The dance is known under many names almost in the entire Poland and remains one of the most popular traditional dances in this country. It is danced by large groups of dancers, in very small steps to the mazurka rhythm. Pairs whirl evenly and flatly in place or around a circle, to four sides. At the end of the 19th century the oberek was ranked as a Polish national dance.
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It is a dance performed to the mazurka rhythm, and owes its name to the characteristic turning made in pairs, called "obertanie" or "obwyrtanie". It was known under different names in different regions: obertas, owijok, wyrwany, zawijacz, drobny, drygant or okrąglak, but everywhere had a fast tempo and the characteristic oberek step (three small, equal steps shuffled flat in one time). The names "obertas", "wyrwaniec" or "obertasy" appear in texts from the 17th century, but it is hard to say if they really refer to the dance we know as the oberek today. The dance most probably comes from Kujawy or Masovia. The character of the dance depends on the music, and songs have very rarely accompanied the dance. The oberek is a lively whirling dance, performed by large numbers of people in pairs. The male partner plays the leading role, performing different ornate figures and steps such as: turnovers, stamps, different kinds of knee bends and jumps with a click of the heels in mid-air. The woman dances more modestly, sometimes answering with her stamps to the stamping of the man. However, her support is necessary for the man to perform the fast whirling and many ornaments. Similarly as the instrumentalists, the dancers would often improvise and show off. Hand gestures accompanied footsteps, and turns or knee bends were frequently emphasised with whistling. The music of the dance is lively and incisive. Oberek dancing usually took a long time, and musicians played improvised melodies one after the other non-stop. Often it took the form of endurance competitions between the dancers and the musicians.


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