Dick Crum Culture Session, 1981.
Submitted by Carol McGinn to the website of the Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc. found here http://www.socalfolkdance.com/articles/crum_culture_session_1981.htm Excerpts edited by Don Buskirk.
“….In the forties, you had this man, Michael Herman, to whom all of us, whether we had heard his name or not, owe a great debt of gratitude. This guy was the first one to open up folk dancing as a recreational thing for everybody. What Michael did was establish a place for folk dancing he called Folk Dance House in New York and invited people like us, not necessarily of any particular ethnic association, who could go there and do all these dances that had been done by the immigrant people from communities all over the United States but had never gotten up to the New York rooftops – had never gotten out among us plain unassociated ethnics. So we owe a lot to that man. At the same time, there is Vyts Beliajus, who many of you know is working in the midwest. These two guys, plus a few others on the west coast, really opened up folk dancing so we could do it and enjoy it and explore it and challenge our bodies with new styles of movement and so forth with dances that allegedly, in many cases, had their origins in foreign countries.[emphasis mine, DB]
One of the things that had only recently begun to happen is that we’ve been looking a little more closely at how the people over in those countries really do the dances that we’ve been doing for 80 years without asking them. Those of us who have been to Europe recently will tell you that there are a lot of surprises for you. Let’s say you learn the dance Polka from Gypsywa. You may plan your tour of Europe when you go there so you can go there and dance the Polka from Gypsywa with the Gypsywabians. I know people who’ve done that! They’ve gone to Europe somewhere and needed a touchstone somewhere so they said, “Let’s go to Gypsywa! We know the Polka from there and maybe the friendly Gypsywabians will invite us to dinner.” So, they get to Gypsywa and what happens is they get there and say, “Hi there! I’m your friendly folk dancer from America and we have a Polka from Gypsywa and we want to dance it now.” And the friendly natives say, “What? You came all the way across the Atlantic to dance here with us? Of course we do not believe you so stand up against the wall . . .” (Laughs) No, they expected you there for other reasons. They really do! They can’t believe that that’s what you’re there for. To make a long story short, they don’t do the Polka from Gypsywa in Gypsywa. That’s the first thing you discover. They’ve never heard of the Polka. They don’t know it. And suddenly you’re caught. And you say, “Oh my, you mean we’ve come all the way to the boonies to dance the Polka from Gypsywa and the people of Gypsywa have never even heard of it?” And then when you do it and teach it to them, they might like it and want to learn it (laughs). This has happened so often, especially since World War II, since the U.S., at least, has become a lot less isolationist and more people have gone over there looking for things. We now know people do not wander up and down the street in Amsterdam in wooden shoes. We now know that when you go to Rio de Janeiro, there are no funny natives walking around with pirhanna fish. We’ve learned a lot about other parts of the world! And what we are beginning to learn now is that in Gypsywa, they don’t necessarily know the Polka from Gypsywa. And if you’re willing to trace the Polka from Gypsywa, you’d learn that the origins are from an apartment in Pismo Beach, Nebraska, on a rainy Sunday afternoon (laughs). Somebody who was going to be teaching the next weekend had a polka record and a map (laughs) and all of a sudden the following week taught the Polka from Gypsywa (laughs). So, more and more, we are finding that dances that we do every time we get together for our evening programs are not necessarily known or have ever been known by the people to whom they are attributed.
So, that’s all leading up to this dance I’m going to share with you….
In Romania, way up in the north, if you’ll look at your syllabus on page whatever it is, there’s a map that I drew once that shows a little area called Oaş, and with a little thing under the “s.” This is a valley right up near the Ukrainian border with Romania. Twenty-three little villages up there and that’s the totality of this district called Oaş. They have two dances there and they alternate them. So if you go to an afternoon dance in one of these villages you would find a violinist and a guitarist. The violinist will play the melody and the guitarist, who calls his instrument “zombura,” has kind of a permanent capo on it and he just plays one chord, no matter what the violinist is playing (laughs), and what kind of modulation is on top, and is so far undefined by any musicologists (laughs). This is the instrumentation they prefer – they want that. “Oh, have you heard that new group?” “Yeah, man, that zombura player, he has a mean elbow. Wow!” (Laughs) And this is the kind of music they really currently like to dance to. And they will be assembled under the roof of a pavillion with a wooden roof and a couple of posts and a wall made up of screens, and it’s called a “tupetka*.” And they have these two guys playing and they do this dance called venderti which means “spinning dance” which they also mate with a men’s dance called vlata and that is it; two dances. Vlata: all the men get up (it’s a very macho society, by the way), the men do their dance then they go get the women who are learning to make stuffed cabbages and all that stuff (laughs), and they dance all by themselves.
*Now called a ciupercă (mushroom), see YouTube below.
One reason I’m teaching the dance this afternooon is so that you’ll be able to appreciate a little better when you see the film tonight. In this film I brought you’ll be able to see them dancing in the pavillion the dance that we’re going to be working on now. The thing I want you to remember is that this is going to be a dance in which I’m not going to tell you this is Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3. A lot of the weight and responsibility in making this dance work and be fun and enjoyable is going to be you and the decisions you make. I’m going to show you the modules, as it were, and then you will “co-modulate” them in their own particular way. You are going to put these things together in a way that suits you. Very much as we used to do in the “jitterbug” or the “lindy hop” or whatever you called it in those days. There are a lot of figures and you kind of do them as you feel like it. That is exactly what they do over there. And it is very important to me at this point in my life not to make those people over in Oaş so much different but to show you how similar they are. One of the things, when they really dance, they don’t read syllabi. They don’t do Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3. They dance very much like we did when we were in the ballroom in high school. The only thing is when I was in high school, we didn’t have all our parents sitting around watching us at our high school hops, which is unfortunately what happens in Oaş.
I’m going to show you steps and movements and I’m going to give you a very vague idea of how to assemble them, but the final version of the dance is going to be up to you. And each of you is going to be doing the dance (venderti) this afternoon in a way that has never been done before in Oaş, and will never be done again by you. Nor, will it ever be done again by anybody. It’s going to be your individual handling of the basic material I’m going to show you….
Note: Crum’s lesson here is taught using a couple dance, where there is more room for improvisation than in a chain dance. In a couple dance, all the leader of the couple has to keep track of is maintaining the basic rhythm, and signalling changes to the partner clearly and far enough in advance. In a chain dance the leader may improvise at will, and in some dances it is only the leader that can improvise. In other chain dances, anyone can improvise so long as he or she doesn’t interrupt the flow of the dance for the neighbours. Improvising without interrupting the flow requires an innate understanding of the basic dance pattern, limiting the length of improvisations to the length of the basic pattern (or multiples thereof) and a knowledge of the kinds of movements possible. Nevertheless, the point made by Crum is that dancing ‘over there’ seldom has fixed formats, (unless danced on a stage.) DB
By John Uhlemann: This essay certainly shows Dick’s good humor and philosophy, but I am curious about the transcription of what seems to be a recorded talk. I visited the Oas district in 1978 and saw the couple dance, and then learned it from Dick in the early ’80s. At that time (and in Oas and on field recordings produced in Romania) it was called d’invirtit. In addition, there is no Oas village by the name given in the text. I have Miamon Miller’s recording (on which Dick does the yells – Dick’s description of the look on the recording engineer’s face when he let fly was priceless), the dance was given a similar name. The men’s dance is usually called Roata (sorry, I am not at my usual computer, so I don’t have diacritical marks available), as it often is in neighboring Maramures. Dick did often use fake village names for humorous effect, but he didn’t usually change dance names (or instrument names – the violin there is usually accompanied by an instrument they call Zongora, as it is in Maramures). As Dick predicted, few but those in folklore groups do these now, and the dance pavilion he saw years ago had been replaced by a stage in the ’90s, but it is interesting that there, and in parts of Bavaria and Scandinavia, traditional dress (as Andor Czompo once admonished us “that’s not their costume, that’s their clothes”) shows up for going to church on Sundays and some weddings, when no “spectators” are there; and there are groups now doing traditional dance in street clothes. Certainly Serbian and Bosniak dances show beautifully flamboyant versions of kolo here in St. Louis, so it isn’t all cultural homogenization.
Don replies: Thanks, John, for your usual well-informed comment! I posted the article merely as a generic statement on cultural differences, but since you clarified the particular references I decided to find some particular examples. I had Googled Dick’s dance names venderti and vlata, and found no YouTubes, but Googling your d’invirtit yielded what looks like the dance Dick was talking about. De invartit looks the same. Then I found Învârtita from neighbouring Maramureş, which dancing looks similar to my untrained eye. As you say, the dancers appear to be from folklore groups. I also Googled roata and found numerous examples of what Dick called vlata.
John replies again: “The videos were great, but most were from Maramureș, not Oaș. That first video is wonderful – I remember hearing bands like that at saints day celebrations in the 70s. The two regions are, of course adjacent, and the dialect and costume similar but the Oaș d’învârtit has a lot more stamping. You can also tell from the music – the Oaș fiddlers tune their fiddles up several steps, almost to the breaking point, so that the high pitch cuts through the noise of the dancing better: the Oaș ceteră is to the Romanian vioară what the zurna is to the oboe.
The spelling of ÎnvÎrtita/Învârtita reflects cultural politics and various orthographic revisions over the years. In terms of pronunciation, î=â . The â was introduced in the 19th century because the Romanian cultural elite wanted to emphasize the relation of the Romanian language to its Latin roots. Words like casă (house) and esta (third person singular of the verb “to be”) show this. But some words had shifted in their pronunciation. The word for field was pronounced Kimp (more or less), so they got rid of the letter K and spelled it “câmp” (or câmpu) to reflect the Latin Campo. After WWII, relations with the west were cooler, and the Stalinist government of Gheorghe Georghiu-Dej ordered the change of â to î to reflect their view of things. After Ceaușescu was deposed, they brought the â back, so now you see it in modern spellings of place names (the towns of Câmpulung, etc.) and dance names (in the south, sîrba = sârba). -Except at the beginnings of words, where the î was retained, hence învârtita.
Don: Thanks again, John. I’ve incorporated your new information into the YouTube captions. For more on Maramureş, click https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/ethnicity-history-geography/maramures-romania/