Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Family Resemblance: Theme and Variations....

Have you ever been to a family gathering and noticed how all those relatives look and sound alike? That's what happens when a bunch of people share similar DNA. They are all branches of the same tree.

Some interesting things happen when there are dances in the same "family." It's called a family resemblance. Here are several examples, from the Balkans, of dances that resemble each other.

One of my favorites, Graovsko Horo, a dance from Bulgaria, is almost an identical twin to Kystendilska Rachenitsa. Here's the Graovsko (in 2/4:)

Speed it up, change the tempo and the music and you have Kyustendilska Rachenitsa (in 7/16.)

To add even more to the confusion, this is Kyustendilsko Horo, which looks and sounds similar to the first dance, Graovsko. See a pattern here?

Here are two dances from Macedonia which are very similar in music and choreography. The first is Tropnalo Oro.

The second is Sadilo Mome. They both have that Macedonian slide and the hop-step-step.

For more on dances in the same "family" read my post on Pajduško:

You can also try The Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa for a tasty look at a traditional Bulgarian dance.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Balkan Music Night 2011: More Balkan March Madness

I enjoyed last year's Balkan Music Night so much that I had to go a second time, which I did on March 19, 2011. For me it means an all-nighter, since it's some distance from my home. The actual event lasts from 7 a.m. until 2:30 the next morning. My friend and I are usually wiped out by 1 a.m. and we arrived home very tired, but happy, a couple of hours before sunrise.

For this year's coverage of Balkan Music Night, I decided to focus more on the madness that goes on during these events, just to give you an idea on how easy it is to get carried away with the music and dancing. Balkan Music Night draws a sizeable and diverse crowd, consisting of young and old, Americans and foreigners, and this blend of people and music makes it something truly special, as you can see in this video.

Bands and dance ensembles, mostly from the Boston area, were featured. The photos above are of two dance groups: Mladost and Ludo Mlado. This area has a very large population of Eastern European immigrants; and there were many young people getting in touch with their roots at the festival. Here is a list of this year's performers:

There is something bewitching, seducing, and magical about Balkan music. Although it's not to everyone's taste, those who love it find it addicting, and the unusual rhythms compel you to dance. This is why Balkan Music Night draws thousands of people from miles around every year. It's like a group of religious people going on a pilgrimage.

This is a glimpse of what went on close to midnight, when everyone in the place was high on endorphins. (Although there are plenty of refreshments and delicious ethnic food, no alcohol is served). If you haven't tried Croatian dancing, you should, the steps are very easy to learn and it's lots of fun. Should you get pulled into the line of dancers, go with the flow.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

East Meets Barry West: An Irishman's Adventures in Bulgaria

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!

In the States, St. Patrick's Day is a big celebration. Everyone wears green, eats corned beef and cabbage, and has a drink in his honor. It is the day when everyone is Irish. All over the country, there are parades celebrating the Saint, with the largest taking place in New York City. (check out those bagpipes!)

The Irish are proud of their heritage and keep it alive in a faraway land, even though it's been many years since the mass migration caused by the Potato Famine.

The Potato Famine occurred in Ireland during the 1840's. Most of Ireland was owned by British landlords, who used tenant farmers to work the fields. These farmers subsisted on potatoes and milk, as they were very poor. Potatoes were easy to grow, and a small plot fed an entire family.

When a blight hit the potatoes in 1845, many Irish people starved to death. Those healthy enough to emigrate left the country, mostly to the United States.

The Irish in the United States, at first, had a difficult time economically, taking the lowest paying jobs. They suffered from discrimination, mainly because they were Catholics in a mostly Prostestant country. Eventually, they prospered, and became prominent in the professions. Many became involved in politics, the most famous example is former president John F. Kennedy.

Today's post is not about politics, however, but about the connection between Ireland and Bulgaria via an excerpt from a romantic comedy (a.k.a. "chick flick"). The protagonist is a young man from Ireland, Barry, who is searching for adventure and sexy women while on vacation in Bulgaria. He loses his clothes on the bus to Varna, and gets involved with the Bulgarian Mafia, some local people, and a British woman looking for her sister. You can see the entire movie on YouTube.

This excerpt is the cultural exchange part of the film. The villagers teach Barry a Bulgarian song, and Barry responds with an Irish tune. Everybody has gotten happily drunk on rakia and joins in the sing-along.

By the way, if you like bagpipes, check out my post on the Bagpipe and Bulgarian folk music:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Martenitsa Tree-A Modern Day Folktale (Inspired by the Internet)

It's now almost mid-March, and Baba Marta is finally starting to smile on Massachusetts. The snow is almost gone, and the air is noticeably warmer. Even the ice cream truck made the rounds for the first time today.

Recently I read a post on the internet about Martenitsa trees springing up (pardon the pun) all over the world. Here is the link:

In response to a fellow blogger (a young lady from Bulgaria), this is my Martenitsa tree. Actually two views of it, since my yard still has the leftovers of January and February's snow, which is fast disappearing.

My tree looks nothing like the ones I saw on the Project Martenitza site, but after all, each tree is as different as its creator.

Here is the story of the Martenitsa Tree:

Once upon a time, many years ago, a little girl brought a pine tree seedling home from school. She wanted to plant it, so she asked her mother to find a home for it. Mom found the least crowded spot in the backyard, dug a hole, and forgot about it for a long, long time.

It took many years to grow. For the longest time it was dwarfed by the surrounding bushes and plants, for Baba Marta had not yet seen it.

Then one spring, the tree had a growth spurt because Mom had tied a Martenitsa on it after the first flowers bloomed in the neighborhood. Baba Marta came all the way from Bulgaria to see this tree, was pleased, and put a growth spell on it.

The tree nearly tripled in size!

It got so big that Mom decided it needed some decoration, so she tied more martenitsi on it. Then she read the martenitsa had to be placed on a fruit tree, and since a pine tree does not bear fruit, she found some apples that had been previously used as Christmas ornaments. Since Mom likes odd numbers, especially Balkan dances with nine beats to the measure, there are nine apples on the tree.

The tree grew even more. The tiny seedling that was brought home and planted over thirteen years ago is now a little over 5 feet (1.55 meters) tall!

Mom had read something on the internet recently about Martenitsa trees and mentioned them to one of her blogger buddies, a young woman from Bulgaria who went to college in Boston, and now studies in England. The young woman had mentioned that she wanted to send the picture of a Martenitsa Tree in Massachusetts to her family in Bulgaria.

Although it's nothing fancy, and it's (technically) not a fruit tree, this Martenitsa Tree is the only one in her town, and brings good luck to all who reside there. (so far this month there haven't been any snow storms).

Baba Marta now smiles on Massachusetts.


For more on the Martenitsa, read:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

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

Today, in honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, here are several women's dances from the Balkans. In this part of the world, back in the day, dances were often used as the venue for men and women to meet, (and eventually marry) under the watchful eye of the older women.

The first, from Romania, is the very beautiful and graceful Hora Fetelor (Girls' Dance). Since The Alien Diaries is an equal opportunity blog, the dance immediately following is the very masculine Calusari, a springtime dance performed by men wielding sticks.

The next video is of Dobrudjanska Reka, from Bulgaria, also a women's dance, performed by a group in a mall. Notice that a woman is leading it. Nowadays, this too is an equal opportunity dance, even the men are allowed to join the line :)

The third women's dance is Tresenica, from Macedonia.

For some men's dances, click the next link (as I said before this is an equal opportunity blog!)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What Butchers did for Fun: The Butcher's Dance in Balkan Folklore (another cross-cultural comparison)

(Picture from Wikipedia, depicting the occupation of butcher in the Middle Ages)

In the Balkans, meat is an significant part of the diet, and the butcher played an important role in the community. His job was a dirty, but essential one, slaughtering animals, cutting them into smaller pieces, and preserving meat in the form of sausage, back in the days when there was no refrigeration.

I used to accompany my dad to the butcher shop and the live poultry market every Saturday morning. The butcher shop, owned by a Spaniard who was a friend of my father, was a traditional one, complete with sawdust on the floor, and a meat grinding machine. He took large cuts of meat and prepared them for you personally, his steaks and pork chops were the best I'd eaten. The meat was wrapped, not in plastic, but in brown waxed paper. As for the poultry market, that place was pretty nasty, with the stink of chicken crap permeating the establishment, and rows of chickens in cages waiting their turn for the chopping block. Although it was disgusting, I was more in touch with where my food came from than my kids, who see meat packaged in plastic, in refrigerated display cases at the supermarket.

When butchers weren't busy slaughtering animals, cutting, grinding, slicing and dicing or otherwise playing with their meat, they were dancing.

The first dance, Hasapiko, is often performed at Hellenic festivals, and usually by men showing off their fancy moves. Hasapiko means butcher in Greek, and this was originally the dance of the Butcher's Guild in Greece, which in those days was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The etymology of Hasapiko can be found here:

Hasapiko can be freestyle (the leader calling the steps), or it can have a designated choreography (folk dance groups often prefer the latter). This dance is one of my favorites, and although it's challenging, it's lots of fun. Although traditonally, Hasapiko is a men's dance, we women like to crash the line. If they don't let us in the line, we make our own!

The next Butchers' Dance is from northwestern Bulgaria. The word "Kasap" means butcher in Turkish, and since the Turks dominated Bulgaria for over 500 years, a few Turkish words made their way into the language. The word for butcher in Bulgarian is kasapin, the dance shown here is Kasapsko Horo.

Notice in these two videos the groups use a shoulder hold, which is common in men's dances.

The Macedonians, not to be outdone, have their own version of the butcher's dance, Kasapsko Oro. This dance, like the previous one, is equal opportunity, both men and women dance in this video.

For more on Balkan cuisine (especially the different meat dishes), read:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.