Monday, July 25, 2011

Zlatne Uste Plays for Surprise Wedding :)

(photo 1, Sandy and Ken) (photo 2, Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band)

Have you ever been to one of those "cookie cutter" wedding receptions?

During the years when my friends were getting married, I went to plenty of them, and they were pretty much interchangeable, except for the couples. My husband and I had one. The format is familiar: appetizers followed by bland prime rib and then the wedding cake, all of it washed down with gallons of booze. The bride and groom entering, the first dance, the first kiss, the throw of the garter, the dance with Mom, the dance with Dad. The music, performed by a band or a DJ, is a mixture of sappy love songs, pop music, the Chicken Dance and Alley Cat.

In my next life I'd like to have a wedding reception like the one I went to recently. It was delightfully different.

The couple, Sandy and Ken, have been together a long time and surprised everyone when they announced their marriage during one of the band breaks. We all thought it was a party showcasing the Balkan brass band from New York City, Zlatne Uste.

Sandy and Ken are dancers and musicians, and play for Panharmonium, the Amherst International Folk Dance house band:

Sandy also writes a monthly article for the Danvers Herald, and a blog about growing up in Danvers, Massachusetts:

During the month of May, at one of the Friday night dances, they announced that Zlatne Uste was going to play locally, a rare event, since they usually do gigs in the New York City area (where I danced to their music at the very first Golden Festival in 1985). This was something I was not going to miss, and I marked it prominently on my calendar as soon as I knew.

It was an unforgettable experience, and the music was loud enough to wake the dead (believe it or not a few people wore earplugs).

Here's one of the videos I took during the party. This is a dance very popular in the Balkans, Devetorka.

Here's another, are we having fun yet?

I wish the happy couple the best, and I thank them for arranging one of the the most enjoyable events I have ever been to!

For more on Zlatne Uste read:

Their web site can be found here:

The Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, which celebrated its 26th year, has been held the third weekend of January in New York City every year since 1985. It has gotten so big that they had to move to Brooklyn.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Bulgarian Dances and their Greek Relatives

A lot of cross-cultural pollination takes place in the Balkans. Today's post is about Bulgarian dances that have cousins in Greece. Both countries have a region named Thrace, and it is from this area that these dances originate. Thrace includes what is now southern Bulgaria, northern Greece, and a part of Turkey.

The Pravo is a dance that has been around. It is known by different names in different countries; it is supposedly the most widespread dance in the world.

This is a basic Bulgarian dance, the one everyone does at weddings and parties. Its name is Pravo Trakiisko Horo, which in English means "straight Thracian dance." Bulgarians do crooked dances too, these are called Krivo and they will be described in a future post.

This is a slightly faster and more challenging Pravo from the same region. Notice the "basket hold" in which the dancers place arms over each other, like the weave of a basket. This alone makes the dance a little harder...if you screw up the steps, you can mess up the line, which is why you should always pay close attention to the leader. These guys know exactly what they're doing, and they are a pleasure to watch.

The Greek version of the Pravo is the Zonaradiko. The name comes from the belt hold that the dancers use; the Greek word for belt is zonaria . It's similar to the basket hold in the previous video.

Trite Puti is a favorite of Balkan dancers, and it's from the Thracian region of Bulgaria. It means "three times", which has to do with the movement of the feet. It's an odd number of steps in an even tempo (2/4).

The dance doesn't undergo much of a change when it crosses the Greek border, except for the name, Troiro. The arm swinging and the steps are very familiar and so is the gaida (bagpipe) music.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like Bulgarian Folk Music Travels Abroad, a cross-cultural experience beginning in Bulgaria.

Dances in the same family can be found here:

Euclid was from ancient Greece, and he was the father of geometry. Read about the relationship of geometry to Balkan dancing here:

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Romanian Festival with an Albanian Accent

Summertime is festival time, and today's post is about an unusual church picnic that I went to this past weekend with a group of dance friends.

It was held as a fundraiser for the Romanian Orthodox Church in Southbridge, a small town in south-central Massachussetts. During the beginning of the last century,immigrants from Romania came to the United States seeking opportunity. They established churches and social halls for worship and to celebrate cultural events. St. Michael's Church in Southbridge has been a part of the Romanian community since 1924.

The odd thing about this Romanian picnic/festival was that the band played Armenian and Greek music, and the costumed folk dance group presented dances from Albania. Not one Romanian dance or song was performed. This festival was Romanian in name only.

The social hall displayed some very old photos from the church's history, and I got into a conversation with an older woman who was a longtime parishioner. She told me that years ago the church had organized folk dance groups and they performed Romanian dances. What had happened was that the immigrants' children and grandchildren had assimilated into the mainstream culture and lost touch with their roots. So the church invited an Albanian group from an Orthodox church in Worcester to perform.

The Albanian folk dancers, most of who were were recent immigrants to the United States, did a very nice job. They were young and energetic, but they weren't Romanian. Even the Pajduško that they did (which they said was Romanian) was not. The music was definitely Albanian. Albanian music is very heavy on the clarinet, and you can hear it in this video.

Contrast it with this Romanian Pajduško which is faster. It looks and sounds totally different:

The group performed a number of Albanian folk dances, this is a very popular one called Pogonishte.

Albanian music contains a strong Turkish influence. The Ottomans had ruled the country for over 500 years. You can hear it in this modern folk song, Valle Kosovare. Check out the beautiful costumes on the dancers, they were all handmade.

Even though there was no Romanian music, I had an enjoyable time at the festival and it was an interesting cultural exchange. By the way, if I go next year, I may bring a boom box and a CD of Romanian music to play while the band has a break :)

For more about the Pajduško and its popularity in the Balkans read:

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Monday, July 11, 2011

An International Look at Reality TV Shows

The beauty of the Internet is that it can transport you to faraway places. And it is so much better than the garbage that is routinely broadcast on TV in the States. Despite the 200+ cable channels that I get, there is nothing good to watch, which is why I prefer the Universe of YouTube and foreign shows that I can access with a few clicks of the mouse.

Watching TV for the most part, is bad for you. When you are watching TV you are usually not exercising. It atrophies your brain, and if you snack in front of the tube (those fast food commercials with fried chicken and sizzling burgers accompanied by french fries are tempting, aren't they?) you can become a mindless piece of lard.

In general, the programs on American TV are not much better than the commercials, in my humble opinion, although I know some people who are like druggies without a fix when they miss their favorite TV shows.

The programs that the people I know get most excited about are Dancing With the Stars and American Idol, which originated in Great Britain, and now have clones all over the world.

I hear people discussing them at work and at social gatherings. Reality TV shows are extremely popular. I seldom see them, and when I do, it's usually because a member of my family is watching one on TV.

The bad performers are sometimes the best part of the shows. It's a form of schadenfreude I engage in. Here's an example of some really bad singing from American Idol.

This is a clip from the Bulgarian Music Idol, which is much more fun to watch. Isn't this guy aware that he's wearing a shirt that says that his mother's a prostitute? In Spanish?

There are some excellent performers from Music Idol. This young lady, who sings the well known Bulgarian folk song Izlel E Delyu Haidutin, accompanied by a bagpipe, is one of the best that I've seen on YouTube.

Many people are into Dancing With the Stars, a series in which celebrities compete as teams in ballroom dancing. I watched it a couple of times when I visited my mom, who is a big fan of the show. Although I was able to appreciate the ability and athleticism of the dancers, ballroom dancing just isn't my thing. Here's a clip from a recent episode.

Recently I've been captivated by a dance show from the Bulgarian National Television, Nadigrame, which has just concluded its eight week run.

You can find an explanation of the program here (in English)

From what I've read on the Bulgarian National Television website (since I'm Cyrillically challenged I cheat with Google Translate), Nadigrame, a show in which folk dance teams from rival cities compete, was extremely popular in Bulgaria. After I watched the first few episodes, I was hooked. It is something I can relate to, since it involves Bulgarian folk dancing, and the live music performed by the ensemble Diva Reka is top notch!

For the past eight weeks, teams from different folklore regions of Bulgaria have competed on the show. This video features an interview with the group from Plovdiv and contains a few short excerpts from Nadigrame.

If this has whetted your appetite for Bulgarian folk dancing, you can watch archived episodes of each show on the BNT's website (there are eight of them). This is the link to the finale, broadcast on the 10th of July, in which the seven semi-final teams, after a process of elimination in previous episodes, competed for the winning position. (Just to let you know, it's is almost two hours long, but well worth watching.) After the winning team was announced, the show finished with all teams performing the most popular dance in Bulgaria.

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy this post about the different "flavors" of Bulgarian horo.

Interested in a new fitness routine? Try some ethnic dance and exercise.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev

Today's post is about one of the most popular dances in Bulgaria, Dunavsko Horo (Danubian Horo).

Although there are other versions of Dunavsko with different music (you can find them on my blog and on the Universe of YouTube), the one everyone knows and loves was written by Diko Iliev, a Bulgarian composer who lived from 1898 to 1984. Although the lighting isn't so good, you can see a picture of the composer in the background, and costumed dancers in the foreground. This is the original brass arrangement.

The next Dunavsko is an arrangement for accordion and played by an American musician who does a phenomenal job with Bulgarian folk music. A number of folk dances are posted on his channel, plus a tutorial on how to play Elenino Horo (Eleno Mome), another very popular Bulgarian dance. You can find links to the sheet music on his YouTube profile if you're feeling ambitious. And is that a Martenitsa I see on his wall?

There are some people, however, who consider the accordion an instrument of torture, like my husband. One day he returned home from work while I played the previous video and the first words out of his mouth were "Turn that damned accordion off!"

If you enjoy accordion music, or are interested in using it for pain and torture purposes, this post is a must read:

The Bulgarian Police Band is a fine group of musicians. When they're not out in the streets keeping order and arresting the riffraff, they're playing some really good stuff. They have a varied repertoire, which includes American big band music, military marches, and Bulgarian folk dances. This piece is Memorial For Diko Iliev, based on his Dunavsko Horo. It's a modern version which took some getting used to, but now I really like it.

For more about Diko Iliev, his life and his music read:

More music by Diko Iliev can be found here:

You can find other variations of Dunavsko Horo (not by Diko Iliev) in the following posts. The first one is played on traditional Bulgarian folk instruments:

This one is a brass band rendition, with dancers in colorful folk costumes.

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