Lithuanians, along with their Baltic neighbors, have always loved to dance. Young people gathered to dance in the fields in the summer, or in farmers' houses in the winter. Older people and small children also took part in these festivities talking, socializing, looking around and generally amusing themselves. Looking back further, dance was also once a part of ancient Lithuanian calendar celebrations and rituals.
The specific steps and movements of Lithuanian paired dances differ very little from those of neighboring countries. However, the character and spirit of our dances is unique. Even foreign dances which made their way to Lithuania (i.e. the Krakoviakas, Latisas, Aleksandra, Lelenderis, Valsas, Kadrilis and so forth) have acquired many new variants and distinctive characteristics. Lithuanians dance with great emotional energy which is never expressed externally. Since traditional lyrical folklore originated among farmers and peasants, it still retains their outlook; there are no war or hunting dances, no high jumps or kicks. Lithuanian traditional dances are dominated by subdued ring dances and games whose lyrics center around growing crops and livestock or relations between young people and matchmaking. Dance music has a moderate tempo, is usually symmetric and without large interval jumps.
Lithuanian folk choreography can be classified into four groups: sutartines ( ancient polyphonic songs with dances found only in northern Aukstaitija), and other genres widely known throughout Lithuania including rateliai (ring dances), zaidimai (games) and sokiai (ordinary dances).
The number of participants in rateliai (ring dances) is unlimited and the dancers themselves sing the lyrics without any instrumental accompaniment. Simply walking, the participants perform various movements which sometimes illustrate the song's text. However, usually these consist of simple movements repeated again and again: linking elbows and turning, zilvicio pynimas (weaving circles) and others. Rateliai have several forms including simple circles, double circles, rows, bridges, chains and gates.
Zaidimai (games) are rarely sung, and when they are, they do not follow strict rhythmical patterns. These games hinge on creative improvisation, spoken text or dialogue and the performance of tasks. Some types of zaidimai are quite similar to rateliai.
Sokiai (dances) are accompanied by instrumental music and sometimes singing as well. Separate pairs dance in loosely structured spaces whereas group dances follow a larger plan. Sokiai consist of consecutively repeated movements, steps and figures.
"LITHUANIAN ROOTS", Edited by Rytis Ambrazevicius