The Konavle potkolo

The potkolo is the oldest dance in Konavle and most certainly in the Dubrovnik area as well. Until the 20th century, it was preserved in the Konavle hubs of Ćilipi, Popovići and Pridvorje and its oldest film representation comes from Ćilipi, where it was recorded in 1948 by Jadran film. The term potkolo developed from the syntagm idemo igrat pod kolo ("let's dance under the wheel"), which referred either to the wheel dance or, what is more probable, to the figure of the arch or bridge formed by the hands of the first dance pair for the other dancers to pass under. Apart from the figure of the arch, this dance was also characterized by a figure in which the dancer put his left leg under his right knee, which we also encounter in some Macedonian wheel dances. The potkolo is an open wheel dance accompanied by singing and the diple bagpipe and later by the lijerica. Although today it is classified as a wedding wheel dance, none of the previous researchers, such as Nika Balarin or Paulina Bogdan Bijelić, define it as such, but rather, they describe the custom of bacat na ruho or bacat na nevjestinu škrinju, which consists of two groomsmen and two bridesmaids inviting the wedding guests to present the bride with gifts. The groomsmen sing first and the bridesmaids follow, i.e. repeat the verses, all with movement, inviting everyone to give presents to the newlyweds, first of all the men: Ajdmo rijet u ime Boga, da nam bude u čas dobar! Ajdmo igrat ajdmo pjevat oko ruha nevjestina! Ova neve rabra ima, ona ga je dozivala: O ti rabro dobro moje, pospi zlatom ruho moje! Ajdmo igrat ajdmo pjevat oko ruha nevjestina! Ova neve soprin domaćina ima, ona ga je dozivala: Soprin domo, dobro moje, pozlati mi ruho moje! (pospi srebrom ruho moje). Ajdmo igrat ajdmo pjevat oko ruha nevjestina! Ova neve starog svata ima, ona ga je dozivala: Stari svate dobro moje, pospi srebrom ruho moje. Ajdmo igrat ajdmo pjevat oko ruha nevjestina!

“Let us speak in the name of God, so that we may be fortunate! Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest! This bride has a father, she called to him: My good father, sprinkle my chest with gold! Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest! This bride has a master of ceremony, she called to him: my good master of ceremony, gild my chest! (sprinkle my chest with silver). Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest! This bride has a bridesman, she called to him: My good bridesman, sprinkle my chest with silver. Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest!”


(After that, the first-born son, the groomsmen, the wedding party, the brothers, the uncle, the relatives, the chest-bearer, the bagger and the wedding guests are called.) Ajmo igrat, ajmo pjevat oko ruha nevjestina! Ova neve majku ima, ona nju je dozivala: A ti majko, dobro moje, kiti meni ruho moje!

"Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest! This bride has a mother, she called to her: and you, my good mother, adorn my chest!”


(The women are then invited to give presents – the aunts, the sisters, the cousins and finally the wedding guests.) In his study, Ivan Ivančan wrote down two other wheel dance songs that accompanied the potkolo around the bridal chest: Ajmo igrat, ajmo pjevat oko ruva nevjestina. Što je žamor ove dvore, ko je vesejo? Ovo majka sina ženi pa se veseli. Veseli se sinko diko svak je veseo! Što je žamor ove dvore, ko je vesejo? Ovo babo sinka ženi pa se veseli. Veseli se sinko diko svak je veseo!

"Let us dance and sing around the bridal chest! Why the chatter in this house, who is merry? The mother is marrying her son off, so she is the merry one. Be merry, my son, we all are! Why the chatter in this house, who is merry? The father is marrying his son off, so he is the merry one. Be merry, my son, we all are!”


(brothers and sisters are named next) and finally: Prosula se škatuljica sitna bisera, kupila je Neve naša puna veselja! ("A box of pearls spilled over, our bride picked it up full of joy!"). In Pridvorje, the potkolo had the following the introductory general part, which was similar to that sung in other places (in the Dubrovnik coastal region, before the poskočica): Skoči kolo da skočimo! I ko more, ko ne more. A ja mogu, fala Bogu. Kolovođo diko naša, treni okom, skokni skokom. Da ti kolo ne zastane, da ti društvo ne zabave (ne omane),

"Let us jump and hop in the wheel! Those who can and those who can't. And I can, thank God. Lead dancer, our pride, wink an eye and hop. So the wheel dance does not stop and the party leave you.“


after which verses from the Primorkinja [author’s note: Hrvatica] konja jaše wheel-dance song were sung. These verses were known in the wider Dalmatian area.

By examining the indicated variations, we can conclude that the potkolo dance, as an old type of wheel dance, could include, along with the original songs accompanying the custom of bacati na ruho (gifting the bride), other songs from the corpus of epithalamiums, which were normally only sung by a female chorus, such as: Što je žamor ove dvore, Prosula se škatulica and Primorkinja konja jaše. The last song was performed as a wheel-dance song elsewhere on the Adriatic coast, but not necessarily in the context of weddings. Therefore, the Pridvorje potkolo can also be considered a festive dance which was also performed on other occasions. The last potkolos around the bridal chest as part of wedding customs were still performed in the 1920s. The archaic melodic and choreographic structure of the Konavle potkolo preceded the singing accompanying it and it is the oldest part of this wheel dance. It should also be pointed out that the potkolo consisted of two parts – the first part, which was sung and which differed between Pridvorje, Ćilipi and Popovići, and the second part, which was the same everywhere and consisted only of an instrumental and dance sequence. The potkolo was once danced around the bridal chest by four dancers, and it is still not known whether others would join in after the gifting of the bride. Today the potkolo is danced by several couples holding hands, while the lead dancer and his partner hold a kerchief together. Of great significance for further analysis are the two illustrations of the Konavle dance from 1892, from the archives of Petar F. Martecchini: an illustration of a popular dance and an illustration of a noblemen’s dance. The first illustration portrays a dance of mixed pairs – the Ballo Canalese democratico, and the other a men’s dance – the Ballo Canalese aristocratico. The first dance is performed by ten dance pairs and the other by eight. In both dances, all the dancers hold a kerchief together rather than each other's hand. Although some authors have interpreted the first dance as a poskočica and the second one as a potkolo, that claim is not correct. In the poskočica, as far as it is known, there is no kerchief as a prop, and the dance figure illustrated in the aquarelle does not correspond to the ones in the poskočica. It can be concluded that the Ballo Canalese democratico was a mixed-pair potkolo and the Ballo Canalese aristocratico was a men’s potkolo to which epic ballads were sung, perhaps Primorkinja konja jaše, or a wheel dance very similar to it. In the choreographic sense, the potkolo closely resembles older wheel dances with the arch figure. This type of wheel dance was first recorded in Italy in 1328; further examples of it are the Jawor or Most dance in Poland, the Goldene Brücke dance in Germany and the Porte du Gloria dance in France. In Slovakia, an example of this type of dance is the children's dance Hoja Dunda or Kralovna and in Slovenia, a figure from it appears in the Črnomaljsko kolo dance (Aj zelena je vsa gora and Al je kaj trden ta vaš most). In Croatia, it is known under the names Pod mostec, Suhi most and Eja dunda Eja. In most cases, the songs performed during such wheel dances were on the subject of love, and in the Podravina region, the Eja dunda Eja was danced by young men and women who were to marry in the autumn. In terms of dance elements, such as the open wheel, the spiral or snail motif, the arch motif, the use of the kerchief and the reiterative melodic pattern, the Konavle potkolo largely corresponds to the characteristics of chain dances. The first part, which was sung, consisted of four three quarter note beats and the second part, known as okrenut kolo, consisted of six quaver beats. The first part was danced naoposum – clockwise, and after the arch or bridge was formed, the dancers danced in the opposite direction.


This dance may have arrived to Konavle from Dubrovnik, where dances featuring arches—the so-called cerchiatas—were performed, and its popular version would have featured kerchiefs. If we focus on the illustration by Petar F. Martecchini, we will notice that the lead dancer performs the figure of potkoljeno and that he holds the kerchief in his right hand, while spinning his left-hand fingers in the air, as if to prompt the dancers, and dancing the entire wheel dance naoposum – clockwise. If we seek a model for the noblemen's potkolo from Martecchini's illustration, which vanished as a dance form already by the end of the 19th century, we will find it in the chain wheel dance of the Boka Bay navy. It should not be forgotten that troops from Konavle, led by captains, participated in manoeuvres and weapon dances on the Festivity of St. Blaise, and, at Candlemas, danced the potkolo and the poskočica in front of the Church of St. Blaise. Dubrovnik composer Luka Sorkočević, who visited Rijeka in 1782 on the way from Vienna, compared the dance he saw there with the dances of Konavle: Plesovi Hrvata istovjetni su ukusu naših Konavljana "Na Seimenscu". Momci sami plešu u krug poskakujući s jednog kraja na drugi i to pod ritmom popijevke Spaše Janko pod Jablanko. Kolovođa započinje a družina slušajući ga, mijenja smjer plesa na drugu stranu. Pjesme kola su istovjetna našem ukusu, ali s nešto manje profinjenosti i pronicavosti.

"The dances of the Croats correspond to the taste of our people of Konavle, as seen in their ‘Na Seimenscu’. The boys dance by themselves in a circle skipping from one side of it to the other to rhythm of the song ‘Spaše Janko pod Jablanko’. The lead dancer begins and the group, at his command, changes the direction of the dance to the other side. The wheel dance songs correspond to our taste, but are somewhat less refined and insightful.”


This description, as well as Martecchini's illustration, points to the existence of a men’s wheel dance—the potkolo—in Konavle.