Beryozka dance how to

Solving the Beriozka mystery. By Frederic Friedel | by The Friedel Chronicles

In the 1980s I paid Moscow a couple of visits. It was still part of the Soviet Union — communist to the core and sometimes quite scary. Here’s one example of what things were like at the time. There were few things to buy, and malls — well, the one mall, called GUM — were fairly empty of actual products. But there was culture everywhere, and visiting the Bolshoi or other theatres was quite inexpensive. And you got world class performances. So I went there a lot, caught ballet, opera and the rousing Don Cossacks.

The Red Square mall GUM in the 1980s — lots of shoppers, hardly anything to buy.

One evening my host took me to see the Beriozka dance group. The what? Beriozka (or Beryozka) was a familiar name I knew — Soviet duty-free shops where foreigners and rich Russians could buy Western goods for Western currency. But a dance group? Some kind of ballet? I was definitely interested.

So off we went to the Moscow opera and ballet theatre. The evening started with a few high-kicking routines like this one (the picture is from the official Opera and Ballet site), all very nice, very impressive. But they were merely pre-shows for what was coming. And that was a performance that stuck in my mind for years.

It was delivered by the academic choreographic ensemble “Beriozka” (the name translates to “the little birch tree”), founded in 1948 by one of the most famous choreographers of the 20th century. The above site has a biography: “Nadezhda Sergeyevna imparted poetry of an ancient round dance to the classical dance, connecting the past to the present. The maiden round dance, composed by her to the sound of the Russian national song «Vo pole beryozka stoyala» («In the field the Birch stood») has been bewitching the audience by the exotic, «floating» step…”

When the Beriozka dancers appeared I was stunned. Take a deep breath and start the following video, recorded during a modern-day performance:

If this video gets taken down, simply search YouTube for “Beriozka” — there is plenty of material there.

In the Moscow theatre I had a place in the front row — having offered to take the cost, around $10, for it myself. At the start of the above video you can see what I mean by “front row” — I could lean forward and touch the stage. Which I did, because the impossible physics of what these ladies are doing — nobody can glide around like that — immediately suggests a trick. A fake floor or something. But that was clearly not the case. Were they on roller skates? Maybe with one foot on on a small skateboard, I speculated, while the other was used to push them forward. But the longer I looked the more implausible it became. Check the video yourself, in full screen, watch the faces and the upper torsos, and tell me if there is a better explanation.

I didn’t sleep well that night, the mystery was too puzzling. One theory I came up with, years later, was that they were using hoverboards. The only problem was that hoverboards would only be invented decades after the performance I had witnessed. Today we could do a wonderful fake performance of Beriozka with self balancing unicycles. Memo to self: find a way of organizing such a performance!

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out Beriozka, even discussed it in forums — some of the theories others came up with, like “Iron-soled shoes coated with Teflon, with moving magnets under the stage,” were outlandish and unconvincing. I studied a number of videos, of less virtuoso performers, and gained an inkling of how it is done. In this video (at around 15 seconds and later) you can clearly see the footwork, since the dancers are wearing lights under their dresses, or here, starting at around 30 seconds. But compare them to the original Beriozkas in the second half of the second video — they are definitely not as good. Here’s a full explanation of the technique, given by a professional teacher — brush up your Russian to follow it. Unfortunately most of what you hear from the original Beriozka group is that it all comes out of the heart, or the soul, or some other I’m-not-telling-you place.

My conclusion: it is actually done with normal steps, little ones, and rigorous, almost super-human control of the upper body while taking them. Years of practice and discipline lead to the perfection I witnessed. So hats off to these remarkable ladies!

Addendum: maybe Beriozkais is just moonwalking?!

Meet Russia's Gravity-Defying Answer to the Rockettes

Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr

On a dimly lit stage, dozens of cloaked figures rise in unison under a somber, blue glow. As the spotlight grows brighter, the dancers are revealed; all unshakeable smiles and sparkles in their conical gowns that seemingly glide – no, float – across the stage like a life-sized music box. It’s enchanting, it’s eerie, and it’s kind of Russia’s answer to the Rockettes: the Berezka Dance Ensemble. Words don’t do these ladies’ footwork sorcery justice, so first things first, have a look:

Unreal, right? The dance, also spelled “Beryozka”, was invented in 1948 by Russian ballerina and choreographer Nadezhda Nadezhdina and literally means “little birch”, as the women would usually dance holding birch twigs. Today, it endures as one of Russia’s most iconic dance troupes, but Nadezhda was always quick to say that this wasn’t your average folk dance – this was the dance of the future. “Beryozka’s dances are not folk dances,” she said, “They are dances whose source is the creative work of the people. But composed by me”.

Nadezhda Sergeevna Nadezhdina (1908-1979).

As with everything in the USSR, the prevailing norms favoured the work of the working class group over the individual. And the new Soviet woman, as exemplified through the Berezka dancers, was yet another highly polished team player with an evergreen smile. As Daniel Jaffé explains in Historical Dictionary of Russian Music, “there was a drive against vulgar ‘gypsy’ dances, waltzes, and tap dances associated with the decadent West and America in particular”.

The dancers in the 1970s. Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr

Thus, while the first of Nadezhda’s dancers were young farm girls from the current Tver region, they shuffled around the stage in silence to intricate dance patterns that felt much less folk-y and a lot more like life-sized Packman. It was unprecedented blend of old and new, with elements of the 1,000-yr-old folk art form, khorovod, which calls for circle dancing. “The khorovod is characteristic of all Slavic peoples,” Nadezhda told The New York Times on tour in 1972, “Its roots go back to pagan times. The circle represented the sun and the khorovod was danced to the god of the sun, Yarila”

Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr

Come 1951, they were so popular that the crowd literally swelled out of the building during their show at the Stockholm Music Academy. Above all, their ‘gliding’ dance style sent a fierce new message: the USSR is here, and it’s unbreakable. Same look, new ‘tude.

The key to how the dancers float has also remained a bit of a mystery to anyone outside the ensemble. “That’s a secret of the firm,” Nadezhda told the NY Times in the same interview, saying that “Not even all our dancers can do it,” she said. “You have to move in very small steps on very low half‐toe with the body held in a certain corresponding position.”

Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr
Manuel Palomino Arjona via Flickr

Most impressively, Nadezhda’s troupe garnered praise both in and outside of the USSR throughout her life. In 1950, she won her country’s prestigious Stalin Prize; then, in 1959, she was awarded the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal by the World Peace Council. In that sense, Berezka was pretty amazing at finding a way to glide in and out from behind the Iron Curtain.

Donbass Song and Dance Ensemble


Donbass Honored State Academic Song and Dance Ensemble
General Director - Artistic Director Olga Goryacheva

The Honored State Academic Song and Dance Ensemble "Donbass" is a hallmark of the Donetsk People's Republic. His work is bright and multinational, like the region itself, where representatives of more than 100 ethnic groups live.

For outstanding achievements in the development of national culture, the ensemble "Donbass" in 1966 was awarded the honorary title "Honored". In 2006, the team received the status of an academic ensemble.
Today the ensemble is actively touring the Russian Federation, participating in major festivals of folk art.
A highlight of 2021 was the performance of the Donbass Ensemble on the main stage of Russia - in the State Kremlin Palace - as part of the IV All-Russian Festival of Folk Art "Dance and Sing, My Russia!", which earned warm applause and many enthusiastic responses from the audience and colleagues. And in the spring of 2022, the band successfully carried out the largest tour of the Russian Federation in its recent history as part of the federal program "We are Russia", giving over 50 concerts in cities and rural areas of five federal districts of the country.

The Donbass Ensemble is one of the most demanded creative groups, demonstrating the highest mastery of folk dance and song and being a true custodian of the best examples of the musical and choreographic culture of its region. The variety and emotionality of musical rhythms, national color, artistic taste and artistry are the invariable components of the collective's success.

In 2022, the team turns 85 years old.

To commemorate this event, Donbass will hold an anniversary tour in the cities of the Russian Federation in the fall.

Attention of the audience will be presented a special holiday program , which will include the brightest choreographic and vocal numbers of the ensemble.

  • soul songs;
  • incendiary melodies;
  • sparkling dances with dizzying stunts will surprise and delight everyone present in the hall.

The richness of the costumes will be an excellent addition to the professional skills of the artists, and the famous "Donbass character" will charge the audience with energy and positive for a long time!

In program:
choreographic productions "Donbass Boys", "Miner's Yards", Russian dance, Russian dance "Kalinka", Russian dance "Duck", Don Cossack dance, Round dance "Birch", "Delicate quadrille", Choreographic production "Monument".

Learn more