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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter O

A shoe is not only a design, but it's a part of your body language, the way you walk. The way you're going to move is quite dictated by your shoes.
Christian Louboutin

Dancers, especially,  can be very particular about their shoes.  It took me many tries to find a pair of shoes that worked for me.  I found that Zumba shoes are very good  for Balkan dance, since they have the right combination of flexibility and support and are lightweight.  They were also reasonably priced (it was the best $50 I spent on a pair of dance shoes).

This week's dance is Opinca and the name has to do with peasant shoes (opinci), worn in a number of Balkan countries as part of the folk costume.

Opinca is from the Romanian region of Bukovina.  Bukovina is one of those places that has changed hands a number of times over the years. It was dominated in succession by the Ottoman Turks, the Russians and the Austro-Hungarian empire and nowadays is split up between Romania and Ukraine.

I couldn't find a single page with the dance notes, however, there was an entire syllabus with over 100 pages that contained the dance notes on page 25. ( It may take you a while to get to it if your computer is slow, like mine.).

The melody is really cool and typically Romanian: panpipes, cimbalom and violin. The dance has a few stamps, but is overall very smooth.

This group is from the United States, and they go by two different names: Kolo Koalition and Kolo Dragan.

Today's bonus video is of a Zumba class. When I can't get to Balkan dance I go to Zumba, it's a nice change. I like music from Latin America.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music

Romanian Folk Dance in the United States

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter N

The mathematics of rhythm are universal. They don't belong to any particular culture.
John McLaughlin

In Bulgaria, there are numerous dances done in pravo rhythm. To add to the confusion, there are two types of pravo rhythm: 2/4 and 6/8. Each has a slightly different feel.

Today's dance, Novozagorsko Horo, from the region of Thrace in mid-southern Bulgaria is a pravo variation, one of many from that region of the country, where it is very popular.

 Novozagorsko Horo means "dance from Nova Zagora."  There are two towns in Bulgaria named "Zagora", one is old (Stara Zagora) and the other is new (Nova Zagora).

Pravo is usually a simple village dance, but not this one.  The dance notes have Novozargorsko  in 4/4 time.  I believe it's a 2/4 because it's fast. The dance is done with a belt hold (na lesa).  The stamping steps remind me of horses.

Speaking of horses, today's bonus video features the talking horse, Mr. Ed.  He had a show on TV that was very popular in the United States from 1961-1966.

If you listen carefully to the song, it's a 6/8 pravo, something you can dance to! Don't let the lion in the beginning of the video intimidate you, he's all noise. All cats, even the big ones, are very demanding of attention.  Why is he in color, and Mr. Ed in black and white?  Inquiring minds want to know.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Folk Music for the Year of the Horse 2014

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

Dancing Across Bulgaria: The Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter M

Masculine and feminine roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed.
Judith Butler

This week 's dance begins with M and it's Mindrele from southern Romania. It is also known as Mandrele  which translates to "the girls."In Romanian, the letter "i"  sounds like "a" when there is a caret symbol ( ^) over the "i." Are you confused yet? There is a caret over the "i" in the dance notes.

Since International Women's Day was March 8, and March is Women's History Month, this was chosen as the dance of the week. The rhythm is 6/8.

Mindrele is an "equal opportunity dance." This group is from the United States; a women leads it and there are men in the line.

Another feminine dance, this time from northwestern Bulgaria, is Momino Horo, which translates to "girls' dance." This took place at a Christmas party in Canada back in 2010, and everyone is in a festive mood.What is really striking about this dance is its hybrid nature: the beginning is slow and graceful.  Part two is totally different: all hell breaks loose with stamps and shouts.

Yves Moreau, who spent years in Bulgaria documenting folklore, arranged the choreography based on women's dances from the region of Lom. It's half Macedonian and half Vlach.

The bonus video is also connected with the letter "M."  Since we want spring to come sooner rather than later, here is a tutorial on how to make a basic Martenitsa. Let's make Baba Marta happy!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Martenitsa (but were afraid to ask)

Women's Dances From the Balkans

Since The Alien Diaries is an equal opportunity blog, you can read about and watch men leading women's dances:

Women's Dances from Macedonia (led by men)

There are also men's dances led by women:

Some Equal Opportunity Folk Dances

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter L

We have reached the middle of the alphabet. Today's dance is Leventikos, from Florina, in northern Greece.

This dance is also known as Pušteno across the border in the Republic of Macedonia.  Many folk dances in the Balkans don't follow political borders, as a result, especially on the YouTube comments, people bicker about whether the dance is Macedonian or Greek.  Actually, for the record, it's both, since there's a region called Macedonia in Northern Greece. If the dance crossed the border into the Republic of Macedonia under a different name, who cares? We should be dancing instead of fighting, anyway.

Many Balkan dances are grouped into quick-slow beats, which confuses things even more. The time signature for Leventikos (for those of you who are into music theory) is 12/16. The beats are grouped together in this manner: 3+2+2+3+2.  An easier way is to clap the rhythm: slow-quick-quick-slow-quick.

Here's a slightly fancier version of the same dance.  The men like to add embellishments (and the little girls behind the line are paying attention!)

This week's bonus video celebrates the springtime tradition of  Martenitsa.  It is a custom especially in Bulgaria, but also done in Romania and Greece. People give each other red and white decorated tassels or bracelets to drive away winter and welcome spring.

It has been a very long hard winter in my part of the world, and the snow on the ground will take a while to melt. Baba Marta, (a mythological figure much like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy) may have been good to the Bulgarians this year, but she's keeping that beautiful springtime weather across the pond instead of sharing it with us.

Who will win the Martenitsa fight? Will spring finally take over?  Watch the video and find out.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives

The "Flavors" of Greek Syrtos

Crossing the River Part 3: The Bulgarian Martenitsa and the Romanian Mărţişor

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter K

Blessed are they who go around in circles for they shall be known as wheels.
source unknown 

Today's post features two kolos from Croatia that begin with the letter K, and a mystery kolo from Balkan Music Night 2011.

A kolo is a dance usually performed in a circle and sometimes in a line. In Croatia, they're done in a circle, using a hand hold, front basket hold, or back basket hold. The Croatian kolo is usually accompanied by tamburitza music, singing, and sometimes both.

Croatia was once a part of the multi-ethnic multi-cultural nation of Yugoslavia, which, surprisingly, stayed together for nearly fifty years. Yugoslavia broke up after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and became like Humpty Dumpty. Once it fell apart, it never got back together. Croatia declared independence in 1991; it has been its own entity ever since.

The first video is of the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel performing Krici, Krici, Ticek (Chirp, Chirp Little Bird).  The lyrics are provided so you can sing along :) It's moderately fast, and the dancers use a back basket hold. If you watch them closely, they resemble a wheel, going round.

The next video took place at a New Year's Eve party at a restaurant in Australia in 2009 The dance is Kukunjesce Kolo. The music, played by a tamburitza orchestra, is loud enough to way the dead! The crawling baby (at 4:56) wants to get into the act, too.

This video goes back four years, to Balkan Music Night 2011. It was quite late and by that time everyone was high on endorphins from all that dancing.  The group Padjashi was finishing up a medley of Croatian folk songs and so far no one was kolo-ed out.

Notice the way the line flows around the room and then ends in a circle. Does anyone know the name of this dance or the music that goes with it? If you do, please post it in the "comments" section.

This weeks bonus video is a lesson on How to be a Croatian.. It focuses on important skills like cooking from scratch, preparing the house for guests and loading them up on leftovers when they leave. Oh. and don't leave the windows open in the bedroom, even in summer.  The drafts can kill you!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The River of Many Names Part Six: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs (if you like tamburitza music, you will love this post.)

Crazy Croatian Dance Songs

The Tambura in Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Croatian Folk Music

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter J

You know that I am Count the Count
because I really like to count.........
Song of the Count, from Sesame Street

This week's dance is Jiana from Transylvania, in Romania. The dance is named after a haidouk (rebel) lanca Jinu.

There are many different versions of this dance; probably named after the town or village where they originated. It is native to a specific region in Transylvania. See below:

JIANA is a small circle dance found in the villages of south Transylvania area around Sibiu and Marginimea Sibiului. This region is known for its pastoral and wealthy shepherd communities in the mountains to the southwest of Sibiu.

Villages: Jina, Poiana, Rod, Tilişca and Galeş, Săcel, Sibiel, Orlat, Gura Râului, Răşinari and along Valea Sadului to include the villages of Sadu, Tălmăcel and Boiţa.

The dance is done in a circle; the costumed dancers in the beginning of the video use a back baskethold. The second group uses a shoulder hold. Shoulder holds are common in Romanian folk dances.

The next video is Jiana de la Tilisca Sibiu. Tilisca is a district of the city Sibiu. Sibiu is known as an attractive tourist destination, It has a very strong Saxon (German) cultural influence and is also known as Hermannstadt.

Many of the videos in the Dancing Through the Alphabet series have been from China because the Chinese have a fascination with Balkan dance.  One person posted "Long live the Chinese-Romanian friendship!" in the comments section. Happy New Year of the Sheep/Goat to all Chinese readers of The Alien Diaries.

Notice how the teachers perform it as a couple dance, and the group around them does it in a circle.

The Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel specializes in Balkan dances. They perform Jiana de la Jina, a couple dance.

The bonus video of the week is of the Count from Sesame Street, everyone's favorite vampire. He's creepy but he's cool. He's modeled on Count Dracula, the fictional character from Bram Stoker's novel.  The real Dracula, Vlad Tepes, was born in Transylvania and later became the prince of Wallachia. He killed his enemies by impaling them on stakes.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Folklore and Pop Culture (again!) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Count Dracula, Transylvania, Sesame Street, and Cereal

Transylvania: The Land of Count Dracula is a Multicultural Mishmosh

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter I

This week The Alien Diaries has reached its 250th post and will go into its 6th year!

The I's have it, since today's dances begin with the letter "I".

The first is Izruchana, a moderately difficult Vlach dance from northwestern Bulgaria.  Vlach dances have much in common with those from southern Romania.  They are fast and accented with stamps and shouts.

In case you're wondering who the Vlachs are, they are people of Romanian ancestry who live outside Romania.  Many of them were sheep herders and wandered from place to place to find good pastures. There are Vlach villages on the Bulgarian side of the Danube, River of Many Names.

This group of dancers is from Hong Kong. For some reason the Chinese love Balkan music and there are many Chinese folk dance videos on YouTube.I have also met a number of Chinese people at my folk dance group, including my daughter's high school home room teacher.

If you are a regular reader, you have seen this "Bonding Folkdance Class" from China.  Here they perform the dance Imate li Vino.  The English translation of the song is "Do you have wine?" Since February is the month of Trifon Zarezan, the patron saint of vintners, I included it this week. The dance is a lesnoto variation in 7/8 rhythm (pineapple-apple-apple).  Lesnoto is a popular dance in southwestern Bulgaria (Pirin) and in the Republic of Macedonia.

According to the lyrics, you can bring wine, money and young women, but no old ladies! I sense some age discrimination here....

For some reason the end of of the video was cut off. Someone needs to teach the Chinese some video editing skills :)

Although it's a little early, I'd like to wish my Chinese readers a Happy New Year, with health and happiness!

The bonus video for this week is a waltz by the Bulgarian composer Diko Iliev whose birthday falls on February 15. He is best known for the dance piece Dunavsko Horo.  In keeping with the "I" theme (Iliev) and the wine theme, the name of this piece is In the Vineyards Over Ribine.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

"Blessed  Wine, Cursed Drinking, A Look at St. Trifon, the Patron Saint of Vintners

How to Stamp Out Your Frustrations and Relieve Stress (Vlach dances from Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia)

Are you looking forward to spring?  It has been a long, hard winter here with plenty of cold and snow.  Chase away the winter blues with some springtime music by Diko Iliev.

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