Dance Like There is No Music

"Nijemo Kolo" (Silent Dance) from the Dalmatian hinterland

Silent circle danceCroatian National Tourist Board

Rocky hills in DalmatiaCroatian National Tourist Board

Dalmatian Hinterland

In the Dalmatian hinterland, the southernmost inland portion of Croatia, the Nijemo Kolo is a traditional dance performed at village festivals, weddings, carnivals and other special events.

Sinj fieldCroatian National Tourist Board

Vrlika, Gata and Sinj

The dance is particularly associated with the towns of Vrlika, Gata and Sinj. The dance is unique among folk dancing in that it is traditionally performed in silence, without musical accompaniment. As an example of cultural heritage native to a specific region, Nijemo Kolo silent dancing was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.

Tradition bearersCroatian National Tourist Board

While there are variations in how the dance is performed from village to village, Nijemo Kolo dancing is typically performed by dancers in a closed circle, and most often without musical accompaniment. Dancers may be male/female couples or single-gender groups of men or women. Dancers appear to move in unison, bouncing from one foot to the other as they turn in the circle.

Older couple dancing on grassCroatian National Tourist Board

When couples dance, the movements are more spontaneous, with male dancers taking turns leading their partners to the middle of the circle—as a way of both testing and showing off their female partners’ skills. Circles may be loosely or tightly formed, and the dance steps may be simple or more complex and athletic, depending on the occasion and the composition and mood of the group.

Two men dressed in the costume of SinjCroatian National Tourist Board

Male dancers may jump or leap, or lift their female partners into the air, or groups of dancers might join hands and skip in unison in one direction, then the other. Dance steps, while seemingly random, are closely identified with individual villages—slight differences in Nijemo Kolo are a way for dancers to show where they are from, and to state their heritage and identity to themselves and others.

A detail shot of dancer's shoesCroatian National Tourist Board

Nijemo Kolo

The silent aspect of Nijemo Kolo is adhered to in varying degrees. Tradition dictates that the dance is done in silence, without musical accompaniment and with the only sound that of opanci — the heavy leather shoes or boots of the dancers — landing in cadence on the ground.

Audience watching the dancersCroatian National Tourist Board


In modern practice, dancers may perform while nearby groups of singers sing ojkanje, the traditional polyphonic singing of the Dalmatian Hinterland, often accompanied by someone playing a diple, the traditional twin-reed shepherd’s flute of the region.

Nijemo Kolo as a courtship ritualCroatian National Tourist Board

Still, even when music is present, rather than attempt to dance in step with the music, Nijemo Kolo dancers move independent of it, to the unique steps and spontaneous moves of the group and its members.

Young couple dancingCroatian National Tourist Board

The origins of Nijemo Kolo are not certain, but it is thought to have developed as a form of courtship ritual, as dancing at village festivals and events was — and still is — a way for young people to meet. A young man would take a young woman by the hand and draw her into the dance circle, thereby announcing to everyone present his intention to court her.

Dancers jumping from joy of the danceCroatian National Tourist Board

The meaning behind the silent aspect of the dance is less clear, but it may have developed as a way for peasants to protest landowners or rulers who would not permit them to dance or celebrate with music. The rhythmic thumping of shoes on the ground is thought to have been another form of protest and defiance.

Female costume of SinjCroatian National Tourist Board

Bag shot closeupCroatian National Tourist Board

When performing before an audience or at a special event, Nijemo Kolo dancers, in addition to their opanci shoes or boots, will wear traditional costumes of the Dalmatian hinterland. For women and men, this means a combination of several layers of clothing in black, white, red and gold.

Necklace of SinjCroatian National Tourist Board

Women wear richly embroidered tunics or aprons over a skirt and white blouse, and men will also don an embroidered tunic over a white shirt and dark pants. Both sexes wear a bareta or crvenkapa — a red pillbox hat, with women attaching a white habit to the back of theirs. Other additions may include silver coins attached to costumes, as well as colorful sashes, belts and fringe.

Silent circle danceCroatian National Tourist Board

Preparing to danceCroatian National Tourist Board

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