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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter S

I had a very simple, unremarkable and happy life. And I grew up in a very small town. And so my life was made up of, you know, in the morning going to the river to fetch water - no tap water, and no electricity - and, you know, bathing in the river, and then going to school, and playing soccer afterwards.
Ishmael Baeh

Today's dance is Staro Gradesnisko Horo. According to the notes it's from the Pirin region, southwest Bulgaria. Bulgarian folk dances are often named after towns or regions; this one is named for the town of Doina Gradesniska.

The song is about a common theme in Bulgarian folklore: a girl who goes out to fetch water.  Back in the days before indoor plumbing, the girls and young women had the tedious chore of getting water from the well or the spring for cooking and cleaning.

While fetching water, this girl has an encounter with a young man who makes trouble (but he is actually in love with her).  I couldn't get an exact translation, but if you understand German or Bulgarian you can find the lyrics here.

The dance starts is unusual in that it starts with a hesitation after the introduction. It's very short, just over two minutes long.

Today's bonus video is by the Bisserov Sisters. It is a performance dating from 1989, and the song is about the dangers of going to the well late at night.  Included are English subtitles.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Best of the Bisserov Sisters (and family).  The Pirin style of singing features beautiful and unusual harmonies.  These ladies have been singing together for a very long time; and the entire family is involved with making music.  How do they deal with sibling rivalry? I have yet to find out how they get along so well...

Bulgarian Dances Folk Dances Named After Cities and Towns

The Bulgarian Fascination with Water, Evidence from Folklore, Music and Proverbs

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter R

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
Salvador Dalí

This week's dance is Ravno Oro from the Republic of Macedonia. The name is very easily confused with another Macedonian dance, Bavno Oro.

Ravno is a bit more challenging than Bavno.  Like a number of Macedonian folk dances; it starts off slow and speeds up as it progresses.  There are different patterns for the slow part and the fast part. The time signature is 7/8 (pineapple-apple-apple).

In this video the lines are gender-segregated. Traditionally the dance was done that way, but nowadays people do it in mixed lines. Sometimes dancing in the men's line is more fun; they tend to get a little crazier than the women. I have gotten away with it on more than a few occasions :)

Video 2 is the "equal opportunity" version, led by Yves Moreau.  Check out his fancy moves; he is a well-known teacher of Bulgarian and Balkan folk dances and gives workshops all over the world.

I skipped the letter "q" because there are no Balkan dances that begin with "q." The bonus video supplies the missing letter in a very quirky way.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Some Equal Opportunity Folk Dances

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist (many people confuse him with Boris Karloff, the movie actor).  His version of Bavno Oro is still used at folk dances more than 50 years after his death.

Folklore as a Destiny: Yves Moreau and Bulgarian Folk Music

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dancing Through the Alphabet: Letter P

That's what sailing is, a dance, and your partner is the sea. And with the sea you never take liberties. You ask her, you don't tell her. You have to remember always that she's the leader, not you. You and your boat are dancing to her tune.
― Michael Morpurgo, Alone on a Wide Wide Sea

This week's dance, Paraliakós, is from Greece. Unlike most of the dances featured during the past few months, this one is fairly easy.

The music for Paraliakos reminds me of riding in a boat rocking gently on the waves. I've never been on a sailboat but have had a bit of experience paddling canoes and kayaks.  The boat mentioned in the song is a craft used for fishing in the Greek islands (if you listen closely you'll hear the song in the background, and also see the men sailing in a vrastsera).

The lyrics of the song describe a man sailing his boat out to sea. He mentions the beauty of the scenery and the danger of the oncoming storm.

The dance goes very well with the music. The swaying part reminds me of a boat on the water.  In the next video there is a short teach by Lee Otterholt.  You can easily learn the dance by watching.

This dance is very popular in our group and requested frequently. 

The bonus video also has a Greek theme, and if you are a regular reader of The Alien Diaries, you have probably seen it before: Miss Piggy's Never on Sunday.  It's a blast with dancing pigs, flying plates and gunshots!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Beethoven With a Bulgarian Accent; Mozart Goes Greek

The "Flavors" of Greek Syrtos 

Some Fun for April Fool's Day

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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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