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Information: A dance.

Biserka appears on records such as Jugoton LPM-5. Folkraft 1567 contains the AMAN Folk Orchestra medley of Biserka-Bojerka.

Translation: Pearl (or figuratively jewel)

Pronunciation: BEE-ser-ka bo-YER-ka

Other names: Biserka (only), and Bojerka (only)

Source: Janković, Narodne Igre Vol. 1, pp. 34-35: the same dance as Devoja─Źko Kolo.
     Bojerka (no. 22): 6/8, from the district of Pomoravlje
     Biserka (no. 23): 3/8, from Jagodina

Region: Serbia

Document: About Biserka-Bojerka, an article.


Elsie Ivancich Dunin taught Biserka-Bojerka at the 1968 Santa Barbara Folk Dance Conference as learned from Desa Djordjević at a 1967 folk dance seminar in Yugoslavia.

Elsie quotes Desa Djordjević as saying that Biserka was performed at elegant balls in Serbian towns at the turn of the century, one of the "Ballroom Kolos" created by dance masters based on folk dance but performed at urban balls in a more genteel style for the nobility, forcing them to be simple, stately, and elegant.

It was common in the late 19th century to interpolate popular songs and dances into komadi s pevanjem (plays with singing), which were something like musical comedies. I've often wondered about connections between ballroom kolos and these musicals, as the style and setting seems similar and they were popular at the same time with similar clientele.

Dick Crum taught a Romanian "Hora" in Ithaca in spring, 1991 to a 6/8 Romanian melody in hora mare tempo. Such tempos occur rarely in Serbian music, but not the melodies, especially in Vojvodina with its large Romanian minority and musical sharing.

–Mark Forry

Biserka-Bojerka (note spelling: NOT Bojarka). These are two different melodies, to which the same dance was done, in urban circles (ahem!) in Belgrade, Kragujevac, Niš, and possibly Novi Sad, circa turn of century. Combining them was the work of Radio-Televizija Beograd, on a 78 white label entitled simply "Biserka" issued in the early 1950s (pre-1954). Rickey Holden of Folkraft Records then issued the same recording as Biserka/Bojerka after consulting with Desa Djordjević in Belgrade and learning about the dance Bojerka having the same steps as Biserka. Both are described in the Janković sisters' "Narodne igre" Vol I, but I don't have the references handy here at the office, where I'm writing this. Also, I believe I recall both melodies being in Bosnjaković's "Narodne igre za klavir," Belgrade ca. 1952.

There is absolutely no "Russian influence" here in terms of origin, dance steps, melody, or title. There is only a coincidence in the fact that both the Russian and Romanian languages share reflexes of the Old Slavonic word "bojar" (Russian "bojarin," Romanian "boier"), which in both countries referred to a sort of "middle class aristocracy" second only to a prince. We know the word mainly from the opera Boris Godunov. In Romania there are many dances entitled "boieresc," "boiereasca," "boiereste," etc., and some of them (including the one ("Boiereasca") I have been using as a warm-up dance for many years) have the same basic step pattern as Biserka/Bojerka. The Serb upper classes of the late 19th century loved Romanian imported music and musicians, as you well know. I have no doubt that the name "bojerka" was the Serbian translation of a Romanian melody named "boiereasca," just as the Serbian kolo "Dunjeranke or Dunje ranke" is the Serianized Romanian "Dunareanca" (meaning "Danube girl"), "Kokonješte" is the Serbian phonetics for the Romanian "Coconeste" ("dance of a young nobleman"), etc., etc.

In terms of dance movements, the step pattern is known in Serbia under many names and done to many melodies: Sarajevka, Devojačko kolo, Šetnja, Radikalka, Haj haj bože daj, etc. (all conventionally notated in 2/4 time; Biserka and Bojerka are variously notated as 3/4 and 3/8), and is known in Romania as "Hora mare," "Hora de la Campulung," "Hora Moldoveneasca," "Hora Unirii" (conventionally notated in 2/4, 4/4, 6/4 and 6/8 time). (It is also the prototype step pattern of Dobrudjan (Bulgarian) dances named "Rûka" and Romanian (Dobrogea) dances named "Hora de mana," both the Bulgarian and Romanian names meaning "hand").

I used to have a theory that this step pattern was archetypally common to the lower (southern) Danube river valley, disregarding ethnic boundaries, but have never followed up on that research.

Interestingly, in Russia the term "bojarin," feminine "bojarynja," had, by the time of the Revolution, been colloquialized to the terms "barin" and "barynja," by which lower-class Russians (servants, fiacre drivers, market women) addressed anyone of a superior class. And indeed, a tune entitled "Barynja" became an extremely popular melody to accompany the improvised solo or couple dance of the "pljaska" or "perepljas" genre. There is absolutely no connection, however, between the Serbian "bojerka" and the Russian "barynja."

By the way, "Biserka" is a Serbian female first name, derived from the word "biser" meaning "pearl" or, sometimes figuratively, "jewel".

Hope the above stream of consciousness isn't too convoluted! Please feel free to pass it on to anyone interested.

Primi puno bratskih pozdrava!
Dick Crum


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