Mastery In Balance: Inside The Small Russian Village Of Tightrope Walkers

Tsovkra-1, a small village in the mountains of Russia’s Dagestan autonomous republic, is famous for being the only place in the world where the entire able-bodied population knows how to walk a tightrope.

No one knows exactly how the tightrope-walking tradition of Tsovkra-1 (named ‘1’ because of another Tsvokra village nearby) began, but one thing is for sure – for the last 100 years, every able-bodied man, woman, and child in the village has learned the walk a tightrope, and many have gone on to become circus performers. Although Tsovkra-1’s population has dropped from around 3,000 in the 1980s to under 400 today, all those who remain are trained in the art of tightrope walking.

Legend has it that the men of Tsovkra-1 learned the precarious art of tightrope walking as a way to reach their lovers faster. Tired of trekking for days to court women in villages on nearby mountains, looked for shortcuts and walking tightrope proved ideal. However, few actually believe this romantic theory. Some locals think it was just an efficient way of crossing rivers and chasms when bridges broke down, and others claim that it was an easy way to make money in a land where agriculture simply isn’t possible.

There is no land for cultivation here, no grain, no bread, so in order to feed their families, men here started rope-walking, local man Nukh Isayev told Diagonal View. “They performed in Russia, in Central Asia, and there was a group from here that performed for the glory of the whole Soviet Union.”

Tsovkra-1’s tightrope-walking tradition stretches back further than anyone can remember, but by the 19th century, the remote Dagestani was already famous for it. Rope-walking schools Tsovkra-1 trained young children to become circus performers and they went on to entertain masses throughout the vast Russian empire and win prizes in international competitions.

Unfortunately, the glory days of tightrope walking are long gone, and that has impacted Tsovkra-1 immensly. There is no future in pursuing a tightrope-walking career, so most youths just get regular jobs in larger Russian towns and cities, with only some practicing their village’s tradition as a hobby. That said, everyone in Tsovkra-1 is said to still be able to walk a tightrope.

“Not everyone can do tricks on the rope, and some of the older people don’t do it anymore because it’s too hard for them. But every single able-bodied person here can walk the tightrope,” Ramazan Gadzhiyev, a teacher at the Tsovkra-1 rope-walking school, told The Independent.

Unfortunately, with little to no funding for Tsovkra-1’s rope-walking school and the mass exodus of its youths, the village’s unique tradition is about to become a memory…

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