Yugoslav State Ballet, then Ballet Master for the Vienna Opera House. His specialty was ethnic dance. As a youth he toured villages in Southeast Europe, notating dances, and later formed an ethnic dance troupe whose performances won competitions. We have no record of his dance notes, but many of his dances have a performance feel about them.
In his book The Teaching of Ethnic Dance (1963) in his chapter on Russia, he writes “All Russian dances basically have no fixed patterns. The setting of steps, the characteristics of one or another region is entirely free. The pattern is left to the inspiration or ability of the dancers. There is a typical, preferred dance form, however. It is the circle. The steps, expression of the dance are related to the local tradition and style. The Horovodnaya Pliaska is the oldest Slavic dance formation. It has literally hundreds of variations.
All exhibition groups performing around the world with tremendous success are semi or entirely professional ensembles. They exhibit choreographed dances for demonstration purposes only…”
Immediately following he presents Kak u Kluchika, sub-headed Horovodnaya Pliaska – a circle dance. Joukowsky calls it “A Russian Wedding Dance performed by women… from Yaroslav.” It has a very fixed pattern. As Ron Houston points out in the 2013 Folk Dance Problem Solver, the dance “has simply steps. It’s appeal lies in its STYLING. Heads remain bowed and toes remain pointed and very close to the floor during the dance. Each step should be taken softly, onto the ball of the right foot, immediately lowering the heel.”
I can find no YouTubes of this dance, either in Russia or outside in IFD’s. Performing the dance as I was taught it requires strong knees and flexible ankles. Although the dance looks great when done well (not easy), I feel like I’m in a ballet class. It’s hard to imagine the dance’s sweeping low arc steps being easy to do in an open field by peasants. My conclusion is this dance is a product of Joukowsky’s experience in exhibit(ing) choreographed dances for demonstration purposes only…”