Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Can't Believe They're Not Bulgarian :)

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.
Herbie Hancock

Today's featured group on The Alien Diaries is the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus.

The Chorus has been in existence since 1969, and they perform a wide variety of songs from Eastern Europe. Here is a little background on them with links to their YouTube Channel and Facebook page.

The Yale Slavic Chorus does a fantastic job with Bulgarian music, which sounds a little strange at first to those who haven't heard it before; the dissonant harmonies and uneven rhythms take some getting used to. What makes this music so beautiful is its uniqueness.

This video is an unusual performance of the folk song Ergen Dedo. If you watch it on YouTube, the description underneath reads "impromptu Bulgarian genius." The rhythm they're tapping and clapping so enthusiastically is 7/8 (apple-apple galloping), the meter for the rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria. You can feel the love when they sing.

If you had been on a Manhattan bound N train in Brooklyn at 3 a.m. the third weekend of January you may have seen the takeover of a subway car by the Yale Slavic Chorus. They happened to be on the way home from a really good party, and the subway was the logical place to continue. (Is that a werewolf I hear at the end of the song?)

The party was the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, held every year on the third weekend in January. The Golden Festival is a showcase of Balkan bands and musicians; people come from miles around to watch them perform and to dance the night away.

For more about the Golden Festival read:

Finally, here they are singing Shto Mi E Milo. Bulgarian they're not, but you'd never know :)

If you enjoyed this you may also like Bulgarian Singing De-Mystified:

For more on Zlatne Uste, the band who started the Golden Festival back in 1985, read:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"Those Who Can't Dance Say the Music is No Good" (Jamaican Proverb)

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
~Kurt Vonnegut

There are times I find myself dancing in the living room, usually when no one is home. My husband and daughters don't appreciate Bulgarian folk music, especially when it's played on loud "obnoxious" bagpipes and accordions. You couldn't pay them to dance to what I listen to which is why joined a group of like minded friends who dance on Friday (and sometimes Sunday) nights.

I enjoy dances from all over the Balkans, but am particularly partial to those from Bulgaria. Here a few of my favorites, complete with the aforementioned obnoxious musical instruments.

I originally learned Mitro from watching it on YouTube. I was delighted when one of the leaders of the Sunday night group introduced this dance, since I already knew it! Mitro is a modern version of Pravo Horo (the most popular dance in Bulgaria). It's from the Rhodope region, where they can get a little crazy with the bagpipes, the introduction will certainly get your attention. And the stamping is one way to get your frustations after a rough day.

Another of my favorite dances is Vlaško. This was originally a men's dance, complete with stamping and fast footwork (so the guys could show off their stuff), but nowadays, women get in the line (and even lead!) since the macho dances are much more fun. The name Vlaško comes from the Vlachs (Wallachian) people who were originally from southern Romania. They got around, and there are signficant numbers of them in Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. There are many dances in the Balkans with the name Vlaško:  this one is from Bulgaria.

The lesnoto, or pravoto is very popular, especially in the Pirin region of Bulgaria, which shares a border with Macedonia. The lesnoto is one of those dances in an odd rhythm (7/8 for your music theorists out there); "pineapple-apple-apple", and it's very easy. It's basically walking with a few step-lifts thrown in. Even little kids can do it.

This band does an excellent job with Idam ne Idam; the dance that goes with the song is a lesnoto variation. The gaida player is fantastic, and so is the singing, although I know some people who would disagree with that. Bulgarian folk music, especially when played on bagpipes, is something people either love or hate. A Jamaican proverb describes it best: "those who can't dance say the music is no good."

For more on lesnoto read:

If you enjoyed this you may also like my series on the clarinet, the accordion and the bagpipe in Bulgarian folk music.

If you're looking for a socially acceptable way to rid yourself of stress, read:

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Glendi, A Greek Celebration (Dancing as a Spectator Sport, Part 2)

A yearly ritual of mine is to go to the Glendi (Greek Festival) held at the Greek Cultural Center in my area. This event draws crowds from miles around; there is authentic Greek food, music and dancing. It lasts for three days and is always held on the second weekend of September.

A band plays on Saturdays and Sundays, and Saturday night, especially is party night, with large groups of people dancing Syrtos, Hasapiko, and Tsamikos until the the band packs up shortly before 11 p.m. The Glendi is less crazy on Sundays, so there is much more room to dance; the party crowd from the evening before is just too tired, and perhaps a little hung over :)

Live music is what draws people to the festival, and the band performs in this video, along with my friends doing the Syrtos, the most popular Greek dance.

One of the highlights of the festival is the performance of the young dancers from St. George Greek Orthodox Church. They give several performances on Saturdays and Sundays and they are very good. Here are some videos I took of them on Sunday afternoon.

The first dance (Syrtos) done to some very modern music...notice the little kids at the end of the line.

This is Pentozali, a dance from the largest Greek island, Crete.

For some background on Pentozali, read:

This dance looks and sounds (almost) Bulgarian, its name is Zonaradikos, the Bulgarian version is Pravo Horo. There is a Thrace in Greece, and a Thrace in Bulgaria, and those are the regions where this dance originated. Zonaradikos is usually done with the dancers holding on to each other's belts (Zonaria is the Greek word for belt), but these young people are using a "basket hold" instead.

For information on Zonaradikos read:

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dancing as a Spectator Sport:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives:

Folklore, Food and Fun at Festivals:

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

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dancing as a Spectator Sport

“Dancers are athletes of God.” Albert Einstein
- Albert Einstein

Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn't music. ~William Stafford

It's fun watching young people dance. They have more enthusiasm and less self-consciousness than we older folks. They have lots of energy, and some of them have plenty of talent, as you'll see here.

The irregular rhythms of Balkan music take some getting used to but it seems that the kids have the easiest time picking them up because they don't have preconceived notions about rhythm. And if you grow up listening to this stuff, dancing to it becomes second nature, anyway.

I have seen children and teens performing at festivals, and they never fail to amaze me. I took this video at a Greek festival last fall, the young men add some acrobatics to the mix, which was something I didn't expect.

These girls perform the Romanian folk dance Itele. At this age they're really cute, and even more important, they're having fun, which is what it's all about, right?

These talented young people at a festival in Orhid, Macedonia perform a medley of dances from Bulgaria. Those who are familiar with Bulgarian dances will recognize Elenino Horo (Eleno Mome), Pravo, and Petronino Horo, along with this group's specialty, the Rachenitsa (national dance of Bulgaria). Back in the old days, the village dances were venues for young people to meet and mingle, and the boys did the fancy footwork to attact the girls. There is a flirtatious element in rachenitsa and you can see it here (at 4.30, 8.15, and 13.30) The twirling of handkercheifs is also also worth noting...the Bulgarian word for handkercheif is "rŭčenik." Although the video is nearly 15 minutes long it's well worth watching.

For an in-depth look at the rachenitsa, read Dick Oakes' writeup in his Dance Descriptions:

If you enjoyed this, try some ethnic dance and exercise. In this post you will read why dance should be offered as an alternative to sports in physical education programs.

For more on Bulgarian rachenitsa read:

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