Šestorka (L*), Шесторка – Serbia

*a Living dance is a 1st Generation dance that is still performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here and here.

Šestorka music

The dance Šestorka is associated with two distinct pieces of music. The first is a song, Oj lele Stara planino.

Can be downloaded here under Šestorka2: http://www.folkloretanznoten.de/serbisch-serbian/

As it was presented by KOLO, the Serbian national dance troupe in 1955, the first verse of Oj lele Stara planino was sung while walking; then another (instrumental) melody kicked in, and Šestorka the dance started in earnest. It is not clear whether the song and dance were associated in ‘village’ dances, or were assembled as part of a ‘package’ for a KOLO performance.

Lyrics can be found here: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-english-translations/sestorka-ojlele-stara-planino-lyrics/

The melody known as Šestorka, is only used with the dance of the same name. It often starts off slow, then speeds up. One cycle through the dance originally took 14 two-beat measures, like the one below.

14 x 2 beats
14 x 2 beats
Some music had 16 two-beat measures, like this one. That meant the dance and music often didn’t start at the same place. (non-concordance)
Another 16-measure, called HA Kolo.

Another version of a dance called Šestorka, this one associated with the villages of Špaj and Bela Palanka in the Nišava River valley was taught by Dick Crum, and had its own melody. I only have a sketch of its music, but it differs from the ‘usual’ Šestorka melody.

John Uhlemann (see Comment at bottom) says he has other tunes called Šestorka as well.

More sheet music can be found here: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/sheet-music/sestorka-oj-lele-stara-planino-sheet-music/

Šestorka, the Dance

Šestorka means “dance of six”, though six what is not clear. There are MANY versions of this dance, some, including the most popular ones today, start with 6 walking steps; others don’t. Apparently Šestorka used to be a common dance in southeastern Serbia, around the Niš region. The Balkan mountains to the east contained many shepherds herding sheep and goats, and the dance is said to reflect the movements of these herders.

The famous Janković sisters published 4 versions of Šestorka, 2 of which made their way to recreational folk dancers relatively intact, one of which is no longer danced in Serbia. Quoting Britannica https://www.britannica.com/art/folk-dance/Johann-Gottfried-von-Herder-and-the-idea-of-the-folk#ref993467Two sisters from Serbia, Ljubica Janković (1894–1974) and Danica Janković (1898–1960), devoted much of their lives to collecting and analyzing folk dances from southeastern Europe. Between 1934 and 1964 they published eight volumes and several monographs of dance research. In the work they analyzed about 900 dances, describing choreography, music, and costume. They wrote about the cultural background and preservation of the dances, and, especially noteworthy, they recognized the contribution of “gifted dancers” to the refinement of the dances. The adaptation of a dance for the stage, they felt, took that dance out of the folk realm and made it an adapted dance; they refused to call anything a folk dance except an anonymously created dance performed in traditional settings.”

However the first Šestorka taught to recreational folk dancers arrived in 1955 by way of Dick Crum, who tapped another source. This YouTube showing dancers in Vienna is quite close to Crum’s version.

Here the music matches the dance phrase – concordant.
14-Measure version, with singing and repeated (1st time only) 4-measure beginning.
Same 14-measure version as above. Dresden, Germany

Dance historian Ron Houston, in his ©1992 Folk Dance Problem Solver, “Many years ago Crum told me that Skovran [founder of KOLO – DB] took Serbian steps, and put them to Serbian music to create the Serbian Medley #1 [where Šestorka first appeared – DB]. Some of the dances were what we like to call “folk” but Poskok, for instance, was pure stage choreography. If I understood him correctly, then that same drive to entertain rather than to educate possibly caused KOLO to to continue to modify Šestorka. KOLO’s dancers then emigrated and taught changed versions to recreational folk dancers around the world. Recreational folk dancers then modified (or forgot) what they learned, and we can now define 6 areas in which Šestorka has changed over the last 35 years” [now 65 years-DB].

  • The vocals got lost, both the preceding song and the shouts.
  • Women began to dance Kolo’s formerly masculine choreography.
  • The lateral movement became mere weight shifts in place, although the Janković sisters hint at this in bar 8 of their description.
  • The traditionally low and tight Nišavan kicks became high and extended.
  • The initial swooping glide to the right became a grapevine step, perhaps to make up for the lack of kinesthetic sensation lost due to point 3, above.
  • Reasons were discovered to justify the dance, such as “herding sheep over a rocky hill” or even “dexterity contests among drunks.”

Serbia today

Nowadays, Šestorka seems to be leading two different lives, as a 1st Generation dance in some places, and as a Living dance in others. In Serbia itself, I can find no ‘village’ versions of the dance – only stage performances.

Don’t know what they’re singing at first, but Oj lele Stara planino starts at 1:57. You’ll have to boost the volume. 16-measure. Choreography is concordant. Group is Šumadija 05.
Orašac, Serbia. 14-measure, Non-concordant.
The group is Abrasevic from Arandjelovac. 14-measure, non-concordant.
Performing group at a wedding, somewhere in Serbia, 2014. 16-meas. concordant.
Here’s the poise, athleticism, and exaggerated and added moves of a highly trained performer. 14-measure, non-concordant.

North America

I’m aware that Šestorka is in the repertoire of many recreational groups, but other than the Friendly Folkdancers instructional video above, I could find only two YouTubes of local clubs dancing.

Posted by Folk Dances with Henry.
Dallas Chinese International Folk Dance Clubs Anniversary Party, 2010.

The situation is quite different among Serbian Community groups, however. The vast majority are dancing a 16-measure pattern, likely based on this version.

16-measure version

The first 8 steps of the B section have evolved into two grapevines, otherwise its the same.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Clearly demonstrates the 16-measure pattern.
Los Angeles, CA, 2006, 16-measure, concordant.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with visiting groups from Chicago, 2014. 16-measure, concordant
KUD Ratsko, Salt Lake City, Utah. 16-measure. Concordant.
Chicago, 2011, 16-measure, concordant. These guys are making it their own.
Wedding in Toronto, 2015. 16-meas concordant.
Oplenac Nisava group, 2012, South Chicago, 16-measure, concordant.
Oplenac Nisava group, Bellwood, IL, 2008. 16-measure, concordant.
Windsor, Ont. Canada, 2008. 14-measure, non-concordant.
Hamilton OH, 2016. Visible at 0:36. 16-meas concordant but didn’t start at beginnng of music.


This additional section is inspired by the comment (below) by John Uhlemann.

In the 1970’s Dick Crum taught another Šestorka attributed to the Janković sisters, this one published in 1934, which he called Šestorka from Bela Palanka. It has its own melody (see above), and a 12-bar (3 times 4-measure) structure. I could find no YouTubes of it being performed, but the notes below were found here: http://www.folkdancenotes.com/dancenotes/Dick%20Oakes/Sestorka%20from%20Bela%20Palanka.htm Crum claimed that at the time of his teaching, the Šestorka from Bela Palanka was no longer danced in Serbia.

Špaj town on the left, Bela Palanka town/district on the right.
Move arrows to see full image.

In 1954 Anatol Joukowsky taught a completely unrelated dance he called Kola-Shumadia (Shestorka)

In the late 1970’s Ciga Despotović and Bora Gajicki presented a more stationary and flamboyant version of the Šestorka taught by Crum in 1955, (attributed to a performance by KOLO, the Serbian national dance troupe). Ciga and Bora both danced with KOLO before teaching in the USA.

By 1983, Australian folk dancers had published a 12-measure Šestorka; same melody, based on the 1955 Crum, but shorter.

Many thanks to Luane McGowan of the Kaua’i Caravan Dancers (Hawai’i) for stimulating my research into Šestorka. Mahalo!


Jim Gold writes: Totally excellent! Thank you. Hvala lepo. Jim Gold

John Uhlemann writes: Dick Crum taught 2 dances called “šestorka” the one discussed here and another he termed “Šestorka from Bela Palanka”, which used a lot of small crossing steps. The tune was different. I also have 1-2 other tunes in my Serbian collection called “šestorka”, often with a place name attached, so maybe it is a dance type rather than than just one dance.

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