Singing to the accompaniment of the Gusle – a simple string instrument – is an ancient art of performing primarily heroic epics practised for centuries as a form of historical memory and an expression of cultural identity. Performances involve a complex form of interaction between the audience and performer and are based on the skills and creativity of soloist artists (guslars): the guslars’ ability to dramatize poetic content, body language and charisma are key for successful performances. The repertoire includes songs predominantly about mythical and historical heroes, events from the legendary past, ancient or recent history and, less commonly, ballads and humorous songs. Stage performances take place locally, at festivals, and as part of commemoration practices. Covering a wide range of topics, the songs reflect the value system of the community and their interactive character fosters community feeling. Most modern guslars acquire the basic singing and playing skills from more experienced players in their family, local community or a guslar association, but the skills are also transmitted in public music schools. Local organizations are assembled around the Union of Guslars of Serbia, whose efforts have resulted in the establishment of the Festival of Young Guslars and the Assembly of the Young Guslars of Serbia.
Kolo is a traditional, collective folk dance performed by dancers who are interlinked to form a chain, usually moving in a circular line holding hands with their arms down. It is performed to the accompaniment of music at private and public gatherings and involves all members of the local community. Cultural-artistic societies and folk dance troupes are also important bearers and practitioners of the element. Kolo has an important integrative social function, fostering collective identities at different levels in the communities. It is a symbol of national identity and bears the hallmark of local and regional communal identities. Performances during celebrations of the most important events in individuals’ and communities’ lives make this element very present and sustainable at all levels. Bearers and local communities ensure its visibility by organizing local, regional and national fairs, festivals and competitions, and the sustainability of the practice is also ensured by cultural and artistic societies. Learning through direct participation is the most common way of transmitting the skills and skilled dancers motivate other players, awakening in them a desire to learn and improve their own performance. Knowledge is also acquired through the regular education system and in ballet and music schools.
In Serbia, Orthodox Christian families celebrate an important holiday in honour of the patron saint, Slava, who is believed to be their protector and provider of welfare. The celebration consists of the ritual offering of a bloodless sacrifice and a feast held for relatives, neighbours and friends. A specially designed candle is lit in the family home, then wine is poured over a Slava cake, prepared and decorated by the host’s wife, which is then cut crosswise, rotated and broken into four parts and lifted up. During the ritual, thanks are given to the saint and prayers are said for prosperity. The cutting is performed by the host and the oldest or most important guest and other family members. The feast then begins with the ceremonial drinking of wine, eating and a toast expressing wishes for health, fertility and well-being of the family and guests. Knowledge related to the Slava is passed down in families, with women playing an important role in transmitting knowledge concerning the performance of rituals, their meaning and purpose. The Slava feast reinforces social relations and plays an important role in establishing and maintaining dialogue in multi-ethnic and multi-confessional areas.