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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Three Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Chetvorno Horo

Hang on to those belts, dancers, today's dance is Chetvorno Horo!

On the Universe of Youtube, I found several video examples on how different "villages" interpret the dance.

Chetvorno is from the Shope folklore region of Bulgaria  (western region near the capital, Sofia). The time signature is 7/8 (pineapple-apple-apple).This dance has traveled around the world and undergone several incarnations, from easy to moderately difficult. You will see them here.

Although there are other dances in 7/8 (or 7/16 depending on the speed) such as the rachenitsa and the lesnoto; the accents fall on different beats and each one has a distinct feel.  Read the posts Dancing in Sevens (part one and part two) to find out more. You can find the links to them at the bottom of this page.

Tbe first video shows a group dancing in a shopping mall.   This version is the least complicated and uses the basic steps (hop-step-step in the first part and one two three in the crossovers, also called pas-de-basques.  Where they got that fancy French name for that step, I don't know.

Version two is slightly more complicated and introduces the slide step as well as the basic ones. This video comes from the series "Teach Yourself Bulgarian Folk Dance" and features professional dancers in elaborate embroidered costumes.  There is also step by step teaching video (pun intended) which is posted on YouTube.

The next version of Chetvorno has a more complicated choreography; if you look at the dance notes you will see five distinct figures.  People in international folk dance groups seem to thrive on complex dances and go to workshops to learn them.  This one is from the village of Bistritsa, and the person demonstrating the dance is from the "village" of Haifa, Israel.

Kolokoalition, a group from the United States, has many dances posted on YouTube. In this video, they dance Chetvorno to live music, which is the same as the previous version.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dancing in Sevens  Part One and Part Two

Two Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance Kraj Dunavsko Horo

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa Part One and Part Two

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Take a Ride on the Orijent Express

Who knows who will be on board? A couple of spies, for sure. At least one grand duke; a few beautiful woman, no doubt very rich and very troubled. Anything can happen and usually does on the Orient Express.
Morley Safer

Today's featured dances are Orijent and Ciganski Orijent  from Serbia.

Orijent is one of the first dances I learned. There is one part of the dance in which my dance instructor described as "scraping shit off your shoe,"which is something peasants often did when dancing in the fields.

Back in the old days, animal droppings were the only "land mines" dancers had to worry about. In the country that used to be Yugoslavia, there are many places that have live land mines. The areas are marked off with warning signs.

Fortunately, there was no "land mine" danger for these dancers.

Ciganski Orijent  most likely originated as a Gypsy (Roma) dance.  The music sounds like a train and was inspired by the Orient Express, a luxury train that took passengers from Paris to Istanbul. The Simplon route passed through Serbia and there was a stop in Belgrade, the White City and capital of Serbia.

The Orient Express inspired Agatha Christie's novel Murder on the Orient Express, and there was also a movie based on the book.

Some of the steps are similar to Orijent in the previous video.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Stamp It Out: Vlach Dances From Serbia

The "Flavors" of Serbian Cacak

Two Variations on a Serbian Folk Dance: Stara Vlajna

Don't forget to check out the newest post on my other blog: Light and Shadow, especially if you like cats.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Balkan Music Night 2014: A Celebration of Music and Dance

Movie-making is telling a story with the best technology at your disposal.
Tom Hanks

Don't you just love technology?

I have been around long enough to see large computers shrunk down to the size of Smartphones.  Smartphones are truly amazing in that they have enormous capabilities: besides using them to talk to people, you can text, take pictures and video, and access the Internet, among other things.

Today's post features videos taken by phone from Balkan Music Night 2014 in Concord Massachusetts. It is an annual event that has been going on for nearly 30 years.  30 years ago PC's were big, bulky things run by a DOS operating system.  Are there any readers out there who remember the days of dual floppy disk drives?

We have come a long way since then.  It's really amazing how you can broadcast yourself on YouTube with something small enough to fit in your back pocket.

It's time to visit The Universe of YouTube, via the magic of technology. The first video is of Ličko Kolo, from Croatia.  The dancers create the music by singing and stamping their feet, something quite unusual in the age of electronic music.   It's also a call and response song.  Call and response songs are common to many cultures and the Balkans are no exception.

The person who posted it used an I-Phone and I am amazed at the quality of the sound as well as the way he composed the video.

Here's another snippet; this time it's the Harris Brothers on brass instruments playing a tune from Macedonia.

The sound quality on this video is not as good as the previous ones. My little Android is not the top of the line Smartphone, but it's light and not as bulky as my old digital camera (every time someone invents new and improved devices they shrink in size). This group, Niva, was one of my favorites at Balkan Music Night. You can see me fumbling with my fingers at the start of the video because the camera function is in the back of the phone. 

The dance is Pajduško Horo, in the odd rhythm of 5/8. The faster versions are in 5/16.

If you really want to hear how good Niva sounds, click this link. This will take you to the songs played at the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, another event similar to Balkan Music Night.  The one in the video is song #4.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

A Taste of Albania at Balkan Music Night 2013

"Music is the Strongest Form of Magic" Balkan Music Night 2012

More Balkan March Madness: Balkan Music Night 2011

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

The "Flavors" of Macedonian Oro

Today's post features several dances from another former Yugoslav republic, Macedonia. The word for dance in Macedonian is similar to the Bulgarian (oro in Macedonia, horo in Bulgaria).

If you are looking for oro, as in gold, you have come to the wrong place. Do a search on Spanish conquistadors instead, they had an obsession about finding gold in the New World. But before you go, spend a few minutes here, you may find this blog more interesting and a lot more fun than Latin American history :)

Bavno Oro is familiar to folk dancers worldwide. The name comes from the slow part in the beginning of the dance, which speeds up at the end. This vintage recording, still played at dances today, was made by Boris Karlov, Bulgarian accordionist.  His repertoire included music from Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia, and unfortunately, he died at a very young age from a kidney infection.

The performers are the Surrey International Folk Dancers from British Columbia in Canada.

If you are a frequent visitor here you have seen these people before.  They are a part of a "bonding folk dance class" in China.  Their instructor is very good because I can follow him even though I don't understand a word of Chinese.  Balkan folk dance is very popular in China, judging from the number of videos I have seen posted by this group on YouTube.  The dance is Berovka and its time signature is 2/4. 

The next video was from the New England Folk Festival 2012, and features an excellent group from Brooklyn, NY who sing "Macedonian roots music."  I had the pleasure of listening and dancing to Niva recently at  Balkan Music Night 2014. 

Ratevka, the dance shown here, is usually played as part of a medley that includes Berovka. It has a different time signature than the previous dance:  7/8 or 7/16 depending on the speed.  This live version is a little slower than the recording. It's the same rhythm as the Bulgarian dance Chetvorno Horo (pineapple-apple-apple).

The Tanec ensemble is well-known all over the world for their performances of music and dance from the Republic of Macedonia. This is a men's dance, Teskoto, played on two zurnas and a tupan. The zurna is an instrument that resembles a horn.  It has a double reed, like an oboe, and finger holes and it is loud enough to wake the dead. The Turks introduced these instruments during their occupation of the Balkans.  They later became part of the musical fabric of Macedonia as well as the Pirin region of Bulgaria.

If you haven't noticed previously, Macedonian folk dances tend to start off slow and pick up speed as they progress. 

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

The Bagpipe in Macedonian Folk Music

Two Variations on a Macedonian Folk Dance: Bufcansko

If you're interested in music from former Yugoslav republics click these links:

The "Flavors"of Serbian Kolo

The River of Many Names, Part 6, The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs

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Friday, March 14, 2014

The "Flavors" of Serbian Kolo

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

Today's post is about a dance much-loved in Serbia, the kolo.

The Serbs don't have a monopoly on the kolo because people dance it in Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia. These countries used to be part of a larger entity,  Yugoslavia, the place that brought us the Yugo, the car that didn't go. The country went the way of the car. May they both rest in peace.

Kolo means "circle"and it can also mean wheel. Not all kolos are danced in a circle, as you will see in the following videos. From what I've observed most groups do them in a line. Professional ensembles are more likely to dance them in an actual circle. Circles and lines, by the way, are geometric figures, which are very prominent in folk dances from Eastern Europe.

The first video is Ersko Kolo, an easy and fun dance, performed by the Tanzgruppe Schmelz from Vienna, Austria.

The next dance is a medley of three Serbian kolos, and judging from the stamping, the dances are probably of Vlach origin. The Vlachs were people of Romanian (Latin) ancestry, and they travelled all over the Balkans. They traditionally worked as shepherds, which explains their wandering ways.

This is another example of a Vlach dance from Serbia: Vlashko Kolo.

Kolo Koalition, a group from California in the USA, has many dances, including Serbian kolos, posted on their YouTube channel.  Prekid Kolo, best described as kolo interruptus, is related to another very popular Serbian dance, U šest.  Read the notes to find out why.

Finally, here's the Kolo Ensemble performing during a halftime show at an NBA basketball game in Canada.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Serbian Cacak

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Parts One and Two

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Some Equal Opportunity Folk Dances

I just love bossy women. I could be around them all day. To me, bossy is not a pejorative term at all. It means somebody's passionate and engaged and ambitious and doesn't mind leading.
Amy Poehler

Today's post, for International Women's Day, will feature men's dances from Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece, led by women.

In the Balkans, traditionally, there were dances for women and dances for men.  Nowadays, no one really cares if a female leads what was once considered a men's dance. In the old days, however there was gender segregation. There would be two different lines, one for the women and one for the men.  The men performed the fancy moves and jumps, and the women's version was more dainty.

The first dance is from the Pirin region of southwestern Bulgaria. I don't know the name of it (can someone help me here?) The female leader it does it with style; this is music with a hypnotic rhythm played on a tupan (double-headed drum) and a zurna (a wooden horn with a double reed and finger holes). Most of the dancers are women, you can see a couple of men near the end.

What is even more amazing is that this performance goes on for over six minutes and the music gets progressively faster.

Sirba Pe Loc, from Romania, was most likely a men's dance.  It's fast, and done in a shoulder hold with stamps and heel clicks for emphasis. Sirba dances are very popular in Romania, and there are many.  They are usually named by the town or region, but this one translates to "dance in place."

Sestorka, from Serbia, is a very fast dance, usually performed by men holding on to each other's belts.  The rules have been changed here, with some interesting results. This is an all-female group dressed in traditional Serbian folk costumes (that means skirts). There is a point in the dance where they are supposed to shout ooh-ha, but I can barely hear them. Raise your voices, ladies!

The,Hasapiko was the dance of the butcher's guild in Greece during the Middle Ages, and back then was performed only by men.  Times have changed.  This group, like the previous one, is all female.

If you liked this you will also enjoy:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

In Honor of International Women's Day:  Women's Dances From the Balkans

The Butcher's Dance in Balkan Folklore

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chestita Baba Marta! A Baba Marta Song (in English), the Martenitsa Folk Dance Group, and Some Cool Bulgarian Crafts

Photo: Martenitsa, by Katley Brown
In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.
Mark Twain

Today's theme is Baba Marta, and her symbol, the Martenitsa.

Winter in the northeastern United States was especially long, cold and snowy and everyone is looking forward to spring!  Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a deep freeze and think Baba Marta is unhappy with us because the cold and snow will last well into the first week of March.

The first song is by Jonathan Taylor, an Englishman who lives in Bulgaria. The video was taken after a particularly harsh winter.  You can see the deep snow and the meltwater coming off the roofs of the houses. Taylor asks Baba Marta (Grandma March) to have mercy on the Bulgarians and drive away winter.  You can find the lyrics here:


The next video features the Martenitsa Folk Dance Group from Stuttgart in Germany, and took place during a summer festival in 2008. They perform a medley of Bulgarian folk dances from different folklore regions of the country: Dobrudja, Pirin, Shoppe, and others.   I have noticed that Bulgarian folklore is very popular in Germany. It must be all those trips the Germans make every summer to Black Sea resorts.

The martenitsa is a much-loved symbol in Bulgaria; it heralds the coming of spring.  Traditionally, it's made from red and white yarn woven together to make a bracelet; tassels or male/female figures.  They are given to friends and family for good luck, and to ward off winter.  They are also associated with Baba Marta (Grandma March) who is very moody, she can either bring balmy springtime weather or freezing cold and snow.  That is why it's important to make her happy by wearing martenitsa on a lapel or on the wrist.

The last video was produced by the Bulgarian National Television in Rousse, and shows the many different types of martenitsa. It's narrated in Bulgarian,with no subtitles. If you like folk art it's worth a look. These creations are quite original. There are tassels, little men and women, a broom and even spiders.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

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

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

The Martenitsa Tree (a modern-day folktale)

A Dance for Baba Marta: Children's Celebrations in Bulgaria

Project Martenitza, a group from Australia, has been organizing Bulgarian, Romanian and Moldovan communities around the world to decorate Martenitsa Trees.  Read more about them here:

Check out my new blog Light and Shadow, and you will understand why I hate winter.

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