Monday, February 27, 2012

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

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" ~Robin Williams

The first of March is a day of celebration in Bulgaria, for it is the Day of Baba Marta, which means the beginning of spring! From what I've seen on the news, Europe has had a particularly bad winter, and Bulgaria was hit hard with freezing cold and snow.

Baba Marta is symbolized by an elderly woman. Her name means Grandma March. In temperate climates, the month of March is notorious for wild weather; there are days when you can walk around without a jacket; and other days when it's time for the parkas and snow boots. The saying "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb" describes how changeable this month can be.

Baba Marta is very moody and and can bring bad weather at a moment's notice. It is important to please her by wearing red and white threaded pieces of yarn, called Martenitsa, on your wrist as a bracelet or on your jacket as a brooch. She also likes it when you dress up in her colors, red and white. It is customary to wear the Martenitsa until the trees start to bloom, or when the first stork is visible. Then you put it on a blossoming tree.

This week's post features children's celebrations for Baba Marta with plenty of singing and dancing. They are entirely in Bulgarian, with no subtitles. Dance is a universal language, so there's nothing lost in translation :) The first group of children are festively dressed in red and white folk costumes. They are really cute :)

The next video is a celebration in a nursery school which includes a song and a dance for Baba Marta, led by the Babi (grandmothers). By the way, Честита Баба Марта means "Happy Baba Marta Day."

This link explains some more about the tradition of the Martenitsa, and the history behind it.

Last year I posted a story about a Martenitsa tree in my back yard. These trees in Varna, Bulgaria, decked out with Martenitsas are so much fancier than mine. Check this out:

March first is also a name day for people with the names Martin, Martina, Marta, Dochka, Docho, Evdokia, Evdokim. By the way, one of my daughters is named Martina, and her favorite color is red :)

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Martenitsa Tree, A Modern Day Folktale

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Martenitsa, But Were Afraid to Ask: (includes pictures, the legend of the Martenitsa, and a Martenitsa fight). Lots of fun!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

The Duquense University Tamburitzans come to West Hartford, Connecticut

Yes, that's me in the photo with the young man in a Bulgarian folk costume. No, I wasn't flirting with him but I wanted a picture as a souvenir of an unforgettable afternoon. He was part of a performing group from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Duquense University Tamburitizans.

On Saturday, February 18, I went with a friend to a Tamburitzans performance in West Hartford, Connecticut. Since the management forbade taking videos of the show, and no flash photography was allowed (the hall was quite dark), my friend took this photo of me with one of the dancers.

The Duquense University Tamburitzans are a student group from a school in Pennsylvania who perform music and dance from Eastern Europe. And they give a great show.

The Tamburitzans began as a small musical ensemble playing Croatian folk music back in 1937. More people joined as the years passed, as the ethnic community in Pittsburgh grew. This year they mark their 75th anniversary performing on stage delighting us with the folk music and dance of Eastern Europe. This is one of the longest-running folklore shows around. The Tamburitzans are full time students and amateur dancers and musicians who perform on weekends, traveling around the United States. Not familiar with Croatian folk music? Check out this video. This is a Croatian tamburitza ensemble, which is how the group started out.

For more on tamburitza orchestras and their instruments read this:

On the Universe of YouTube, I found a commercial about the Duequense University Tamburitzans. It gives a bit of the history of the ensemble with some excerpts from last year's show. I heard Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovak, Serbian and Bavarian music in there. (by the way the best numbers in this year's show were from Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia).

For more information, you can go to the Tamburitzans website, where you can read a short history of the group, and find out if they'll be in your neighborhood anytime soon. It is a performance not to be missed.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: Folklore, Food and Fun at Festivals (with some Greek and Bulgarian live performances)

A Romanian Festival with an Albanian Accent: A writeup of a local festival that I went to last summer.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Birthday Celebration and a Source of Inspiration: The Music of Diko Iliev

Where words fail, music speaks.
Hans Christian Andersen

Today's post features the music of one of Bulgaria's favorite composers, Diko Iliev, whose birthday falls on February 15th. He was born in 1898 in Karlukovo, Bulgaria.

Although he died in 1984, his music is very much alive especially during celebrations in Bulgaria. Many of his compositions are based on folk dances and are arranged for brass and woodwind instruments. Unfortunately, he is virtually unknown here in the States.

Let's start with a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, composed by Diko Iliev. This is a short and powerful piece played by the Velingrad Brass Band. Turn up the volume, this will blast you right out of your chair.

At the age of 13, his parents sent him to study music with a military brass band. The bandmaster recognized his talent early on, and at 19 he composed his first piece, Iskarsko Horo.

Diko Iliev saw time on the battlefield during the Balkan Wars and World War I, as well as World War II, where he was a military bandmaster for the Bulgarian army. He was stationed for a long time in Oryahovo, a town on the Danube, the River of Many Names, where he composed his most famous and popular piece, Dunavsko Horo. You will hear it in this video and see what inspired the music.

The name of the video translates to Bulgaria, Where are We? The narration (in Bulgarian, no English subtitles) describes the town of Oryahovo, in part, though the eyes of a child. It is very well presented, with beautiful scenery, especially along the river. Even if you don't understand the language, it's a pleasure to watch. It is a bit of summertime in the middle of winter, which has been especially bad in Europe this year (so cold that the Danube froze over in Bulgaria.)

Although Diko Iliev's music is associated with celebrations, his life was marked by tragedy. His first child died of tuberculosis at the age of 14, and near the end of his life, he went blind and had to leave Oryahovo to live with his daughter. He wasn't officially recognized by the Union of Bulgarian Composers until a year before his death, partly because he was primarily a self-taught musician.

Diko Iliev is remembered as the soul of a nation and and in his music you hear the voice of Bulgaria, loud and clear. Happy Birthday!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev a post with lots of music and dancing.

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev (Dunavsko Horo in its different manifestations)

Diko Iliev had an interest in music from Latin America, especially the tango and the rumba. From what I've seen on the Universe of YouTube, Bulgarians have a fascination with Latin dancing. Read more here:

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

A One of A Kind Club for Folk Dancers

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.” Angela Monet

The Bulgarian National Radio website recently had an article mentioning the popularity of folk dance in Bulgaria which has gotten to the point there is now a 24 hour folk dance club in the capital, Sofia. Its name? клуб на хорото (Club of Horo). Promoted as a disco for folk dancers, it is the only club of its kind in the world.

You can read more about the club on their website:

Chanove is an organization and club which promotes and teaches folk dancing in Bulgaria. The club gives classes all over the country. Members of Chanove were instrumental in creating the клуб на хорото, in order to have a place for people meet, mingle and practice Bulgarian folk dancing, any time, day or night.

If you're a dance junkie and live in Bulgaria's capital, you have plenty of opportunity to get your fix. Since I live in the States, this is the kind of place that I can only dream about.

This is the link to Chanove's web site, which is entirely in Bulgarian. If you're Cyrillically challenged, like I am, use "Google Translate" to translate it. (Something is sometimes lost in translation, but you'll get the general idea of what they're about.)

What is really cool is there is a mention of foreigners who have an interest in Bulgarian folklore. Here is an excerpt from the web page, in translation:

"It turns out that where any person in the world, Bulgarian folk dances are universal magic for good health and spirits."

If you're addicted to Bulgarian folk music, Radio Chanove, the club's radio station, will satisfy your soul. You can get it anywhere, anytime, as long as you have an internet connection. Can't wait to listen to all this good stuff? Click here:

Chanove has been featured on the Bulgarian TV dance reality show Nadigrame. Watch them in action on YouTube. This is the very popular Pravo Trakiisko Horo.

An excellent site for information on Bulgarian folklore and dance is the website They sell instructional DVDs (the DVDs review the dances step by step, and are in several languages, including English.) They also have over 100 YouTube videos of folklore shows and specific folk dances for your pleasure. Check them out here:

Here is one of their videos. The dance is Opas, from the Dobrudja folklore region.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Bulgarian Folk Dance Around the World:

An International Look at Reality TV Shows contains a behind the scenes look from the first season of Nadigrame:

If you like proverbs, here are some that have been a little lost in translation:

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