Ajde lepa Maro (eng.)

Folkdance folklore

By a discussion among members of the EEFC list (Eastern European Folklife Center), we became again aware of a pretty, simple dance from Serbia, which we first got to know around 1980. As so often in this time, it came to us via the USA, i.e. into the German university folk dance scene. We talk about Ajde lepa Maro. At the time, we liked to dance to it quite often. We do not know its further fate, at least as groups outside our town are concerned. Here it was danced at least until 2014. 

On its journey across the Atlantic (and due to frequent use), the dance suffered a little. We now see that its original form differs from ”ours” in important stylistic details – by the way, this is the case already in my handwritten dance description of 1980. Also, for a long time we didn’t care about the rather naughty lyrics of the song and we danced Ajde lepa Maro completely unaware for thirty years.

The song

Ajde lepa Maro is initially a song. It tells about a young woman who is called to various services to her master, but refuses every time on the grounds that she cannot stay away from the Kolo.

The recording (1) usually used for dancing contains the following lyrics:

Ajde, lepa Maro, gospodar te zove!
 – Ja ne mogu doći, kolo ostaviti.
Ajde, lepa Maro, gospodar je gladan! – 
Hleba u ormanu a nož na astalu.
Ajde, lepa Maro, gospodar je žedan! – 
Voda u bunaru, čaša na ormanu. 
Ajde, lepa Maro, gospodar je bolan!
 – Ja ne mogu doći, kolo ostaviti. 

Come on, pretty Mara, your lord is calling you! – I can’t come, I can’t leave the dance!
Come on, pretty Mara, your lord is hungry! – There’s bread in the cupboard and a knife on the table! 
Come on, pretty Mara, your lord is thirsty! – There’s water in the well and a glass on the cupboard! 
Come on, pretty Mara, your lord is sick! – I can’t come, I can’t leave the dance!

Other sources present the lyrics in the same form. Vladimir Djordjević’s collection of songs from 1909 (2) contains two other stanzas that go even further. They continue the rebellious attitude of the previous verses and push it to the extreme:

Ajde lepa Maro, gospodar je umro! – Ja ne mogu doći, kolo ostaviti! 
Ajde lepa Maro, gospodara nose! – Neka njega nose, mene drugi prose.

Come on pretty Mara, your lord has died! – I can’t come, I can’t leave the dance!
Come on pretty Mara, they are carrying your lord! – Let them carry him, others are asking me [for my hand]! 

The dance

Thanks to Ron Houston (SFDH) (3), we know the origins of the dance: According to recent information, Dennis Boxell presented it for the first time at the Kolo Festival in San Francisco in November 1964. Boxell refers to „the France Marolt Students‘ Folklore Group of Ljubljana“ (Slovenia); their source is unknown. They can have learned or verified their knowledge of Ajde Lepa Maro from „Narodne igre, I knjiga“ (Jankovic‘, Ljubica & Danica, Beograd, 1934), or from another book.

The song, on the other hand, already appears in a collection from 1909, see above. (Dance description here: Ajde Lepa Maro according to Dennis Boxell).

However, we think it is more likely that Dennis Boxell got to know the dance as part of his cooperation with Desa Djordjević. (4) Ajde lepa Maro is included in her 1988 collection. We find it interesting that also in D. Djordjević’s book only the first four stanzas of the song are noted. (5) (Dance description here: Ajde Lepa Maro according to Desa Djordjević).

Youtube shows a whole series of videos with Ajde lepa Maro. However, almost all of them come from the Western folkdance community.

So it looks like Ajde lepa Maro is a product of the recreational dance scene outside Serbia. However, there are the early incidences: in a collection of songs in 1909 and a collection of dances in 1934 – both are Serbian sources. On the other hand, the very active Serbian dance teacher Vladimir Tanasijević does not have the dance in his program of over 100 dances – not even other Serbian dance teachers, as far as we know. And finally, there is the overrepresentation of non-Serbian sources on Youtube. In addition, the first dance description from 1967 (Boxell) does not contain the bouncing in the ankle, which is so typical of the style of Serbian dances. Shouldn’t one come to the conclusion that this, too, is folkdance folklore? Not quite …

(1) Folkraft Vinyl FK 1495, 7“ 45rpm (o.J.): „Folk Orchestra Beograd“, „Supervised and recorded in Jugoslavia by Dennis Boxell“.
 Other, partly identical, partly different recordings: 

Verlag Walter Kögler – SP 23 095 Vinyl 7“ 45rpm (o.J.): „Volksorchester Belgrad“, „Lizenzpressung der jugoslawischen Originalaufnahme von Folkraft Records (FK 1495)“. 

Vivace vacances CD V-407 (1989): „de Mooiste Muziek uit Joegoslavië“, Yugoslavian National Folkdance Orchestra ‚Sarajewo‘. All compositions/arrangements by B. Estacada. Wim Bosheck Musicproductions.  

Syncoop Folkraft CD 2905 (1998): „Anthology of Folklore Music Volume 5 – Serbia 2“ – identical with FK 1495. 

Fidula-Verlag – Fidula-CD 4475 (2003): „Mitmachtänze 3“, herausgegeben von Hannes und Michael Hepp (nicht identisch mit FK 1495).

(2) Vladimir R. Djordjević: Zbirka odabranih pesama (Jagodina 1909), S. 15-16

(3) Society of Folk Dance Historians, Austin, Texas, e-Mail 20.03.2024.

(4) Radboud Koop e-Mail 20.03.2024.

(5) Desa Djordjević: Narodne igre Šumadije i Pomoravlja, Zagreb/Beograd 1988, S. 150 f.