3rd Phase: 1950’s – Today.
Non-partner dancing, “Kolomania”, Performing Groups, and Fragmentation.
‘We’ want to dance like ‘them”over there’.
I am indebted to Bosnian-American author Marjana Laušević, whose book Balkan Fascination [Oxford University Press, 2007] is the foundation of the historical references in this post. I have borrowed extensively from her writings. Excerpts from Laušević’s book are in italics. However, it should be assumed that opinions expressed regarding developments outlined here are not those of Laušević, but those arising from my personal experience.
From Balkan Fascination, “What we will consider the third phase [emphasis mine-DB] of the IFD scene emerged with new enthusiasts who were increasingly interested in ethnographic work and traveling abroad to experience and learn dances in their original context. This growing interest in focusing on a single region or tradition rather than running through the dances of many cultures in an evening paved the way for the fragmentation of IFD, beginning with the emergence of a nascent Balkan scene.”
Summary of Phase 1 [the Top-Down Phase]: 1880’s -1930’s
What are ‘we’ going to do about ‘them’ in our midst? Making ‘them’ more like ‘us’.
Various liberal-minded social workers, educators, physical education enthusiasts, and dance instructors – all trying to establish new fields of expertise in a new country busy inventing itself – coalesced around the idea that ‘folk dancing’ was good for whatever they thought needed improving. Some were moralists, believing the ‘old’ ways were superior to the newfangled, some wanted to blend and harmonize disparate cultures, some wanted an easy, fun way to get people moving, some saw a business opportunity; many were a combination of these inclinations. What all of these people had in common was a desire to adapt elements of a relatively static, self-contained, rural culture’s social expressions to the perceived needs of an increasingly dynamic urban culture.
As Marjana Laušević, author of Balkan Fascination [Oxford University Press, 2007] writes: “Interestingly, this sentiment is prevalent in the Balkan scene nearly a century later. What Tomko (1999: 213) says for Hinman and Burchenal is just as applicable today to many participants in the Balkan music and dance scene. They “keenly felt the absence of comparable traditions and roots for modern America, and creatively tried to fashion a past from other (European) traditions. This fashioning was in every way re-constitutive; it selected, arranged, and appropriated for its own ends rather than attempting to re-install European originals.”
Dances, costumes, music were means to an end, and the end was not an understanding of the source culture, but rather the creation of a new stew where no ingredient dominated: a blending of cultures where each was equally interesting and valid, activity without resorting to sordid ‘commercial’ pleasures (like jazz!), exercise without hard work, ‘wholesome’ socialization for the young.
By the 1930’s, the efforts of these and many other pioneers were firmly established in schools, settlement houses, urban recreation centers, and dance academies. The intellectual framework and top-down leadership was in place, and many people had a rudimentary, often 3rd-hand knowledge of folk dance principles, steps, and their execution. What was missing was an enthusiastic response from the general population. Folk dance was a ‘should do’, not ‘the bees knees’.
Summary of the 2nd (Immigrant) Phase: 1930’s – 1950’s
‘They’ (in our midst) are like ‘us’ and help ‘us’ have fun.
The second phase of the history of Recreational Folk Dancing was definitely a grassroots movement. Ordinary Americans, often recent immigrants, began teaching the dances of their culture, and dancing the dances of other cultures, for their own pleasure. Their enjoyment and enthusiasm was witnessed first-hand by ‘settled’ Americans, who wanted to join in the fun. Many leaders of ‘top-down’ institutions – schools, physical education departments, recreation departments – began to stress enjoyment as the prime motivator for folk dance – dancing from the inside out.
The broader appeal of ethnic and native folk dancing for fun was increased by a questioning of the USA’s values during the Depression, and an interest in other cultures, sparked by visits to World’s Fairs where many engaged in ‘virtual tourism’ when they saw folk dancing for the first time. Because the new breed of immigrant dance leaders were teaching from their personal experience of immigrant communities, they were better able to convey the positive social aspects of folk dance to ‘outsiders’, turning exercise into fun. When Americanized immigrants became the teachers, their new-found authority helped turn ‘they’ into ‘we’ – people who can talk to us and have something we want.
Three first- or second-generation immigrants were especially important to the explosion of interest in recreational ethnic dance in this period – Vyts Beliajus, Michael Herman, and Song Chang.
Vyts Beliajus, based in Chicago, toured the country teaching a wide repertoire of dances picked up from various immigrant groups. His monthly magazine, Viltis, combined dance instruction and information [of sometimes dubious value] with “information and trivia from the private lives of folk dancers….engendering a feeling of community, continuity, and cohesion among people who were not regularly in touch or may never even have met.”
Michael Herman created the recreational folk dance movement on the East Coast. His multiple skills – musician, dance annotator, authoritative, clear teacher who emphasized fun, visionary who developed a permanent ‘home’ for folk dance, magazine publisher, and folk dance record producer – were unmatched anywhere. However, by skillfully creating and filling a market for ‘authentic’ folk dance records, he unwittingly helped transform the nature of folk dance.
Interestingly, San Francisco native Song Chang matured ‘outside’ the Scandinavian community from which he learned most ethnic dances, and ‘inside’ a network of artists, actors, & intellectuals. Was it this ‘artist-outsider’ status that influenced him to pursue folk dancing through perfecting and performing dances (doing dances), rather than as a venue for socialization (dancing)? Chang planted the seeds of many performing groups – soon to become a major genre within the recreational dance movement, especially in the West.
Chang’s pursuit of perfection also influenced another innovation. By the late 1930’s, especially in Chang’s California, an interest developed in a form of ‘top-down’ quality control – certifying dances ‘authentic’. This meant determining which was the ‘pure’ form of a dance, discouraging teachers from adding their own ‘enhancements’. It was an attempt to ensure a dancer could move from one group to another and expect to do the same dance in the same way at each place. An unintended consequence of this ‘homogenization’ of the dance experience was the shifting of personal focus from ‘dancing’ (self-expression) – to ‘doing dances’ (correct performance as determined by an authority) from being a creative individual dancer, an individual in a group of similar individuals, to being a conduit of a little-understood ethnic heritage; ‘active’ to ‘passive’ involvement – the return of Top Down dancing.
The Immigrant Period began with folk dance a specialty niche among social workers, educators, and phys ed teachers, accompanied by live music, and ended as a growing ‘craze’ with its own continent-wide network of clubs, summer camps, publications, record labels, and professional teachers, accompanied by pre-recorded music.
3rd Phase: 1950’s – Today.
Non-partner dancing, “Kolomania”, Performing Groups, and Fragmentation.
‘We’ want to dance like ‘them”over there’.
This post chronicles what Laušević considers the 3rd phase in the development of what we now call recreational or international folk dancing. In each phase ‘we’, the settled Americans driving the phase, had a different idea of who ‘they’, the ‘folk’ were. For let’s be clear – folk dancing is not, among recreational folk dancers anyway, dancing BY the ‘folk’, it’s US dancing our imagined IDEA of the ‘folk’. It’s one culture selectively imagining another for its own purposes. What those purposes are helps define what we imagine the ‘folk’ to be, and how we conceptualize and dance ‘their’ dances.
From Balkan Fascination, by Maria Lauševic: “What we will consider the third phase [emphasis mine-DB] of the IFD scene emerged with new enthusiasts who were increasingly interested in ethnographic work and traveling abroad to experience and learn dances in their original context. This growing interest in focusing on a single region or tradition rather than running through the dances of many cultures in an evening paved the way for the fragmentation of IFD, beginning with the emergence of a nascent Balkan scene.”
1951 Stockton Dances
The 1951 Folk Dance Camp (Stockton) syllabus listed about 330 dances, 235 of which were American square, round, and contra dances, (all partner). Of the remaining 95 dances, only 11 were non-partner; 8 from Israel, 3 from Yugoslavia. PERCENTAGE OF PARTNER DANCES; 97%. Of the remaining 95 non-USA dances, 60 were from Northern and Western Europe. The rest of the world comprised 10 dances from Israel, 4 from Yugoslavia, 1 Romania, 1 Ukraine, 6 were from Mexico, 5 from the Philippines, 4 from Puerto Rico, 1 from Sicily, 2 from Canada, and 1 from Argentina. PERCENTAGE OF OF NORTH & WEST EUROPE + NORTH AMERICA TO TOTAL DANCES; 90%. 1951 was the first year no sheet music (live music) was listed as an option for accompanying a dance – only recordings.
Israel Breaks the Mold – Dance without Partners
Israel was recognized as a sovereign state by the UN in 1948, over the vehement objections of the resident non-Jewish Palestinians and all other Arab states. Recognition was the culmination of a 60-year campaign by prominent European and American Jews to find land in which they could live under their own political control. During the campaign, Jews from many nations settled in Palestine, representing the full religious spectrum from ultra-Orthodox to socialist-athiest. Many of the most energetic and aggressive of the settlers had progressive ideas formed in the ferment of 19th & 20th century Western European thought – various ideologies of capitalism, materialism, socialism and even Communism – all came to Israel to try creating a new way of living – better than what they left behind. From this was born the kibbutz movement – small plots of land – usually barren – granted to a group of settlers with the aim of creating self-sufficiency (thus improving the land) while granting to the settlers freedom to organize themselves as they saw fit (allowing them the social experimentation they craved).
Kibbutzes varied greatly in their degree of social experimentation and their success, but many were extremely egalitarian in their philosophy – feminism was high on the agenda and often successfully implemented, at least superficially. Dance was an important feature of kibbutz life – meetings often started with dancing, and it was determined that new dances were to be a reflection of the new communal philosophy. Thus the circle, that most egalitarian of formations, became the standard for Israeli dance, and many, possibly most dances were deliberately non-partner. Dances reflected current ideas in the European and American dance scenes – Isadora Duncan to Martha Graham – free, vigorous, expressive movement, which expanded the range of what could be considered ‘folk’ moves.
When news of this new kind of dance reached the USA in the late 1940’s it created a ripple of excitement, and soon Israeli dances became part of the recreational folk dance repertoire. In the 1951 survey of Stockton dances listed above, of 11 non-partner dances listed, 8 were from Israel. For more on the development of Israeli dance, click https://folkdancefootnotes.org/dance/dance-information/israel-early-israeli-dance/
International Folk Dancing as “Virtual Tourism”
“If the true American citizen was to be a tourist, international folk dancers facilitated the expression of this identity in part through theatricality. Firstly, dancers entered a different temporal, social and spatial sphere to partake in this activity. Secondly, they imaginatively took on multiple roles during a single evening (Russian kozak, Serbian shepherd, Hungarian townsman, Dutch shoemaker). With an audience or without it, folk dance was a kind of theater.
The “othering” of activity through marking the folk dance experience as different from one’s everyday life and everyday self is clearest in participants’ dressing up in folk costumes, not only for festivals and performances, but also for regular folk dance classes. As Vyts Beliajus noticed, “at the drop of a hairpin, a costume is worn.” Folk costumes figured highly in the international folk dance scene as stage props, but also as valued objects that could be collected, possessed, used, and recreated. Many folk dancers view costumes with reverence. These objects of beauty were particularly admired for the intense labor invested in their making. There was no clearer way to identify one’s self as “of the folk” than to wear a folk costume. As intensive manual labor was recognized as one of the attributes of real folk, people would spend “days and months of sleepless hours to create tenderly and meticulously creations of utmost beauty” (Viltis Oct-Nov 1949/7). Models and directions for making folk costumes were printed periodically in folk dance books and magazines. Most commonly, however, pictures from National Geographic magazine were used as patterns.…
“…What was the most desirable destination for folk dancers? Generally it was the “Folk Land” that they yearned not only to visit, but to embody. Whether Bulgaria, Italy or Denmark, dances from “Folk Land” had quite identifiable characteristics. “Most of them are confined to space limitations without flourish, wild twirls, lifting of dress, throwing of head and shoulders, undue and wildly exaggerated hand clapping, or executing steps as if one is about to take off on an airplane ride,” explains Beliajus, clearly dubious about such showiness. “most of the European folk dances require simplicity and humbleness in bearing, to be one of the folk,” he further asserts. To be “one of the folk,” a dance needed to be devoid of seductiveness, competitiveness, exaggeration, spectacle, and complexity. Mary Ann Herman (Viltis Dec. 1956/15) wrote: “We’ll settle any old time for the wholesome, non–competitive, unselfish type of folk dancing we have here, with folks making up with a friendly hand for what they may lack in polished dances and techniques.””
“It should be clear that these ideas were based on an imagined “Folk Land” rather than an actual understanding of ways dance functioned in traditional societies. This vision of the folk had very little to do with with the values of “peasant societies” and little more to do with the reality of the international folk dance scene, yet leaders and followers alike perpetuated it. Despite statements to the contrary, the emphasis in the IFD scene was, in fact, much more on the quantity of dances than on quality, and the structure of the average folk dance club was hierarchical; members were divided into classes for beginners, intermediate to advanced classes, and exhibition groups. In traditional villages, only a handful of dances would be danced in a lifetime, and dancers were divided into categories based, not on skill and the organization of a school, but on differences in age, gender, and social and marital status.”(emphasis mine, DB)
“The theatricality of IFD events was sometimes full-blown, as in Michael Herman’s description of the virtual culinary travel at his folk dance camp.The food is authentic, and plenty of it, prepared by excellent cooks. Volunteers sign up for a committee whose function is to create the proper atmosphere for each meal. They may, and have, turned the dining room into a Turkish harem, an American Indian Teepee, a German Rathskeller, a French Art Gallery, if need be. Authentic costumes are usually available from the Herman collection and many of the campers bring their own. If not, they are made from available materials. These are worn by the committee who serve the meal. Authentic music is played in the background. Food customs are observed and there is always someone at camp who knows some interesting things to tell about the country whose food we are serving. (Folk Dance syllabus, 1953:1)
“What Herman describes is a homemade fantasy of being somewhere else and somebody else. Cultural difference is reduced to stitching patterns, colors, and spices used to used to enrich the perceived colorlessness of American culture. This travel around the world may have been recognized as an entertainment, but what are its implications?”
One of the activity’s premises is that elements of symbolic culture can be recreated and appropriated for an enactment of difference. Needless to say, real difference has not been explored. The choice of a harem or a teepee, a rathskeller or a gallery to represent a particular cultural environment does not just fail to break stereotypical representations of these cultures it affirms them. Furthermore, the harem is assumed to be the place where the Turk is most Turkish, just as the French express their greatest Frenchness in the art gallery. Regardless of their different connotations, these were places where people were imagined to make merry. The assumption that Turks are merriest in the harem and the French in the art gallery is inconsistent with the statement that “folk dancing is a recognized instrument for breaking down prejudices and for creating in their place a spirit of goodwill towards all men”. (Herman, 1956: viii). It is one thing to say that “Over all the country people discovered that one didn’t have to be Swedish to enjoy doing the Hambo, or Russian to enjoy the Troika” (ibid), but it is another thing to assume that because one can dance the Hambo and the Troika one has an understanding of the Swedes and the Russians. The still-common belief that folk-dancing involves “painlessly educating people in the cultural backgrounds of the countries where the dances originated (ibid.)” and, in so doing, “develop[ing] good fellowship” must be scrutinized. Such painlessness comes from the virtual nature of the intercultural encounter. Doing the steps of a Russian dance might build “good fellowship” among the “synthetic Slavs,” to borrow Beliajus’s term. But only symbolically can that activity be viewed as synonymous with cultural exchange, dialogue, or interaction.
The Balkan Breakthrough
A few dances from the Balkans had been part of the international folk dance repertoire since at least 1914 [see Chalif, Phase 1]. “By the 1930’s prominent folk dancing teachers were regularly introducing circle dances, particularly from Yugoslavia, to their classes and performing groups. Vytautus Beliajus was ‘teaching kolos fullblast’ in and around Chicago – first having learned from native Yugoslavs and later teaching them to the ‘second generation’ as well as to his early folk-dance groups. Michael Herman was teaching kolos in New York at approximately the same time. Changs International Folk Dancers was probably the first group to have a separate kolo class, with ‘one evening a week being devoted to kolos alone’….While the Serbo-Croatian term ‘kolo’ refers to the non-partner dances of Serbs and Croats done in a circle or open-line formation, in the folk dance world it came to be used for any similar dance from the Balkans.”
“The popularity of kolos grew steadily throughout the 1940’s, and by the 1950’s became full-blown kolomania. One can find many accounts that depict the kolo dancing scene as exuberant, vibrant, and growing, particularly in California at this time…Among the earliest teachers to feature Balkan dances, three stand out, due to their very different backgrounds, their very different approaches to Balkan material, and the kind of influence they exerted.
“Kolo” John Filčić
In the late 1940’s, the first Balkan-specific teacher emerged – ‘Kolo’ John Filčić. John was born in 1920 in what is now Rijeka, Croatia [then Fiume, Italy.] At 8 (1935) his father brought him to the steel mill city of Gary, Indiana; at that time full of Croatian, Serbian, Polish and other immigrants. In 1946 the family moved to California – just in time to catch the wave of enthusiasm for kolo dancing. By 1948, John was dancing 6 nights a week, and had formed Serbian and Croatian performing groups. In 1949 he started his own store and record business – Festival Records, and attended Stockton Folk Dance Camp. By 1951 he was teaching at Stockton, which he continued to do for 15 consecutive years. Like the other immigrant teachers, John learned his repertoire growing up in the Croatian and Serbian immigrant communities in the USA. He was not to visit Yugoslavia until 1962.
In the Bay area…John Filčić [see below] founded an annual Kolo Festival… in the fall of 1952…It was a two-day affair held over Thanksgiving week-end and patterned generally after an ethnic activity. As the event was a great success, showing that there were many folk dancers excited about doing only kolos, the scope of the Kolo Festival continued to expand…’Each year the Kolo Festival has grown with the addition of another day, Viltis, 1954′.“
Joukowsky, (born in Ukraine), met his wife Yania (born in Poland), at the Yugoslav State Theater School, a four-year institution where each student studied opera, drama, and music. They both became soloist ballet dancers. In 1935, Anatol became ballet master and choreographer for the Yugoslav State Theater, and later ballet master at the Vienna Opera House. After WW2, he became a dancer, choreographer and second stage director with the Ballet Russe. In 1950, Anatol and Yania moved to New York, then on to San Francisco, where he taught for 14 years at the San Francisco Ballet, and San Francisco State College, among other positions.
Between 1923 and 1941, during his two-month vacation period, Anatol and a group of friends traveled to Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, North Africa, Poland, Romania, Spain, Syria, and Turkey. Many of his dance research trips were accomplished on horseback. At first, Anatol would hunt, fish, and watch the people dance in the Yugoslavian countryside at weddings, festivals, and holiday occasions. In the interim between World War I and II, Anatol was the only professional choreographer who was doing folk dance research, and this was the last era when these dances could be found alive in these particular countries. He would hear news of an upcoming wedding in some small village (in Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, etc.) and would trek to it knowing quite well that there would be lots of music and dancing. However, Joukowsky’s instructors at the State Theater School trained him not to carefully archive his research, but to consider researched ethnic material as inspiration for stage performances. During 1936, Anatol organized a small professional group to specialize in ethnic dance. They gave their first recital of ethnic dance in 1937 at the University Auditorium of Beograd.
In 1952 Lawton Harris, founder of Folk Dance Camp, Stockton, engaged Anatol Joukowsky, “Mr. J” to everyone who knew him, to teach there. He was to continue teaching at Stockton for 20 years. As quoted by Richard Duree in this article https://www.sfdh.us/encyclopedia/real_vs_choreographed_folk_dances_duree.html “Mr. J was a charming gentleman and a great teacher of very complicated choreographies – most of which turned out to be far from the truth. Most bore little if any resemblance of the true folk dances from which they were supposedly taken. Vrtielka, for instance, was supposed to be from Novy Zamky in Slovakia. My contact from Novy Zamky says there is no such word in their language, the music does not resemble anything she ever heard, and the dance does not resemble anything she ever saw. So Mr. J was creating dances from his own theatrical dance background and those dances set the example for other dance teachers to follow.”
Among dances associated with Joukowsky, some, like Vrtielka, Horehronsky Čardáš, Ajde Jano, Jovano Jovanke, Gerakina and Kak u Kluchika are obvious choreographies. Not all are, however, and this is why his legacy is so ambiguous. Joukowsky is presented as an authority; few are qualified to check the veracity of his assertions, fewer still want to ‘rock the boat’ of peaceful co-existence among dance instructors, symbolic of the harmony folk dancers cherish among each other and their vision of the placid world order folk dance is supposed to promote. Rather than a top-level dispute over the ‘authenticity’ of dances, all are allowed to stand as ‘folk’, with little guidance as to how to distinguish the ‘authentic’ from the ‘choreographed’. For the average folk dancer who never saw an ‘authentic’ dance, there was no reason to doubt the ‘authorities’. And yet, some of his dances have an obvious charm and emotional pull that I for one find hard to resist. As a beginner dancer, on my first visit to Stockton, I fell in love with the music, choreography, and ‘story’ of Horehronsky Čardáš.
Dick Crum was the first, most beloved, and in many ways the best, of a new breed of folk dance teacher, what Lauśević calls the “Teacher/Ethnographer”. Though of German-Irish extraction, Dick was raised, like the “immigrant” instructors, in an ethnic (Romanian, which he learned to speak at an early age) neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dick was a very bright lad. In grade 5, he was learning German, French, and Spanish. At the age of 16, he graduated from high school, valedictorian of his class. He loved languages, gained a knowledge of 25, completed course work for a PhD from Harvard in Slavic studies, and became a professional translator.
Dick started folk dancing in September, 1947, at a group meeting at the International Institute of St. Paul. During Thanksgiving weekend in 1951, he attended the first annual Kolo Festival in New York City, sponsored by the Folk Dance House (founded by Michael and Mary Ann Herman). Dick was the program director of the Festival of Nations at St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1952 where he mastered dance dialects of many styles of international dance. From 1950, he was with the Duquesne University Tamburitzans for many years, first as a dancer, then as choreographer and technical adviser.
It was as a dancer with the Tamburitzans, on a 1951 tour of Yugoslavia, that Crum first got to see Balkan dancing in its native habitat. “At that time he was unable to distinguish between a staged and non-staged dance, and he did not necessarily understand where the material was coming from and how it was represented. When the Tamburitzans performed along with the prestigous Croatian folk dance ensemble Lado, Crum felt that what the Tamburitzens took to Yugoslavia was ‘not a show, but a cheap Vaudeville. I was very ashamed of the program.’ Watching the other ensemble was revelatory. When Lado performed the second half of the concert I saw for the first time Croatian dances, and I was numb, completely numb….I almost fainted when I saw Lijevakovićev’s Slavonslo kolo‘
This intense aesthetic experience is something Crum never experienced at IFD events. One of the major points of departure from the IFD scene as we know it up to this point was a motivation in which the aesthetic might outpace the ideological. What moved Crum, and many others of his generation, was this intense aesthetic experience, accompanied by his recognition of the dance and its accompanying music as a living art rather than a representation of an idea. Due to this realization Crum was perhaps the first folk dance teacher to try to try to capture the “spirit” of the dance, going beyond mere execution of steps and beyond the well-intentioned but stereotyped sense of “spirit” employed by Hinman and her peers. On his first tour to Yugoslavia, he witnessed a non-staged dance in a market place in Sarajevo [Trusa in Baščaršija -DB]. When in later years American folk dancers would ask him “What approach do you use when you see a non-staged dance and you want to join it?” he would recall this experience and reply “It will not even occur to you to get into that circle. And, believe me, when you are faced with a real dance, you will not even think of joining it….When I saw Trusa in Baščaršija [Sarajevo’s core, DB], I realized I did not belong there.
Then I realized – I am seeing something here that is very different from all the other folk dancing I have seen.” This observation is extremely important and could not have been made before folk dance teachers began began to do ethnographic research. Crum distinguishes here between the different levels on which a dance exists [emphasis mine – DB]. Just as Hinman came to feel that immigrant teachers were needed to give a sense of the qualities of dance steps beyond their simple execution, Crum realized that there was yet another level. Although he did not articulate this at the time, he acknowledged the depth of interaction between the dancers he happened upon in Sarajevo. He saw that simply executing the proper dance steps could not make one a part of such a dance any more than walking into a stranger’s funeral could make one a mourner. What Crum calls here a “real dance” is obviously different from IFD repertoire, and even from the choreographed stage presentations he saw while in Yugoslavia. Similar experiences have compelled some enthusiasts to completely dropout of the scene after their first visit to the Balkans.
Although Crum’s experiences, as he recalls them, were colored by his folk dance training in the line of Beliajus and Herman, he could not avoid noticing the differences, even within familiar dances he saw in his travel. “When I saw people doing U Šest, I was very confused. They were all doing the dance differently and that was not at all true in the folk dance world.
I remember thinking ‘Oh I wish Michael was here to tell me which one of these people are right.’ This was the state of my mind.” Being so accustomed to the packaged presentation of folk dances in which “dances were normative, and you can go and find the correct way of doing them in one of those books,” Crum struggled, “trying to make the real world match what I assumed to be the laws.” The experience of trying to make the real world match one’s perception — something we all do in trying to make sense of our surroundings — would be shared by many enthusiasts of folk dancing when they set out to explore the Balkans....it is interesting to consider Dick Crum’s experience in light of its occurrence in between two historical phases of IFD. Faced with the obvious discrepancy between the empirical data and the IFD mode of presentation, Crum did not know how to reconcile the two. He “followed the formula of Burchenal, Hinman, and Herman” and decided to create one “packaged” dance out of the many different ways the people were executing the steps. He translated the different personal styles of dancing into different “figures”. [emphasis mine DB]
“I said, OK, since I don’t know who is right here I would take various figures and put them together and then I would say do figure one two times, go to figure two, etc. Now I look back and say “God, Crum, how could you be so docile, so spineless?….I am an intelligent person, why did I not see that? Somehow, all those 600 people in Yugoslavia were wrong, and Michael was right.“
There were ideological obstacles to accepting the possibility of there being many right ways to do a particular dance. An acknowledgement of such individual expression within the same circle conflicted with the near sacred concept of “folk” as communal creation and expression. “Folk dancing is the creation of the people, of the masses, and not of the individual” wrote Beliajus. This widely shared belief is so deeply ingrained in the folk dance world and American society at large that, even today, it can be seen as provocative to question it.
Another of the “ideological obstacles to accepting the possibility of there being many right ways to do a particular dance” was the movement within the folk dance community “to establish a unified folk dance repertoire“, discussed in the 2nd “Immigrant” phase above.
Upon returning to the United States after the tour, Crum was in great demand, with requests from numerous clubs and camps that wanted him to teach the new material. With further research trips and fluency in several Slavic languages, Dick Crum became the first expert in Balkan dance within the folk dance community, setting an example for many to follow and inspiring enthusiasm for Balkan dance around the country… In addition to teaching many dances new to the USA, Crum began the trend of folk dancers visiting Balkan countries first-hand. For more on Crum’s life and teaching style, click http://www.sfdh.us/encyclopedia/crum_culture_session_1980_mcginn.html and http://www.sfdh.us/encyclopedia/crum_d.html
I believe Dick Crum’s decision “to continue formatting one “packaged” dance out of the many different ways the people were executing the steps, (he translated the different personal styles of dancing into different “figures”), and to limit dance notation to the physical structure of the dance, was the single most influential decision ever made in the recreational folk dance movement. It set the template for all future dance instructors. Dick didn’t create this format, it had been in existence since the beginnings of folk dancing in the USA, was becoming standardized in California, and was popularized by Michael Herman and others. But Crum was the first to recognize how ill-suited the format was to convey the emotional intensity and social interactions that were equally important to the dance experience of a culture whose values were quite different from progressive industrial culture. Crum’s format conveyed only the skeleton of the dance. When doing dances from North and West Europe, whose cultures were similar to American, dancers could draw from their own inherited understanding of social mores to ‘flesh out’ dances. Rather than create a new way of teaching and annotating dance to ensure social mores and emotional intensity were as important as footwork, Crum opted to supplement structural dance teaching with separate ‘cultural’ sessions. It was how his American ‘culture’ had, since its beginning, taught the dances of ‘other’ cultures. At this early stage in his career, he lacked the vision and confidence to comprehend the far-reaching consequences of his continuation of the path of his mentors.
This decision was made by Crum with the best of intentions – to condense months of fieldwork in many locations into a representative sample of a complex variety of dance practices. Although Crum and many of those who followed him have been diligent in emphasizing that these “figures” are merely optional alternate forms of a basic dance sequence, once the dance was committed to paper, most dancers considered the entire page to be the dance – if the figure was possible, it was part of the dance. One didn’t know the dance unless one knew all the figures, and the dance seemed incomplete if a figure was left out. And yet, dances with only one figure were the norm among ‘villagers’, just as the basic polka or waltz step was all most American dancers needed to dance a polka or waltz.
In the Folk Dance Problem Solver ©2009 by Ron Houston, Ron’s article on Čačak, reports a conversation between Crum and Croatian dance ensemble LADO’s director, Zvonko Ljevaković, where Ljevaković told Crum “The real folk dances seldom have more than one part. When you encounter a dance with more than one part, you can be pretty sure that somebody has taken the real dance and zafrknuti ‘played around’ with it. This immediately forces the dancers to resort to conscious memory, to THINK more about what their feet are doing, and you’ve begun to compromise the joyful spontaneity of the original dance.”
North American folk dancers were already used to THINKING during dances. Square dance, that most “American” of folk dance forms, utilizes a caller, who talks dancers through combinations of previously memorized patterns. Dancers have to constantly utilize conscious memory to instantly recall a large variety of patterns to be executed. If the caller stops, the dance stops – one can’t lead a square dance from the floor. Contra (those without callers) and North European folk dances also have multiple figures which have to be recalled from memory. However these dances had music familiar to North Americans – few exotic instruments, chord changes or rhythms, and a small range of foot patterns.
Part of the excitement of Balkan dancing was its unfamiliarity, and with unfamiliarity came an increased need for THINKING; thus, decreased attention to FEELING “the joyful spontaneity of the original dance.” The more figures in a dance, the more dancing becomes satisfying due to a proper execution of patterns, rather than a cumulative buildup of shared emotional excitement. Dance changes from being a primarily social event to a primarily technical event.
Over time, Balkan dances with only one figure came to be considered boring, both to teach and to dance (especially since recorded music became quickly predictable and boring). Over time, the ‘active’ repertoire of most recreational dance groups favored multi-part ‘packaged’ dances over simple ‘village’ dances. Over time, due to their increased popularity, recreational folk dancers came to consider multi-figure dances as the ‘norm’. Recreational groups’ repertoire was no longer an accurate reflection of the repertoire of the ‘village’ they were purporting to represent.
Equally important was Crum’s decision to “package” a dance by pairing it to a specific recording; in some cases choosing or adjusting the figures to fit the music. In the Balkan “village”, dance patterns were usually independent of any particular song or melody. Several songs could be associated with a single dance pattern, and the dance pattern needn’t correspond with the musical phrase. Here, Crum followed the example set by Michael Herman. In order to make the music more “accessible”, he chose a single recording closer in form to American taste in pop music.
Also for simplicity’s sake, a dance was often named for the song played on the recording, which sometimes meant the same dance had multiple names due to its being associated with multiple songs or multiple recordings. Competing record companies would sometimes label their recording of a song differently to distinguish it from other recordings. Because many dancers knew a dance by the name on the record, dancers thought the different recording titles for different songs were different dances.
If there were three dance ‘figures’, it certainly helped dancers who were unfamiliar with Balkan music to have each ‘figure’ correspond with a different musical phrase. That way, if a dancer dropped a step, or had a lapse of memory, one could wait for the change in music to begin the next figure and return to being ‘in sync’. The music could provide the cue to move on to the next figure, thus relieving a burden from inexperienced line leaders.
Balkan Vs Western Music
Balkan music was exotic and unfamiliar to American ears unused to folk instruments, minor or dissonant harmonies, lightening-fast arpeggios and uneven rhythms. One couldn’t be expected to distinguish a solo bagpipe pajduško from a solo bagpipe račenica, let alone hear slightly different fingering patterns, so recordings featuring complex arrangements that changed instrumentation with each musical phrase, or had a verse-chorus-instrumental-interlude structure, were favored, even if they were closer to western-influenced urban Balkan pop music than to village practices.
Because Crum was the early model of a Balkan dance instructor, those following him who wanted to adhere closer to village traditions had to overcome Americans’ pre-conceived notions of what constituted Balkan music and dance practices.
Steve Kotansky tells a story, quoted in the German internet site Tanzrichtung “when, for example, Atanas came to America for the first time, Pece [Pec Atanasovski, gajda player and music arranger of Tanec – DB] was his best friend, he used his music and music from the village and he taught at a seminar in the most famous folk dance camp in the world. They told him, “Atanas, you are great, you are very good,” – I know the person who said that – “but we can not understand your music. So please: more beautiful music! “And he saw what people liked: Israeli music, Israeli dances … So he came a year later with these beautiful sung pieces of “Tanec” [the Macedonian professional dance troupe – DB] etc. and people loved and praised him …”
Folk Dancers’ Reaction to Balkan Dances
It’s important to recall that ‘kolomania’ was not enthusiastically accepted by many, possibly even most ‘established’ American folk dancers in the early 1950’s. As the list of dances taught at Stockton in 1949 & 1951 shows, 90% of dances were of American and North & West European origin, and 95% were partner dances. International dancing was not very international, and not everyone was eager to expand its parameters during the height of Cold War paranoia and the Army-McCarthy hearings, where everything ‘foreign’ was suspect. Non-partner line dances to non-western music from Communist countries was a radical departure not everyone was willing to embrace. Although learning a few dances from yet another part of the world fit in nicely with International Folk Dancing’s philosophy of bringing all cultures under one umbrella – each equally valid and interesting – the world of Balkan dance was considerably more exotic than that of, say, Germany. Nevertheless, Balkan dances were at first accepted as new additions to the repertoire. “Up to this point the average folk dancer, though he or she certainly had favorites, received the repertoire from all corners with similar enthusiasm.” It was not the dances themselves, but the fanatical enthusiasm some dancers had for Balkan dances in particular that bothered folk dance leadership. “Some people, including Beliajus and Michael and Mary Ann Herman, were sincerely disturbed and worried by this fad.…For one thing, in the scene’s philosophy of internationalism and egalitarianism, there was no room for one region’s traditions to be so highly favored over another….Kolomania threatened to convert a large number of international folkdancers, causing them to abandon groups and teachers still operating under the forty dances/forty countries model.”
Nor were ‘kolomaniacs’ necessarily welcomed into immigrant communities. The world of others was, sometimes quite literally, used as a playground when folk dancers would crash a local ethnic party, oblivious of the cultural etiquette in place at these events. How little folk dancing contributed to the understanding of another culture becomes clear from the fact that sometimes “ethnic dancers boycotted their own affairs” because “those pesky folk dancers” were there. [Viltis, Dec 1955, The Dance Situation.] The failure to understand that within ethnic communities dancing meant something more than entertainment and recreation led (and still leads) to conflicts between ‘ethnics’ and ‘folk dancers.’ Some ethnic communities have used various means, including high cover charges, to keep the folk dancers away. It was not rare that, when actual intercultural encounters happened, folk dancing did not prove to be ‘of great value as a harbinger of good will toward fellow men.’ Learning was not painless in these situations, nor was it as much fun as it was within the safe and predictable environment of a folk dance club.
1955 Stockton Dances
1955 was the first year Dick Crum taught at Stockton. The 1955 syllabus listed about 182 dances, 86 of which were American square, round, and contra dances, (all partner). Of the remaining 96 dances, only 25 were non-partner; 3 from Israel, 12 from Yugoslavia, 5 from Armenia, 3 from Greece, 1 from Bulgaria, 1 Basque. PERCENTAGE OF PARTNER DANCES; 86%. Of the remaining 96 non-USA dances, 51 were from Northern and Western Europe. The rest of the world comprised 8 dances from Israel, 15 from Yugoslavia, 7 from Mexico, 5 from Armenia, 4 from Hungary, 2 from Spain, 1 each from Venezuela, Slovakia, Bulgaria & Curacao, . PERCENTAGE OF OF NORTH & WEST EUROPE + NORTH AMERICA TO TOTAL DANCES; 75%.
I believe the rise of Balkan dancing in the USA was driven more by changing values in American culture and the rise of a new generation of dancers, than by the acceptance of Balkan dances by the established folk dance community.
1955 – a Turning Point in American Culture
In 1955 two events were to have a profound impact on the future of folk dancing in the USA. The McCarthy hearings were losing steam, and ‘folk music’ entertainers were re-emerging to influence American culture. In 1955 The Weavers with Pete Seeger ignored the entertainment industry Blacklist to give a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall and, with Harry Belafonte’s 1956 million-selling album (the first ever) “Calypso”, kick-started the folkie movement on college campuses and radio airwaves. 1955 was also the year that Bill Haley & His Comets propelled Rock ‘n Roll into the mainstream, galvanizing a young generation into a social phenomenon with their own cultural values, and providing an aural alternative to crooner (Crosby/Sinatra) musical tastes.
“Perhaps the most important part of kolo’s aesthetic appeal was that it did not require partners. Non-partner dancing itself was on the rise in 1950’s America, reflecting changes in perceptions and behavioral standards with regards to gender and sexuality, and an increasing informality. The very form of the kolo was perceived as congruent with contemporary social and aesthetic demands. Especially within the teen community, non-partner dancing was beginning to take hold. Consider these two big hits from late 1957. At the Hop represented the standard couple dancing of the time. The Stroll was considered a novelty, but was very popular.
In 1960, Chubby Checker’s #1 hit The Twist launched a wave of teen solo and line dances – The Loco-Motion, the Monkey, the Mashed Potato, the Pony, The Bristol Stomp, The Monster Mash, The Limbo, The Watusi, etc. By 1964, there may have been partners that faced each other, but hardly anyone touched. Each was a soloist.
Meanwhile ‘folk’ was becoming the music of choice among college kids. From the clean-cut Kingston Trio to the slightly Bohemian Peter, Paul & Mary to the ‘leftie’ Joan Baez to the ‘outsider’ Bob Dylan, folk music was morphing in parallel with folk dancing; from the escapism of ‘let’s all have fun at the hootenanny’ and ‘things were purer in the old days’, to outright rejection of the mainstream modern American life; “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More” – just a step away from “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”.
This resonance with the times would be even more amplified in the 60’s and 70’s. In the biography of Mark Morris, the professional modern dancer and choreographer who started his career in the Balkan folk ensemble Koleda, the author explains how ‘Koleda was like a 60’s commune, and the project on which they were embarked was itself a symbol of the community. Holding hands in a circle, dancing and singing in harmony, they made art out of friendship and love, and love out of art.’ The IFD repertoire had the appeal of being folk. The appeal of Balkan dances, on top of being folk, was in their very form – the circle – an embodiment of community, harmony, and humanity united by joining hands.“
The Impact of Performing Groups
The late 1950’s marked the arrival of another major influence on the evolution of recreational folk dancing – performing groups from Eastern (Communist) Europe. Interest in the dances of the Balkans was already a “mania” among folk dancers, but very few of the hobbyists had ever seen the dances performed in costume by a ‘native’, let alone a group. Anthony Shay, the pre-eminent Western authority on these troupes, has written about their influence in a 2002 book, Choreographing Politics, Wesleyan University Press.
“It would be almost impossible for anyone not present in the audiences of the first visit of the Moiseyev Dance Company to the United States in 1958 to understand the impact of those appearances. The Ukrainian Gopak finale serves as a familiar example of a typical Moiseyev choreography. It opens as a bevy of young village “girls” [I use the term advisedly for they are dressed in the costumes of unmarried girls] runs into the stage and forms a loose circle, excitedly whispering in one another’s ears. This constitutes what I call “it’s fun in the village” choreography. Garbed in approximate copies of the costumes – adjusted at the waist and shortened for mid-twentieth-century taste – of the Poltava region, the primary costume icon of the Ukraine, the circle splits apart revealing a pair of male dancers. The music slows to a purposeful rhythm, and as the two men perform virtuosic squats and leg extensions, the girls retreat to both sides of the stage, strategically grouped in threes, by the colors of their sleeveless jackets – black, blue, green, and red. Throughout the choreography they form a decorative element as male soloists and duos appear, each with a highly athletic choreographic skill. As the “boys” [I also use this term advisedly, for they, too, are dressed in the costumes of the unmarried] finish a series of increasingly intricate and difficult feats familiar to those who have seen “Fiddler on the Roof” — rapid spins, “coffee grinders” “pryzadakas” – [kicking the legs forward while in a squatting position], squats and other movements associated in the popular mind with Russian dancing.
…As each soloist or duo finishes, the dancers move to form a line behind the women. As the last male soloist finishes, the music crescendoes and the tempo quickens. The company suddenly erupts into a series of trios [one boy between two girls] and revolves in a counterclockwise circle around the stage. You can feel the level of excitement rising in the audience. By a choreographic sleight of hand, the dancers move into a formation of three spokes and, by more legerdemain, they dissolve into a presentational formation of eight rows of six dancers each. With a flourish, the front row of dancers, raising their hands and forming a bridge, move rapidly to the side, and, using a high-lifting run, move swiftly backward, followed by each succeeding row. As they arrive at the back, each row runs forward under the upraised arms of their comrades to regain their original positions, ending the dance with hands raised in the air.
…All of the senses were overwhelmed by the perfectly precisioned, over-the-top acrobatic prowess of a hundred brilliantly costumed dancers accompanied by a specially designed symphony orchestra, which actually heightened the effect of the visual spectacle…The unusually large crowds, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands, for the U.S. tour, were attracted partly by a foretaste of the company on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” viewed by millions of American households, and partly by the illicit thrill of seeing actual Russians for the first time. At the height of the Cold War, many Americans did not realize that all Russians were not Communists…Many in the audience wanted to verify for themselves whether, in fact, Russians, by which one meant Communists, had horns and tails!”
In 1956, Tanec of Macedonia and KOLO of Serbia, the first of the Eastern European national state dance ensembles to tour America, arrived on our shores. I danced the choreographies of Serbia and Croatia learned from KOLO, the Serbian state folk dance ensemble, with the Yosemite Workshop, a group of local dancers, who, like myself, fell in love with the spectacle of that company during the 1956 tour. As one Yosemite member put it, speaking of the choreographies we had learned from the dancers of KOLO, “if the third girl from the left sneezed, the third girl from the left in our group also sneezed.” We spent hours hours reproducing, in loving detail, the costumes we had seen in the KOLO performances…we threw ourselves into teach-yourself Serbo-Croatian grammars… ”
For established folk dancers seeing a professional troupe for the first time, the enhanced theatricality displayed by these dance troupes raised the level of emotional involvement possible in Balkan dance. No longer were kolos merely interesting foot patterns to be reproduced – there was excitement, non-stop action, gymnastic feats of agility, and a level of storytelling encoded in them as well. Reproducing choreographies seen on stage was an attempt to reproduce the intense emotional experience of the auditorium. Forming your own performing group was a way of adding another dimension to your hobby. For some, it was the next step in a transformation of their lives.
For many Americans, seeing a staged performance of Balkan dance, whether by a professional company like Moiseyev, or a local semi-professional or amateur group, was their first exposure to international folk dancing. From that experience, many sought out a local recreational folk dance group, hoping to translate some of that ‘magic dust’ into their own lives. For both the beginner and the established dancer, the stage performance became a benchmark by which to measure their personal experience, just as an amateur musician is inspired by hearing a professional ensemble.
Meanwhile, back in the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Levant.
However, few folk dancers had seen the ‘village’ dances on which the stage performance are based. Few were aware just how far from the ‘village’ these staged performances had strayed, or how many conscious choices the choreographers made to shape ‘raw’ dances into an image of the country represented – an image influenced by the need to entertain, sell tickets, and satisfy political bureaucrats. For more details of this process, click https://folkdancefootnotes.org/begin/how-balkan-folk-dances-are-made-arranged-folklore/
The 1965 Folk Dance Camp (Stockton) syllabus listed about 135 dances, 15 of which were American square, round, and contra dances, (all partner). Of the remaining 120 non-USA dances, 35 were non-partner; 13 from Israel, 12 from Yugoslavia, 4 from Greece, 2 from Hungary, 1 each from Germany, Switzerland, Hawaii, and Peru. PERCENTAGE OF PARTNER DANCES; 74%. Of the remaining 120 non-USA dances, 74 were from Northern and Western Europe. The rest of the world (46 dances) comprised 19 dances from Israel, 8 from Yugoslavia, 7 from Hungary, 4 from Greece, 1 each from Mexico, Brazil, Central America, Hawaii, Italy, Spain, Argentina, & Peru. PERCENTAGE OF OF NORTH & WEST EUROPE + NORTH AMERICA TO TOTAL DANCES; 66%.
The Quest for Authenitcity
Laušević: “Why was it important that the dances be “folk” rather than “recreational”? What value was there in “folk” status? Like the reliance of art collectors on external information about an art object to determine its value, a folk dance needed to be authenticated as such by a “researcher” who would not assume that material from a “genuinely ethnic source” would automatically be of value. What gave value to a dance was the imagined antiquity and purity of its origin. “the obsession with authenticity of the object and the rationale for its collection in science, not in plunder, would soon encourage and justify the acquiring of objects from all over the world by Western museums.” The folk dance movement had largely adopted this “museum attitude,” even though a dance or a piece of music cannot be possessed and displayed in the same manner that objects in a museum can.“
American youth were already collectors – of toys, clothes, records; as a boy I collected insects and postage stamps – dances were merely an extension of a consumer pattern. As the number of dances available to learn increased, the impossibility of learning them all became apparent. How to choose which dances to learn? Many chose to not choose – they didn’t care much about origins and just picked the individual dances that appealed to them for a variety of reasons, or no reason in particular. Some dancers began to realize they could concentrate on the cultures that appealed to them most. For some, that meant American traditional dancing – square, round and contra. For others it was Scandinavian, or Hungarian, or Latin American. But for many, the choice was to dig deeper into the Balkans. Even there, there were too many dances to choose from, so people started choosing on the basis of which dances seemed most ‘authentic’, and the choice of what was ‘authentic’ often hinged on one’s appraisal of the knowledge of the instructor.
Dick Crum, John Filcich and Anatol Joukowsky began teaching Balkan dances at Stockton in the 1950’s. However country-specific specialists began appearing, beginning in 1956, when Frances Ajoian started teaching Armenian dances. In 1960, Michel Cartier began teaching Bulgarian dances at Stockton; Alice Reisz, Hungarian, 1959; Kangöz, Çavit, Turkish, 1963; Dennis Boxell, Balkan, 1963; Andor Czompo, Hungarian, 1964; Atanas Kolarovski, Macedonian, 1966; John Pappas, Greek, 1967; Yves Moreau, Bulgarian, 1970; Eugenia Popescu-Judetz, Romanian, 1971: Tom Bozigian, Armenian, 1973: Mihai David, Romanian, 1973; Bora Gajički, Yugoslav, 1974; Ron Wixman, Balkan, 1976; Sunni Bloland, Romanian, 1977; Ciga Despotović, Yugoslav, 1978; Alexandru David, Romanian & Russian, 1978; Bora Özkök, Turkish, 1979; František Bonuš, Czech & Slovak, 1979.
These Balkan specialists were generally of three types;
- The North American-born teacher-ethnographer of no particular ethnicity who did extensive study ‘over there’, like Dick Crum, Dennis Boxell, Yves Moreau, Martin Koenig, Sunni Bloland, Ron Wixman.
- The American-born teacher-ethnographer of a specific ethnicity who studied ‘over there’ to become a more authoritative representative of their culture, like John Pappas, Tom Bozigian.
- The ‘native-born’ ethnic from the Balkans, usually trained in a state performing group, like Anatol Joukowsky, Andor Czompo, Atanas Kolarovski, Eugenia Popescu-Judetz, Bora Gajički, Ciga Despotović, Mihai & Alexandru David, Bora Özkök, František Bonuš.
It was often assumed by Americans that the most authoritative instructor would be the person who was born in the country whose dances they were teaching. Using that logic, Atanas Kolarovski was a more authoritative instructor of Macedonian dances than Dennis Boxell, because Atanas was born there, and was a principal dancer in the Macedonian national dance troupe Tanec. Although it has since become apparent that many representatives of national dance troupes were teaching dances created for performance purposes, or outright choreographed themselves, (thus were never danced by ‘the folk’ in ‘village’ situations), many recreational folk dancers still assume to be traditional or ‘authentic’, dances taught by former performers.
Likewise, many dances taught by American-born ethnographers were not observed live in village situations, but were learned from members of performing groups and folk academies ‘over there’. Some of these instructors have been consistently forthcoming about their sources, and nowadays revealing sources has become the norm.
The quest for ‘authenticity’ is but another manifestation of folk dancers’ attitude toward the ‘other’. In lieu of learning the complex cultural context in which a simple dance is performed, and how that context changes according to the culture, event and the status of the dancer, thus affecting performance of the dance, the recreational dancer is primarily concerned with it’s ‘authenticity’ – a simple label similar to what collectors of paintings or other objects use to determine ‘value’.
Limited Formal Study – No Formal Categories
It is important to recall that at the time Filčić and Crum were introducing recreational dancers to Balkan dancing, there were next to no formal studies of Balkan folk dance. The academic field of ethnochoreology was in its infancy. Although researchers such as Gyorgy Martin (Hungary), the Jankovic Sisters (Yugoslavia), Maude Karples (England), Gertrude Kurath, (USA) & František Pospíšil (Moravia) were working in the 1930’s, 40’s, & 50’s their published works were not well known outside their country, and little effort had been made to establish a library of ethnochoreographic material. Not until the 1960’s did a critical mass of published research, recognition and support from universities, international communication, and academic journals begin to congeal into a field of study.
For recreational folk dancing this lack of formal organization and study meant that anyone who wanted to learn Balkan dance could randomly encounter a dance and bring it back to the USA without having a reference to determine if that dance was typical or unique, widely popular or nearly extinct, traditional or newly created, related to many other dances or or not, similar to dances of other countries or not. Every dance taught at Stockton, for instance, was presented as equally important, leading participants to conclude for themselves how or even if one was related to the next. One could learn many Serbian dances without knowing anything about Serbian dance. It’s akin to learning a language by being presented with endless lists of words without knowing which are nouns or verbs, archaic or slang.
By the time ethnochoreology did become a field of study in universities, the conventions, methods, and standards of recreational folk dance were already set. They included a prioritization of learning more dances over learning more about dances, and a preference for dances with many set figures over simpler dances with room for improvisation. Many of those who studied actual dance practices in ‘the field’ found recreational dancing lacking in the intensity, spontaneity, and spirit they encountered in the ‘old country’.
The conception of what constitutes a ‘folk’ dance has continued to evolve, both among academics and in the practices of the ‘folk’ themselves. Folk performing troupes are now able to see dances from many parts of their own country, and neighboring ones as well, so many previously ‘foreign’ elements are entering what remains of ‘village’ dances. This has always been happening, for instance when a war forced villagers from one area to flee to someplace previously unknown to them. However, with mass communication, where anyone can see dances from anywhere, the process of change has accelerated tremendously.
The 1975 Folk Dance Camp (Stockton) syllabus listed about 63 dances, 1 of which was an American contra dance. Of the remaining 62 non-USA dances, 36 were non-partner; 26 from Yugoslavia, 6 from Bulgaria, 3 from Hungary, 1 from Mexico. PERCENTAGE OF PARTNER DANCES; 74%. Of the remaining 62 non-USA dances, 16 were from Northern and Western Europe. The rest of the world (46 dances) comprised 29 from Yugoslavia, 6 from Bulgaria, 5 from Hungary, 5 from Mexico, 1 from Romania. PERCENTAGE OF OF NORTH & WEST EUROPE + NORTH AMERICA TO TOTAL DANCES; 66%.
|YEAR||NUMBER OF DANCES||% NOT-N.& W. EUROPE |
+ N. AMERICA
|*234 USA square, contra & round dances||*80% Morris dances|
The Folk Dance Scene Fragments
In 1981, in the first comprehensive book about recreational folk dancing* Yves Moreau wrote: “What will happen in the next ten years? In the last five, folk dancers have developed a taste for simpler dances with primitive music. This trend is continuing. More people have traveled to the Balkans and have “seen the real thing.” Some of those traveling folk dancers have even stopped dancing completely in folk dance halls and clubs because they couldn’t take the hassle of fighting their way for a place in the line to dance a 56-figure Kopanica to a scratchy Boris Karlov record. Their minds were still at that village wedding in the Rhodopes where they had danced a Pravo for three hours to the sound of three gajdas.
I believe that the Bulgarian Folk Dance Machine should take a rest. Already [there are] over 150 dances….in the repertoire. Most of them have been forgotten or badly butchered and still people ask for MORE…MORE….People tire fast of the old dances; they seek new steps, new tunes, new rhythms. The teachers and researchers easily become caterers feeding the masses. Local teachers who can’t afford time or money to go to the Balkans want MORE for their group and people attending the 683rd Balkan Festival want MORE for their money. Bulgaria deserves a break….”
*International Folk Dancing U.S.A. ©1981 by Betty Casey
What DID happen in the next five years, and ever after, was that Bulgaria didn’t get a break, but the folk dance scene did. Those who were content to learn MORE dances carried on as before, while those who wanted to dive deeper into the cultural context surrounding Balkan dance began devoting more time and energy to learning customs, instruments, singing techniques, and not merely acquiring more dances.
Laušević again: The first American institution devoted to Balkan music and dance was the Balkan Arts Center (BAC), founded in 1966 by Martin Koenig in New York…..The BAC was…the site of the first separation of Balkan material from the general IFD repertoire on the East Coast. In 1973 Ethel Raim joined Koenig as co-director of the BAC. Together, Raim and Koenig were among the first to make a concerted effort to understand the cultural context of Balkan music and dance. In addition to fieldwork in the Balkans, they turned to immigrant communities in America for a deeper understanding of their expressive forms. Koenig was perhaps the first dance teacher on the East Coast to teach with live music, inviting musicians from immigrant communities to play for dance events….For several years in the 1970’s the BAC published the magazine Traditions, that, with its well-researched, well-written articles, exceeded in quality other other publications in the folk dance world of the time. The Balkan Arts Center was renamed the Ethnic Folk Arts Center in 1981, and has been operating as the Center for Traditional Music and Dance since 1998, the name changes reflecting a move beyond a specifically Balkan focus.
Laušević: “Most of the participants in the contemporary Balkan music and dance scene date its origins to the hippie days of the 1960’s and 70’s….A number of factors, in addition to its regional focus, distinguish the scene from its IFD roots. One of the most important developments was an interest in music for its own sake, and in learning to play and sing. Early Balkanites learned from records, figured things out collaboratively, put together ad hoc bands using available instruments, and went in search of teachers from the Balkans.
While much of this activity was focused on providing live music for dancing, vocal music, previously of peripheral interest, found its own adherents, especially in the American women’s movement.…”
Laušević: “While bands were being organized to play Balkan traditional music prior to this, the musical side of the Balkan scene did not take the shape of a national movement until the formation of the Balkan music and dance camp in 1977. Largely the creation of Mark Levy, the camp did not evolve overnight. Previously Levy and his band Pitu Guli had been responsible for organizing the first Balkan music classes tied to the scene. As a graduate student in ethnomusicology at UCLA, Mark Levy was asked to direct the university’s Balkan ensemble. This turned into a group project also involving other Pitu Guli members, and these first classes in Balkan music formed the groundwork for the subsequent organization of the camps….As Pitu Guli became known in the scene, they began to connect with other groups, including Ženska Pesna and Novo Selo. All shared a strong preference for village repertoire, great respect for the traditions the music was stemming from, and a studious approach to both learning and teaching the material. These three groups comprised the teaching staff at the first Balkan camp in 1977, an event that has taken place annually in the Mendocino Woodlands ever since.”
As North American musicians gained skill and confidence, they formed larger, more complex groups.
“Dance instruction at camps has been diversifying….By now [2007 – DB], teachers like Yves Moreau, Steve Kotansky, Michael Ginsburg, Larry Weiner, Joe Graziosi and many others have effectively brought up thousands of Balkan dancers and introduced them to hundreds of regionally specific Balkan dances….The major change in dance instruction is perceived in the domain of the relationship between dancers and musicians. Looking back at the evolution of dancing at Balkan camps, Joe Graziosi….saw the typical international folk dancer’s mentality “converted” to the idea that we can all do a simple pravo for 20 minutes and have a great time with the music and learn how to dance with the music, and change our whole style of dance to go with the energy of the music….“
The EEFC – East European Folklife Center
“The East European Folklife Center was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1981, its primary mission being to promote Balkan music and dance in the United States and to facilitate the running of the annual camp….The EEFC exists largely due to the efforts of Mark Levy and Carol Silverman….From the 1977 Mendocino camp’s original seven or eight instructors teaching primarily dance and bitov ensemble, by 1997 the camps had grown to include over twenty teachers offering over forty classes at each weeklong camp. Along with formal instruction each camp also offers several hour-long folklore talks by staff members, organized group sings, and nightly concerts and dance parties featuring multiple performers…
Another outgrowth of the EEFC has been its listserve. “Before most Americans even had a home computer, they were already fostering musical community through Web sites, chat rooms, and especially through an e-mail list serve. The EEFC list serve became one of the first “sites” for my [Laušević’s – DB] research. I had access to daily readings on what members of the group [the membership comprises the cream of Balkan singers, musicians, teachers and academics in the US, Canada, Germany, the UK, etc – DB] had to say about Balkan music and dance, about their involvement in the scene, about particular performing groups, about songs and dance renderings.
For many, involvement with Balkan music and dance has been attended by a thirst for a deeper understanding of Balkan cultures, which for a number of scene participants, has led to academic pursuits in ethnomusicology, anthropology, folklore, linguistics (Tin Rice, Sonia Seaman, Jane Sugarman, Mark Levy, Bob Leibman, Carol Silverman, Ronelle Alexander, to name a few.
More divergences from recreational folk dance – Conflict and continuity
Specialization in Balkan, Hungarian, Israeli, Latin American, Scandinavian, Klezmer, American Contra and Square dance, Belly dancing, and other genres has been cited as the major reason for the steady decline in the popularity of recreational folk dancing since the 1980’s. Although that may explain the declining numbers since the big surge of popularity in the 60’s and 70’s, it doesn’t explain why experienced dancers who left weren’t replaced by younger newcomers. It seems that most of those still in the recreational folk dance movement are predominately ‘of a certain age’, and that age is aging. I have another theory for the decline. Could it be that the 60’s and 70’s boom times were another manifestation of the Baby Boomer generation, and that subsequent generations just didn’t ‘get it’, and ‘discovered’ other interests to satisfy their particular needs?
While there may be declining numbers, there’s still a vibrant continent-wide recreational folk dance scene, and its fragmentation may be a little overblown. “Continuity between IFD and these [other] scenes is found in membership crossover and ongoing ideological and practical connections.…Some public schools still have IFD classes, many of which are remarkably similar in form and content to those Burchenal and Hinman taught in the early twentieth century. Recreational folk dance clubs throughout the country still dance to [digitized – DB] scratchy 78’s of Michael Herman’s band.…This touches on some unaddressed reasons for the conflict that developed around kolomania. A large number of folk dance clubs still do not like the idea of dancing to live music or unfamiliar recordings, both of which became very popular in the Balkan scene. For some the familiarity and safety of dancing to the same three-minute records one has been using for decades is preferable to the uncontrollable noise, unknown tunes, unpredictable tempos and endings one can be subjected to by live musicians. ‘Some of the people,’ Colin explained (EEFC list, July 17, 1995). ‘have been dancing to recorded music for 25 years or more, and refining their dancing to fit the records exactly. A difference in tempo or an extra measure or two throws this off completely.’ There are also sentimental attachments to old recordings, as shown in the following excerpt from an e-mail message written by an old-time folk dancer (Jim, EEFC list, March 21, 1997):
- “We are celebrating old things, traditional things. Some of the oldest recordings preserve preserve an art form that fewer and fewer really know. That sound is something I connect with my earliest memories of folk dancing and those are golden memories….It symbolizes continuity.”
These records do more than symbolize continuity – they provide it. While Balkan music and dance is often seen as an abstract ancestral tie to peasant village life, the old 78’s are, by now, a far more literal tie to personal and community history for many dancers.
The emerging Balkan scene’s focus on a single region and love of dance events where one can get into a groove getting into the same dance for half an hour or so continues to be a turn-off for some. Many in the IFD scene were attracted, in part, by the appeal of its image of a world united through dance, and enjoyed concentrating on three or-four-part choreographies and the variety of tempos and movements the IFD repertoire offered.
- “Back in the old days, in my culture, we danced to records that were 3 minutes long. And anyone who was running the records had to do a variety of dances, mixing nationalities, line/couple/set dances, fast/slow dances, easy/hard dances, etc, or it wasn’t a good night.”…(Warren, EEFC list, July 17, 1995)
In this respect, it mattered less where exactly a dance was from than how it related to the previous one…..Which brings us to the major conundrum of recreational folk dancing – who and where are the ‘folk’? To Jim and Warren quoted above, WE are the folk, preserving the continuity of the ‘old ways’ ‘back in the old days’ ‘in my culture’. They are celebrating ‘tradition’, yes, but it’s OUR tradition – a tradition of ‘golden memories’ of a cultural mash-up designed to maximize fun for the people in the room – folk dancing FOR FUN.
Folk Dance and Identity
But what about those who take folk culture seriously – those who wear the proper costumes, learn native terms, learn to sing the songs, play the instruments, dance the ‘village’ way?
Laušević: “A different side of “engagement” with Balkan culture is the desire to bring a “piece” of the Balkans into one’s life. One can recognize aspects of the museum mentality in the desire to collect, “to name the objects collected, to order and accumulate, to discover the rare and new”…the Balkan dancers particularly enjoy naming the dances, using native terms, and accumulating names of tunes, dances, musical instruments and particular step patterns. Question/answer oriented games often appear in various journals, rewarding this kind of knowledge….There are over a hundred terms listed in the Balkan Times, summer, 1993, under the text: ‘Below are some of the words one could use to describe the musical culture of the Balkans (Emphasis mine – ML). How many of these do you know?’ The list contains names of musical instruments, ensembles, and dance and music genres. People take great pride in knowing as many terms as possible, sharing their knowledge with other Balkan dancers and distinguishing themselves from the uninitiated: ‘You know, folk dancers are like stamp collectors or any other kind of collectors; they want all the paraphernalia that goes along with the dance. It’s a very materialistic way of looking at things, but we live in very materialistic times’ (Anonymous, Interview, 1995). I believe one reason people want to gather so much information and material goods from the Balkans is to establish a relationship with the world of their fascination; to make something imagined real through contact with objects and names. These names interlock with other systems (chronological, topographical, etc.) which all contribute to the ‘reality’ of of a particular imaginary world’ (Lyotard 1983:67). There is a desire to make ‘the Balkans’ something graspable, preferably portable:
- “It was a very common thing for Folk Dancers to buy costumes. Par of it is because they were just so beautiful…part of it is just feasting your eyes on them. There was also that “I’ve been there and here is the evidence” kind of thing, on everyone’s part. It’s almost like a badge “my interest is so serious.” There was that kind of mentality. Part of it is the American collecting thing. Part of it is “I want to know,” it’s a new field of knowledge. And then part of it is utilitarian for performances.” (Jane, Interview, 1994)
The desire to accumulate is probably most evident in the hunger for new step patterns, dance tunes, and songs. In this way a certain hierarchy of authority is built into the scene, helping in the establishment of goals and parameters for potential future achievement. In this way and and others, one can establish authority, not necessarily above someone else, but in one’s own eyes, making it possible to quantify and assess one’s own dedication and knowledge.
….The fact that [Balkan] music is “borrowed” rather than “inherited” makes the process of evaluating and justifying musical choices more complicated….Issues of ethnicity and musical choice were made even more complex and given a sense of urgency by the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In many conversations with Balkanites on this subject I detected a deep belief that culture, at least for Balkan people, is indeed genetic. While the conflict put the region on the map for Americans, it added another level of frustration to the Balkanite’s attempt to explain why they would want to be involved with music from such a place. Many accepted the widespread representation of people from the region as “ethnically” a certain way and concluded that the music of those people must somehow contain elements of that ugliness. For some this meant questioning whether or not they should be doing the music of “bad people.” Rather than trying to understand the circumstances, economic, political, and ideological, that led to the war, they came to feel that Serbs and Croats, in particular, were “like this” all along, waiting to betray the American lovers of their music, and to pollute their choice of Balkan music and dance. The following is an excerpt from a long-time Balkan dancer:
- C It is a very hard thing for me to accept that people who I have cherished and appreciated their background and their attitudes and their lifestyles completely betrayed me. Suddenly there is this aspect of their personality that they were hiding from me. I was so naive. I think I could no longer even talk to a Bosnian.
- M Well, I am a Bosnian.
- C Oh, no, my dear, you are an artist.
Perhaps better than anything else the conflict in Bosnia and later Serbia made many Americans realize the implications of cross-cultural borrowings and made them grapple with the issues of representation of the other….A deep understanding of a culture does not come automatically with even the most precisely executed dance step or sequence of notes, but comes as a result of continued contact and thoughtful engagement with the culture and people. Many in the scene do not realize that they do not love “Balkan people” but their own constructed or “inherited” images of them. [emphasis mine DB]
Folk dancing is a hobby, not a university course in folklore. Most of us who participate in today’s recreational folk dance groups are not here to learn vast details about various ethnic groups, we just want to get on with dancing – moving in ways we like to music we like – with each next dance being different enough from previous dances to make the effort of learning worthwhile. It’s an alternative to the exercise classes we know we should attend but find they’re too much ‘work’. We’re no longer motivated by young-singles-oriented courtship music or young leaders driving us to surpass ourselves. We like dancing to something ‘other’ than American music and with a little more structure and sense of community. To aid us in stepping ‘outside’ our own culture, we need an image of the ‘other’. It’s enough to imagine ‘Folk Land’
We’re not trying to change our identity. Even if we dream of being on a sunny Balkan beach, even if part of us identifies with the supposed ‘simple’ life of a Balkan peasant, we’re not about to drop our day job and move to a Balkan village. We just want to spend a pleasant couple of hours in ‘Folk Land’. While we’re there, it helps the fantasy if we know a LITTLE about what we’re dancing, like its name, maybe its country of origin; but which region or styling, how to spell or pronounce Bulgarian – that’s too much like WORK, and we’re here to have FUN.
Most of us like the idea of touching base with ‘other’ cultures, but we who want to study or emulate other cultures in detail find specialty groups that better suit our needs – a Balkan (or other ethnicity) choir, a band using folk instruments, a performing group, or a more specialized country or region-specific dance group.
Even in specialized groups, we are “inside” of our culture trying on the “other”, which can only be a fantasy we have created for our own purposes. Dick Crum once famously said something to the effect “You’ll never be a Bulgarian, don’t even try”. (If someone can supply me the exact quote I’ll insert it here). Collecting a lot of data is not the same as being born in a culture. It’s hard enough these days for a white Democrat to understand a white Republican in our own country.
Nevertheless, we presume to know what is a Romanian dance and what is not, and we continue to demand more dances be taught to us is in a particular format that is not representative of traditional folk dancing and yet we still label them as if they were traditional dances, and we continue to demonstrate those non-traditional patterns to others in our culture as if they were traditional. I am not advocating that we stop dancing, nor am I advocating that we only dance ‘traditionally’. I am only asking that we have enough respect for the cultures we are mimicking to learn the difference between a Living traditional dance and one concocted for our market, label them accordingly, and then go our merry way dancing the concoctions. They are the dances most of us without weekly access to a talented live band (myself included) prefer, because they suit OUR needs and the tastes and peculiarities of OUR culture, even if they’re created from elements of THEIR culture – ‘arranged folklore’.
Summary of the 3rd Phase: 1950’s – Today.
Non-partner dancing, “Kolomania”, Performing Groups, and Fragmentation.
‘We’ want to dance like ‘them”over there’.
Changing trends in ‘traditional’ folk dancing reflected changing social mores. A move by youth away from couple dancing propelled Israeli and, especially, Balkan dancing to popularity, eventually leading to non-partner dances becoming more popular than couple dances. As Baby Boomers came of age, disillusionment with the ‘establishment’ led to a search for alternate forms of living. The ‘mystery’ of the Balkans proved very attractive for some, made more attractive by the dearth of information available, enabling fantasies about the ‘purity’ of Balkan culture to take hold. The arrival of performing groups from behind the Iron Curtain demonstrated a thrilling level of professionalism in traditional dance and song, even as they presented an idealized version of a peasantry that was officially being ‘re-educated’. They inspired dancers to form their own performing groups, and led to a desire to learn more sophisticated choreographies.
The dearth of knowledge about the truly different Balkan cultures produced a new type of folk dance instructor, the teacher-ethnographer, exemplified by Dick Crum. He, and many who followed him, visited Balkan countries to see dancing first-hand, or else they came from there, exuding a (sometimes false) air of ‘authenticity’. Some taught not only the footwork of dances, but attempted to explain the cultural context surrounding the event.
Begin with a lack of understanding of the cultural milieu of a ‘village’ dance event, couple it with a reliance on recordings due to a lack of trained musicians, add the distorted versions of dances presented by performing groups, blend with a materialistic American collector mentality, and the result is a demand for MORE dances rather than a better understanding of dance culture. Young dancers began traveling to Eastern Europe, especially Yugoslavia, where their taking part in ‘village’ events made some disillusioned with the folk dance scene at home. Others became more determined to dig deeper into Balkan culture, redirecting energy formerly devoted to learning MORE dances towards perfecting singing and instrumental skills. However not all folk dancers were swept up in the Balkan craze, many preferred the ‘one world’ vision of universal harmony and cultural equivalence developed by Vyts Beliajus and Michael Herman. Eventually a separate Balkan scene devoted to Balkan arts other than dancing, combined with similar specialized groups representing other cultures, (and possibly the shifting tastes of subsequent generations) led to the fragmentation and decline of the all-encompassing folk dance movement.
Finally the wars following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia led many to recognize how little they understood of the culture of the ‘other’, and how much of what ‘we’ thought was dancing ‘their’ culture was in fact ‘us’ dancing according to ‘our’ needs and fantasies.
John Uhlemann wrote: “Part 3 of your discussion oddly omits the very large group that did NOT abandon couple dancing, but went through some of the same philosophical arguments, the difference being that while there are hundreds of synthetic Balkan dances, like you describe, the Scandinavian dance movement here generated the same enthusiasm for learning the music and buying the costumes, but worked exclusively on learning repertoire from folklorists. Gone are the ghastly polka quadrilles and story dances, and now we have Polskas, Gångars, Springars, etc., all with reference to videotaped originals, and, often, teachers from the very villages the dances come from, just as Joe Graziosi, Steve Kotansky, Alex Marković, and others , will show originals at Balkan Camp. Loretta Kelly, formerly a Gâdulka player with AMAN, is now a prize-winning player of the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. Similarly, you need to mention the smaller, but equally fierce and “purist” Hungarian Táncház movement and its manifestations over here. A lot of recreational IFDers do all this on the side (like yours truly), or have simply stopped going to the IFD recreational dance groups and gone to Scandinavian and Hungarian groups, just as many of the folks at Balkan Camp now no longer go to “traditional” recreational groups. Balkan Camp, by the way (disclaimer, both my wife and I have served on the board of directors of the EEFC) actually is gaining younger members. There are hybrid camps, of course – with hybrid philosophy band playing the live music – the clip you showed of the Pinewood band had them playing a copy of an old folk dance record, something that does not happen at Balkan Camp. Ralph Iverson played on that Youtube but also is a good musical contributor at Balkan Camp. My summary: it is still a complicated and vibrant scene out there, and not just a slide into kolomania by unthinking Americans.
Jim Gold wrote: “
You are expanding your reach and spreading mucho good information.
You’re becoming the folk dance historian of today. A needed and appreciated service.
All things folks should know about the “folk dance movement.”
I love reading it.
Dean Brown wrote: “Don, thanks for doing this. I couldn’t resist writing up some of my own comments and stories, and offer them to you to post along with John Uhlemann’s excellent comments.
Thanks for this series, I think many folk dancers are not aware of this history and would benefit by knowing it. I’d like to add some of own stories. I wish I had known about this history when I started dancing. Back then I naively thought that, e.g. the natives in Dospat danced Dospatsko – no-one told me they did or didn’t, but it was easy to
assume. (Digression – I heard a story about an American tour group in Bulgaria stopping in Dospat, and being thrilled to dance Dospatsko there. I’ve always wondered if they knew the dance was choreographed by Yves Moreau and not native, and what did the natives think.) I once heard Yves at a culture corner tell his story about going to Bulgaria and how disappointing it was to come back home to the same old tired 3 minute recordings. That was also my experience, except that mine was years later and the same old tired 3 minute recordings now included Dospatsko – oh the irony! Now I prefer the “real thing” and half-jokingly say the I in IFD stands for Imitation. But I also more seriously think that IFD, with all the things I don’t like about it, is its own thing and has its own validity, and I still enjoy dancing Dospatsko.
One of my pet peeves is when I hear the IFD teacher say “Now I’m going to teach a Bulgarian dance called Dospatsko”, and I have to bite my tongue and keep my inner pedant from interrupting “But actually it’s an Yves Moreau choreography done to Bulgarian music.” My problem with “a Bulgarian dance” is that it can’t help but imply there are Bulgarians dancing it in Bulgaria, and that’s often not the case. The blame is perhaps on the English language – given the expression “X-ian dance”, solve for X, the least bad solution is to use the nationality of the
music. Choreographers like Yves, when teaching, are good at being clear about their sources, but then the student takes the dance back to their group and teaches it there, and someone there picks it up by dancing behind the line, and then when they teach it (at 3rd hand) it’s “Now I’m going to teach a Bulgarian dance called Dospatsko” and they may not even know Yves exists.
Another of my pet peeves – Don and Marjana Laušević both mention the IFD collector mentality, and there’s another aspect of that which hasn’t been mentioned, what I call “We already did that dance”. The collector wants one specimen of as many types as possible, not duplicate specimens. So IFD dance sessions never do the same dance twice, except maybe to review a dance taught earlier in the session. This concept would be un-thinkable (not even wrong) at a real ethnic dance, where they want to do the same few dances the whole time. At one weekend dance camp I was even told that their policy is to not repeat any dances for the whole weekend – I roll my eyes and think “You’re doing it wrong.” The concept becomes incoherent when you look at it closely. At one of our local dances I requested the programmer to do Leventikos, and she says we can’t do that, we already did a Beranče, and I say but they have different names and are done to different rhythms, just like Kopanica
and Devetorka are the same dance with different names and different rhythms and you do them both in the same program. I lose. Even worse – Miserlou and Kritikos are the same dance with different names and the
same rhythm. Then there’s the dances which got renamed after their music – Ramo Ramo (which is actually Čoček) and Rumelaj (which is Jeni Jol), is it OK to do Ramo Ramo and Čoček in the same program?
When worlds collide
As someone with a foot in both camps, I am fascinated in a sociological way with what happens when they intersect. I have also heard scary stories similar to Don’s quote from Laušević – “The world of others was,
sometimes quite literally, used as a playground when folk dancers would crash a local ethnic party, oblivious of the cultural etiquette in place at these events. How little folk dancing contributed to the understanding of another culture becomes clear from the fact that sometimes “ethnic dancers boycotted their own affairs” because “those
pesky folk dancers” were there. [Viltis, Dec 1955, The Dance Situation]. The failure to understand that within ethnic communities dancing meant something more than entertainment and recreation led (and still leads) to conflicts between ‘ethnics’ and ‘folk dancers.’ Some ethnic communities have used various means, including high cover charges, to keep the folk dancers away.” Luckily, nowadays in our village things are better, and several of us non-natives regularly attend dance events in the local ethnic communities, where we know enough to dress up, be respectful, and refrain from telling them how they’re doing their dances wrong.
A story from an EEFC Balkan camp – Macedonian singer Dragi Spassovski is the star for the dance session and starts the Pirin song Snoshti i Dobro. Some of the IFD folks recognize the song and start a line dancing Yves’ choreography Dobra Nevesto – but the musicians aren’t playing it with the same form as the version he used, so at the start of each verse they have to fudge it. Then the musicians move on to the next song in their medley, Mitro le Mitro (another Pirin song, same rhythm), and the IFD dance line falls apart.
Another story – from the New England Folk Festival, a 50 minute Balkan dance party featuring a band of native Balkans, which is unusual for that venue. They start off with a long (like half hour) Čoček medley. When that finally finishes, they do another one song Čoček, then a Devetorka, another Čoček, and finish with a Lesno. I’m quite happy, but the hard-core IFD dancers are not. “We already did that dance”.
Another story – from an early Ahmet and Joe World Camp, Atanas Kolarovski is one of the teachers. Our village has always done one of his choreographies, Memede, to the tune also called Memede (AKA hopa ee-hah). I never liked it much myself, (Don would call it a 2nd generation dance) so I was very interested when the band (likely Edessa)
played the tune during the evening dance party. Sure enough, Atanas led the dance line and did not do his choreography, instead doing the generic crossing dance that I prefer, the dance Macedonians in Macedonia
would do, what Don calls a “first generation” dance. My take – his choreography is part of his day job, but when he’s dancing for fun he’s not on the job.