Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best of the Alien Diaries: 2010-2015

I would say happy new year but it's not happy; it's exactly the same as last year except colder.
Robert Clark

It is the end of 2015, and we have been very fortunate.  This time last year was a lot colder and snowier. Yesterday was the first winter precipitation, mostly in the form of freezing rain and slush, but there's no escaping cold weather where I live.

Back in 2010, I started The Alien Diaries because at the time there were very few blogs in English about Balkan music, folklore and dance. I had no idea that almost six years later that I can still create a new post almost every week, and that so many people look forward to reading them. My goal was to make Balkan folklore interesting, accessible, and entertaining. It is also a plot to get more people (especially the young ones) on the dance floor.

Since 2016 is almost upon us, this year end post will focus on the best video(s)  from each year (my choice). If you have a favorite, let me know in the "comments" section.

How do you mix folklore with pop culture?  Dress a woman up in a Bulgarian folk costume. Poke fun at the World Cup, soccer players, Germans, and a psychic octopus named Paul.

During the playoffs of the 2010 World Cup, Paul picked the winning teams with a surprising degree of accuracy. Unfortunately, Paul lived in an aquarium in Germany, and when he predicted Spain as the winner of the World Cup, the Germans posted octopus recipes on the Internet.  Fortunately he survived all the brouhaha and went to Pulpo Heaven later that year.

In Paul's honor, the Bulgarians created a satirical dance-song, the Octopod Rachenitsa.

One of the highlights of 2011 was Balkan Music Night.  It is an event that takes place in the Boston area every year right around mid-March and features numerous musicians and dance ensembles. Balkan Music night has two parts: the concert from 7-9 p.m., and afterwards, participatory dance to live music.

I took this video just before midnight when everyone was high on endorphins and finishing a medley of dances played by the tamburitza group Pajdashi. What's really cool is how the dancers flow around the room and end up in a circle, which is the definition of kolo.

The best video of 2012 is an excerpt from the Bulgarian TV program Ide Duhovata Muzika. It featured brass band music and songs performed by Daniel Spassov. The backdrop is the town of Vidin, Bulgaria.

You can usually recognize Daniel Spassov by his shades (they look like Transitions lenses).  In this video he looks different with a mustache minus his glasses. The group dresses like gypsies, and the woman wears a colorful outfit.  She is the only female in the video.

The song is Tsiganko. It sounds upbeat but is actually a lament about a man who's in love with a gypsy girl. According to the lyrics, he can't sleep and misses her badly because she's far away. You'd never know it from the music.

One of the best videos of 2013 took place at a dance workshop in Austria : "Schmitz mit Fritz." It was the most fun that I've seen during a dance teach.  Fritz called the steps, and the dancers hummed along with the music. They didn't sweat very hard because Pogonishte is a slow dance. You can find the lyrics here, in the original Albanian with German translation.

In 2014, Miss Piggy and her entourage of dancing pigs were a big hit on The Alien Diaries with Never on Sunday. The setting is right out of a Greek taverna, with bottles of ouzo on the table.The tradition of celebratory gunfire is part of the culture on the island of Crete and other regions of the Balkans, so the creators of this episode knew something about Greek celebrations. The characters also went crazy breaking plates.

The Muppet Show was broadcast from 1976-1981 and it was designed to appeal to both adults and kids.  I see things here that would never be allowed on a children's show today...though I have to admit this video was fun to watch and my kids, who were fans of the Muppet Show, suffered no ill effects.

Another Muppet who made an appearance on The Alien Diaries in 2014 was the Count from an early episode of Sesame Street (1973). He is the only Muppet with a Romanian accent, and the coolest vampire on the planet.

During the summer of 2015, there was a series of posts on Danube songs from Bulgaria.  Part Three featured modern folk songs.  My favorite was this plum from Plam.

The band takes its name from accordionist  Plamen Dimitrov.  It looks like the group added more members; there are five on the website, and nine in the video.

The song is Kray Dunava, or how people amuse themselves along the Danube, River of Many Names. There's a man shaking a bottle of sparkling wine, another man with a broom, attractive women, and the Bulgarian version of aerobic exercise, with the river as a backdrop.

Another fun video from the blog in 2015 was the Romanian dance Hora Veche, also known as Horror from Veche. A group of young people took this dance and made it fun.  It was a stellar performance. "We did it!"

Since the New Year is upon us, let's have a blast with Diko Iliev.  Somebody paired an excerpt from a war movie with Iliev's Dunavsko Horo. The explosions are timed perfectly with the music, and, yes, you can dance to it. It is a tradition to dance to this music at midnight on New Year's Day in Bulgaria.

Happy New Year 2016! A big "Thank You" to Alien Diaries readers and followers. May the New Year bring peace and joy (not war).

You can find the posts where these videos originally appeared below, except the Diko Iliev link.  Enjoy!  See you next year.

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

Balkan Music Night 2011

Two Variations on the Albanian Folk DanceValle Pogonishte

Dancing Through the Alphabet Letter P (bonus video)

Beli Dunav, Part Three: Modern Bulgarian Danube Songs

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Real Men Can Dance

“Those move easiest who have learn'd to dance”
Alexander Pope

Today's post features men who are very good dancers.  It is unfortunate that men in the United States think of dance as primarily a female activity.  If they saw how dancers are viewed in other cultures, they might change their minds.

Traditionally, in the Balkans, dances were places for young people to find marriage partners, and the men's dances were especially flamboyant because they were showing off for the women.  The best dancers got the prettiest girls.

Here's a group of guys at a wedding, and what you see is testosterone in action. I don't know where the wedding took place.  The title is in Bosnian and roughly translated means "Have you seen these men dance?"

The dances shown here are from the Shope region of Bulgaria. They start with Shopska Rachenitsa, then Graovsko Horo at 1:45 and finish the with the rachenitsa.  What energy!

Here's some eye candy for the ladies: three young shirtless men from Romania dancing sirba. This particular sirba is a fast, difficult dance.  I would definitely have an interest in them if I were young and single..They certainly weren't ashamed to have this posted on YouTube. If they were advertising for potential mates, I'd say they were doing an excellent job. Men who dance like this are sexy!

For more on the Romanian dance sirba, there is a link below with more information.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa Part Two  Masculine, Feminine and Flirty (one of the videos shows a female group dancing Shopska Rachenitsa)

Wedding Dances and Bloopers from Bulgaria and Romania

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

In the spirit of the season, here are some Bulgarian Christmas Songs.

The next post will be published shortly before the New Year. Happy Holidays to all!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Balkan Dances That Are Often Confused.....

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
Salvador Dalí

Confusion sometimes reigns in the world of Balkan dance.  Today's post shows some examples of dances that can be mixed up because the names sound alike.

The first example is here is a Serbian dance called Čačak. There is also a Romani dance called Čoček. Čačak is in 2/4 and čoček in 9/8. They are two different dances in two different time signatures that sound very much alike.

The dance shown below is Zaplanski Čačak. Frequent readers will also recognize the dancers from the Dunav group from Jerusalem, Israel.

There are also many varieties or "flavors" of čačak; some examples are the Five Figure Čačak and Godecki Čačak, a dance that has dual citizenship in Bulgaria and Serbia. They are also more challenging dances than the basic čačak shown here.

The second dance is of Romani (Gypsy) origin: čoček. There are many varieties of čoček as well; two examples are Skopski Čoček and Indijski Čoček. This dance is very popular in Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia, where it is often played by brass bands.

To do a really good  čoček, you need to wiggle those hips.  The bigger the hips, the better the effect (see video below of the dance Merak Čoček.) The music is Karavana Chajka (sung in Bulgarian).  You can sing along if you like, the lyrics are provided as well.

The third dance is Sej Sej Bop, a rachenitsa from the Bulgarian region of Dobrudja.  Rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria  and there are different regional variations.

The rhythm for rachenitsa is 7/8 or 7/16 depending on the speed: apple-apple-pineapple. This one is medium speed with lots of stamping, which is characteristic of dances from Dobrudja.

Why this dance is called Sej Bop, I don't know. It is another rachenitsa from Dobrudja with different choreography and music. Both dances have something to do with planting beans, a staple in Bulgarian cuisine.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Serbian Čačak

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa

A Romani Potpourri

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Music for the Birds!

Skylark, photo Wikipedia Commons, Daniel Petterson

In a broader sense, the rhythms of nature, large and small - the sounds of wind and water, the sounds of birds and insects - must inevitably find their analogues in music.
George Crumb

If you like music for the birds, you have come to the right place.  If English is not your native language "for the birds" is an idiom meaning worthless.  If you read today's post and listen to the music, you'll find it definitely worth your time.

Today's post focuses on a very popular tune from Romania, Ciocârlia (Skylark). It was a piece originally composed by Anghelus Dinicu for the pan flute (nai), and arranged  for violin by his grandson Grigoraş Ionică Dinicu.

Pan flutes, or panpipes are common to other countries as well as Romania.  It is also a folk instrument played in the Andean regions of South America. However, Romanian musicians developed such proficiency on this instrument that they made it sound birdlike.  This is why Ciocârlia is so popular with pan flute players. 

The performer below is a virtuoso on this instrument.  He really gets that bird song on.

The second video is a bit longer than the first, and the soloist is accompanied by a band (violinist, pan flute, cello, cimbalom, accordion, saxophone and several violinists).  Although this performance is over 20 years old it's worth a listen.  This group sounds just like a flock of birds.  Seriously, it sounds like a summer morning when the birds go mad with their chirping. It is amazing how creative these guys are.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music

The Cimbalom/Tambal in Romanian Folk Music

It's almost winter and cold enough for snow and ice, in many places (unless global warming has cancelled winter for this year) Check out some variations of Hora pe Gheata.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Macedonia

May God smite, Tina, Tina,
your old mother, Tina, Tina,
Your old father.

Tino More, Macedonian Folk Song

Today's post features dances from the Republic of Macedonia.  It used to be part of a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia.

Macedonia is a name that confuses people, especially those who are unfamiliar with the history of eastern Europe. There are three countries that lay claim to the name either as a region or country:  northern GreeceThe Republic of Macedonia and the Pirin region of Bulgaria.

Although many Macedonian dances are in complex rhythms (such as čoček in 9/16 or Sitna Lisa in 7/8) two of today's dances are in even time signatures.

Video #1 is a group from Ottawa, Canada;  the dance is Narodno Oro (translation: "folk dance.")  This dance was originally titled Gaidarsko Oro  (Bagpipe Dance).  The bagpipe player is Pece Atanasovski, (1927-1996) a well-known Macedonian folk musician and dance teacher. You can read more about him here, as well as watch him play the gaida in this old video from Macedonian TV.

I have this tune on my MP3 player.  It is so old you can hear the hissing of the needle on the record shortly before the music plays.  The music in in 4/4 time.

Video #2 is Tino Mori. I'm surprised there is a dance to this song because the lyrics are about illness and death. God obviously isn't too happy, either because Tina's parents have married her off to a man far away. Like the God of the Old Testament, he's ready to zap them, or worse.

The song is about a woman named Tina who is about to lose her husband to some mysterious illness. His condition is so critical that there are three doctors at the foot of his bed.  Anyway, the music is pleasant to listen to if you don't focus too much on the the tragic lyrics, and it's an easy dance to learn, even though it's in an odd rhythm: 7/8.

Video #3 is Povrateno, a dance with smooth, cat-like steps.  Like many dances from Macedonia, it speeds up as the music progresses.  Add a few turns to make it more interesting, and remember to keep those claws retracted :) The music is in 2/4.

The dancers are familiar to regular readers of this blog.  The Dunav group from Jerusalem, Israel, describes its website as "the sharing place for Balkan music and dance." They have dance videos, music scores, song lyrics, music downloads and a YouTube channel.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Fun and Easy Dances from Romania

Fun and Easy Dances from Bulgaria

Fun and Easy Dances from Serbia

Dancing in Sevens, Part Two, The 7/16 Rhythm in Macedonian Folk Music

The second video in the Bufcansko post uses the Pece Atanasovski music for the dance. This version is very popular in Macedonia.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance Petrunino Horo

Петруно, пиле шарено,
Петруно, пиле шарено,
Де гиди ягне галено
Де гиди ягне галено
Bulgarian Folk Song, Petruno Pile Shareno

Petrunino Horo is a very popular folk dance from Bulgaria.  It has different variations and different music depending on the "village" you come from.

The name of the dance comes from the female name Petruna (feminine form of Peter). The steps (slow-quick-quick-quick-slow) are based on the number five (pet) in Bulgarian, even though the music can be in different time signatures. The most common time signature used is 7/8.  It is from the the Shope region.

The song that goes with the dance is Petruno Pile Shareno. You can listen to it in the video below; the artist is Magdalena Morarova, Bulgarian folksinger (1927-2009).

You can also find the lyrics here, in transliteration and English translation. There's a Macedonian version on the website, too. Sing along if you like :)

The first group of dancers is from Bulgaria. They're using a basket hold since none of them are wearing belts; belt hold or hand hold is OK too. Each "village" has its own style.

There are many tunes associated with this dance; from what I've seen on YouTube this one seems to be most popular in Bulgaria.

The next group is from Toronto, Canada, a city with a large Bulgarian community. They're using a hand hold and different music than the dancers in the previous video.  Does anyone out there know the name of the song or the singer?

I've seen many dance videos that take place in gyms.  I'm a firm believer that dance should be offered as an alternative to sports in physical education classes.

Daniel Spassov sings yet another version of Petruno Pile Shareno while some audience members dance. This is an excerpt from the folklore show, Ide Nashenskata Muzika, which focuses on music and dance from every region in Bulgaria. There is usually a new program on the website most Saturdays (the show takes a break during the summer). It is worth watching if you like Bulgarian folk music, both traditional and modern.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs

Three Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Chetvorno Horo

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Tune: Gankino Horo

On Ethnic Dance and Exercise

Dancing by the Numbers

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Bulgaria

Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy.
Lao Tzu

Most people are under the impression that Bulgarian folk dances are intimidating.  Although it's true that more than a few of them fit that category, there are also dances easy enough for beginners.

Tropanka from Dobrudja is a follow-the-leader type dance  The most difficult part is coordinating the arm movements with the feet. According to the notes, the leader can call the changes anytime, or when the music changes. The leader is the teacher in the center of the circle.

Tropanka is a dance native to the Bulgarian folklore region of Dobrudja. There are many variations of tropanka with different music.

Video #1  shows three distinct figures: two that go from side to side and one that goes into the center. A "village" that I dance with includes a fourth figure (not shown here); walking around the perimeter of the circle, with scuffs instead of stamps.

Ekizlisko Horo is a little faster than tropanka. A group of students from Greece performs this dance during a gym class.  This was part of a Bulgaria Day celebration at their school. The most challenging part of the dance is the basket hold, when you link arms with your neighbors like a basket. This group uses a front basket hold, and the dance consists of grapevine steps; first to the right and then to the left.

The dance comes from the region of Thrace in Bulgaria.  There is also a Thrace in Greece where many of the dances share similarities to their Bulgarian counterparts; for example Pravo Horo (Bulgaria) and Zonaradikos (Greece). There are numerous Bulgarian dances based on pravo rhythm, which can be in either 2/4 or 6/8. 

Video #3 shows Dvadzti Tritzdi, a walking dance from the Rhodope region. This group is from the "village" of Vienna, Austria. Different "villages" have different variations of this dance. Ours uses grapevine steps instead of the side to side seen in the video..

One of my favorite websites is the Songbook for Nearsighted People, a collection of over 200 folk songs with translations into German and English. The songs from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece are in the original language, transliterated. Even if you're not visually challenged, this collection makes a great reference for those who are curious about what their favorite folk songs are about. If you have trouble reading small print, or have left the reading glasses at home, the large font is very helpful.

You can find the lyrics for the song here, along with a translation into German. Go ahead and sing along.

Video #4 is the same group as in video #3.  Although Vienna is best known for classical composers like Beethoven, Mozart and the Waltz King Johann Strauss, you will find a number of clubs that focus on folk dances, especially from the Balkans.. The site is in German and has a listing of locations, along with dates, times, type of dances, and skill level.

Video #4 is Vrapcheto, a dance from northwestern Bulgaria. Although many dances from this region are fast, this one is slow and easy.  You can sing along to this one, too.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dancing Across Bulgaria, the Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles

Bulgarian Folk Dancing in and around Vienna, Austria

You will find some challenging dances in Bulgarian Folk Dances Named After Cities and Towns

For more on different village variations read: Two Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Kraj Dunavsko Horo

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dancing in the "Different Village" Three Variations of the Romanian Folk Dance Joc Batranesc

Mine is a proud village, such as it is. We are best when dancing. - Makah

Today's featured dance is Joc Batranesc from the village of Niculitel, in Romanian Dobrogea. There is also a region in Bulgaria with a similar name, slightly different spelling: Dobrujda. Both have one thing in common: they share the region between the Danube and the Black Sea.

Joc Batranesc translates into English as "ancient dance," but as you will see, it is not just for senior citizens:) The dance also has different spellings, some with and without diacritical marks; and sometimes an "i" substitutes for the "a". The Romanian spelling with the diacriticals is Joc bătrânesc.

Video #1 shows the dance as it is done in the United States.  Why do they go "oooh" when they move to the center of the circle? This variation must be particular to their "village."

Video #2 features a costumed group of young people from Romania. Notice that their belts are the same colors as the Romanian flag. Although this is essentially the same dance as in video #1, there are variations in style (hops and sways).  These dancers don't vocalize, all you hear are the stamps and the music.

Who is the girl in the middle and why isn't she part of the dance? My guess is that this is their "village" variation; along with the fancy moves.

This group is a pleasure to watch, with an a attractive and charismatic leader. That girl knows her stuff.

Video #3 has the song that goes with the dance; the ensemble is from the village of Niculitel.  There are two other dances in the video that follow Joc Batranesc.  The first rhythm change is at 2:57 where the music turns into Sârba, a fast dance in 6/8. At 5:18 there's another rhythm change, this time it's Cadâneascain 9/16a dance similar to Daichovo Horo from Bulgaria.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

Crossing the River, Part One, Folk Music from the Romanian Region of Dobrogea 

More Folk Songs from the Romanian Region of Dobrogea

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Greece

The center of Western culture is Greece, and we have never lost our ties with the architectural concepts of that ancient civilization.
Stephen Gardiner

The Greeks have contributed much to the culture of Europe and the rest of the world: art, sculpture music, dance and literature. There are mathematical symbols that use Greek letters; the most famous being π (pi), used to figure out the circumference of a circle;  and β,(beta) one of the roots of a quadratic equation. Dancing also has lots of math in it; and many math and science people are into folk dancing. I'm still trying to figure this out.

Today's dances are easy to pick up by either watching or following the leader.

The first video is Lerikos.  There are two different parts (figures), one done during the singing and the other to the instrumental. This is common to many folk dances. The leader signals the change with the word "opa".

You can find the lyrics here if you want to sing along.  I couldn't find a translation. If you can find one, please post it in the "comments" section.

The next dance, Zervos, looks and sounds almost like Trite Puti, a dance from Bulgaria, with a combination of northern Bulgarian style steps and arm swings. The Balkans are a cultural melting pot and dances often cross borders.

It moves to the left, also known as "reverse line of direction." I prefer "right" or "left." Reverse sounds too much like an auto transmission. If I put my car in reverse, it goes backwards.

Troiro is another Greek dance that reminds me of Trite Puti.  The steps and the arm swinging are similar to Zervos, except that this dance moves to the right.  Both Triti Puti and Troiro are from Thrace, a region shared by Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

The Greeks seem to like the gaida (bagpipe) almost as much as the Bulgarians. Dancers and musicians just don't pay attention to borders :)

Tsamikos is a dance very popular at festivals.  This version includes the basic steps as well as the (optional) turns.

This is the crazy version of Tsamikos, performed by two men at a party.  It has acrobatics and funny stuff (don't try this at home), along with audience participation.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives

To Greece and Bulgaria and Back.... in One Weekend!

Balkan Folk Dancing and its Relationship to Math

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Serbia

The word aerobics came about when the gym instructors got together and said, "If we're going to charge $10 an hour, we can't call it jumping up and down.
 ~Rita Rudner

Kolo is the Serbian version of aerobics. Today's post features some fun and easy dances from Serbia. If you're looking for dances to teach, as well as some aerobic exercise, you've come to the right place.

Savila se Bela Loza Vinova is a dance we often play at the beginning of the evening.  It's also a good dance for kids. They love it because there's running and skipping.

I used to despise gym class. It was focused on calisthenics, a form of pain and torture devised by sadistic physical education teachers.  Dancing would have been a lot more enjoyable.

Some of the people in the line are confused because they realize, too late, that the dance changes direction, which makes this video amusing to watch. 

Here is a longer version of the previous dance performed during a spring festival in Italy. Follow the lady with the red scarf, then the man with the orange one.  With this dance two heads, or leaders, are better than one.

Orijent is a popular Serbian dance that has been around since the 1950's.  According to the notes the name may have been derived from the Orient Express, a train that passed through Serbia many years ago. The original route went from Paris to Istanbul, with a number of changes over the years and operated from 1883 to 2009.

Raca is a Vlach dance, with stamps, named after a duck, deceptively easy until it speeds up. It tends to go awry when people try to have a conversation while doing it.  It helps to keep the steps small during the fast part, and don't forget to put some stamps in there for emphasis.

Cica Obrenovo Kolo is a dance with stamps and shouts. I couldn't find any notes, but it's probably of Vlach origin. Just follow the leader, he's the guy with the red scarf.

Serbian dances tend to be bouncy; this one is a good example of that up and down movement.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

On Ethnic Dance and Exercise

The "Flavors" of Serbian Kolo"

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Romania

Take a Ride on the Orijent Express

Stamp It Out: Vlach Dances from Serbia

Another good resource is the blog Easy Folk Dances.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bavno Oro and Snosti Sakav Da Ti Dojdam

Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.
William James

I still haven't figured out the connection between common sense and dancing,  Dancing and humor have been featured often on this blog. They go very well together. 

Last week's post featured a group of dancers getting crazy with a dance from Romania.  There is link to it at the bottom of this post.

Today's dance is Bavno Oro from Macedonia..The music to this is based on the song  Snosti Sakav Da Ti Dojdam. 

Bavno Oro translates to "Slow Dance" but that is a misnomer. It has two distinct parts: part one is in 7/8 lesnoto rhythm (slow-quick-quick).  At 2:15 there is a short transition, then the fast part in 7/16 (quick-quick-slow).

There are numerous versions of Bavno; my favorite is a recording by Boris Karlov,  a Bulgarian folk accordionist who lived from 1924-1964. 

Here is the original song, Snosti Sakav Da Ti Dojdam. performed by Anastasija Petreska.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

Modern Versions of Traditional Macedonian Folk Songs

Quirky, Odd and Unusual Folklore Videos from the Universe of YouTube (have some humor with your folklore)

Hora Veche (funny!)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"Horror From Veche" (fun to watch!)

Growing old is mandatory - growing up is optional.
Chili Davis

This post is dedicated to a friend in the Always on Sunday group, who was in an auto accident on the way to this week's dance.  Although her car was damaged, she's OK and will be dancing with us again soon.

Hora Veche, from Romania, is one of her favorite dances and one that she leads  She is also 85 years old. The oldest person in the group is 92, so if you dance you will live a long time. 

By the way the translation for Hora Veche is "old dance."

What I love about this video is how the dancers have fun and don't take themselves too seriously.  They have a wonderful sense of humor. Listen to the chatter, it's quite funny. When the dance is over, the woman at the end of the line shouts: "We did it!"

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Fun and Easy Romanian Folk Dances

A group from Austria sings along with the music for Valle Pogonishte.
Their enthusiasm is contagious.

The Alien Diaries will be taking a short break.  Look for a new post in early October.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dancing and Spirituality

Just as the ancients danced to call upon the spirits in nature,
we too can dance to find the spirits within ourselves
that have been long buried and forgotten.

Anna Halprin

There is something very spiritual about holding hands with a group of friends and moving in unison.

I knew a woman who was involved with Sacred Circle Dance, an activity that her group did outdoors once a week from late spring to early fall at 8 a.m. She invited me to try it, but their group met at a distance from where I live, and I don't like to get up early.

Some people see dancing as a non-denominational way of connecting with something greater than themselves, whether or not they believe in a Supreme Being.

It is not surprising that there are folk dance groups that meet in houses of worship.

Since is the beginning of the Jewish New Year, today's post features Always on Sunday, a group that dances in a Jewish house of worship.  We meet every Sunday (except for Jewish holidays) at the Temple Beth Torah in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Here is an example of what we do. This video was taken last November from a dance party with Bulgarika.  The dance is a kopanitsa from Bulgaria.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

The Best of Bulgarika

Holy Rivers and Holy Rituals
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Sunday, September 6, 2015

What's in a Name Part Two: Croatian Confusion :)

The cook looked at the old man, and her gibenica burned.
Sukačica, Croatian folk song

Todays' dances can easily be confused because the names are similar. The first one is the very popular Sukačko Kolo from Croatia, based on a humorous song, Sukačica.  It's about a cook who burned a gibenica (cheese pastry). Despite the disaster in the kitchen, everyone has a great time dancing. You can find the lyrics here, in Croatian, German and in English.

The video itself is also cool, because of the male-female costume reversal.  It was mentioned in the comments on YouTube that the dancers wore Serbian costumes. A cultural faux pas, maybe, but certainly not a punishable offense :)

By the way, if you come to my house for dinner, you'll know that the food is ready when the smoke detector goes off:

Dance #2 is spelled a bit differently and has a different meaning.  With the diacritical marks it's Šokačko Kolo, a dance of the Šokač people who live in Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary.  Ethnically, they consider themselves Croats and dance to music played by tamburitza orchestras.

You can see why it's easy to confuse the name with the better known Suka
čko Kolo. I couldn't find any videos of this dance from the States or Canada although I did find notes from the Folk Dance Federation of California.  It was taught at a workshop back in 2009.  For some reason it didn't become part of the repertoire.

High heels are not the best footwear to be worn when dancing, but since this video was taken at a wedding, that is to be expected. I recommend kicking off the shoes, all they do is get in the way.

The dancers uses a front basket hold.

There is more tamburitza music in version #2 of Šokačko Kolo. The video was taken during a party (Šokačka Večer) in 2014. You'll see dancers in traditional folk costumes along with the band.

Croatian dances are usually circular, and move in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction (or both). The word kolo means either "circle" or wheel in Croatian (as well as Serbian).

If you enjoyed this you may also like

What's in a Name Part One: Dobrujanska Pandela and Pandelas
(more confusion re: names)

These posts are must-reads if you like tamburitza music:

Dancing Through the Alphabet Letter K (several folk dances from Croatia)

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

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Friday, August 28, 2015

More Rachenitsa na Horo with a bit of Graovsko

For me dancing is not just moving your arms and legs but basically it's a very spiritual experience. It's part of me and a second nature to me. You can say it is in my blood.
Madhuri Dixit

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about different variations of the Bulgarian folk dance Rachenitsa na Horo.

Rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria and can be done solo, as a couple, or in a group.  The group version, performed in a line, is "na horo."  The time signature (many Bulgarian dances are in odd rhythms) can be either 7/8 or 7/16, depending on the speed of the music.

There are a number of variations of this dance posted on YouTube.  This particular variation of Rachenitsa na Horo is from the Bulgarian region of Thrace. To me this looks like a dance group practicing with the teacher in the front, much like the workshops I've been to in the past.

Rachenitsa is all about getting the arms and hands moving, even when dancing it "na horo", because the origin of the name comes from the Bulgarian word for "hand" or "forearm."  Notice how the woman at the front of the line waves her right arm.  Sometimes the leader twirls a handkerchief.

The dance after the rachenitsa is Graovsko Horo, from the Shope region.  The steps are similar to another Bulgarian dance, Kyustendilska Rachenitsa, except that the rhythm is 2/4 instead of 7/8.

Here's another version of Graovsko, where it is easier to see the feet:

The next video features a spirited Rachenitsa na Horo, also from Thrace. Too bad the video is only a minute and a half long. The dancers are a pleasure to watch. They obviously enjoy what they do. 

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Two Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Rachenitsa na Horo

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

You will find rachenitsa and other Bulgarian rhythms in this post:

Orchestra Horo: Modern Bulgarian Folk Songs, Traditional Rhythms 

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Romania

Some years ago I read a book that brought Einstein's theory of relativity down to an eighth grade level. This convinced me that any subject can be made easy. In other words, always beware of anyone who tells you a topic is above you or better left to experts. This person may, for some reason, be trying to shut you out. You CAN understand almost anything.
Richard J. Maybury

Not all Romanian folk dances are fast and difficult with sudden changes of direction and stamps hard enough to put holes in the floor! Contrary to what you've seen and heard, there are relatively slow and easy Romanian dances. Relatively is the key word here. Relativity is a whole other concept.

What's really cool about today's dances is that they include shouts, called "strigaturi."  You can be a kid again and use your "outside voice."

The first is Hora Pe Sase (Hora for Six). I counted the steps, and none of them add up to six.  Notice that one of the figures in this dance resembles the Bulgarian Pravo Horo.

There are definitely more than six people dancing.  So where did the dance get its name?  If you know the answer, please post it in the "comments" section.

The second dance, Hora Pentesteanca is one I can't even pronounce.  Fortunately it is easy to learn by watching the dancers. The steps are mostly grapevines and taps.

Romanian is part of a family of languages based on Latin. There is a Romanian woman who comes to our dances and she taught us how to say some basic greetings.  Despite my familiarity with Spanish, I had difficulty pronouncing the Romanian words.

Modern Romanian, to me, sounds like a combination of Latin and Italian, with an admixture of Slavic words. The first time I heard it on an ethnic radio program, I thought it was a dialect of Italian until the folk music came on. According to Wikipedia, Romanian is 77% similar to Italian.

There are other dialects related to Romanian, including Aromanian , also known as Vlach.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

The dances of Bulgaria and the Dobrogea region of Romania use similar rhythms.

Crossing the River Part One:  Folk Music From the Romanian Region of Dobrogea

Dancing Across Bulgaria: The Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles

If you are interested in some easy folk dances, check out the blog with the same name.

The Alien Diaries is taking a brief break.  Look for the next post in approximately two weeks.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Fun and Fast Kolos from Serbia

If you think of exercise as a 60-minute commitment 3 times a week at the gym, you're missing the point completely. If you think that going on a diet has something to do with nutrition, you don't see the forest through the trees. It is a lifestyle. I know it sounds cliche, but you have to find things you love to do.
Brett Hoeble

Today's post features some Serbian dances that I've done at one time or another.  They are fun and fast and get the heart rate going.  Who needs aerobics when there's kolo?

The first one is a bouncy little number that is often played early in the evening because it's a relatively easy dance to follow: Divčibarsko Kolo. It has something called "ethnic symmetry", which means the same footwork in both directions.

Rokoko Kolo is a hybrid dance from Vojvodina.  It's a Serbian dance that sounds Croatian because of the  tamburitza music.  The accordion is the national instrument of Serbia, but in Vojvodina they are more into tamburitza.  The heel clicks are common to Hungarian dances because a sizable Hungarian minority lives in this part of Serbia. Political borders in the Balkans don't always align with cultural ones.

Polomka is a medley of several Vlach dances with lots of stamping.  Except for the last figure this dance is fairly easy to follow.

Brass music is popular in Serbia, too.  Every year in August there is a festival called Guca where bands all from all over Serbia (and some from outside the country, like Zlatne Uste), compete. This year it was from August 3 to August 9.  If you missed it there's always next year.

Here's Polomka as it's done in the "village" of Maribor, in Slovenia:

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Serbian Folk Dance Around the World

The "Flavors" of Serbian Kolo

If you like tamburitza music, there is plenty of it in The River of Many Names, Part 6: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs.  The earworms in this post will take up residence in your head, guaranteed.

If you're bored with your usual workout, try some Ethnic Dance and Exercise.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Balkan Folk Dances Named After Rivers

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Khalil Gibran

Today's post features dance songs from Croatia and Romania that are named after rivers.

Raka Plava po Dravi from Croatia is a very strange song.  The title translates to Duck Swimming in the Drava.  The lyrics are rather strange, because the duck has a hat on its head, and the refrain is "this year the roses will bloom." The woman recognizes her beloved as he walks off a ship (he supposedly has a distinctive walk), and she wants to marry him.. The lyrics are really random, and there was no English translation (although I was able translate from German).

By the way, the Drava is a tributary of the Danube, River of Many Names, which has written about extensively on this blog (see the links to other posts).  The Drava flows from the west, through Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. 

Here's Raca Plava taught by Yves Moreau. He is a well-known teacher, primarily of dances from Bulgaria. He leads workshops all over the world; this one was held in Israel.

In the "village" of Vienna, Austria, they dance Raca Plava a little differently. At dance we have a saying, "he or she is "from a different village" when someone visits one of our dances and does a different variation. Choreography is not a static entity.  Remember the game "telephone" you may have played as a child?  Dance works the same way.

The next dance song is about a river in Romania Siriul din Buzau This is another love song, a bit more romantic than the one from Croatia, with beautiful imagery (you can find the English translation here). The music sounds like flowing water.

This group is from the United States.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The River of Many Names (all the links are accessible from part seven); a pan-Balkan series with Danube songs from different countries.

Beli Dunav (parts one, two and three) Danube Songs from Bulgaria

Some Fun for April Fool's Day: Silly Songs, Strange Sayings, Proverbs, and Insults from the Balkans

For more on the "different village" concept read:

Two Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance: Kraj Dunavsko Horo

A great resource for dance songs and translations is the Songbook for Nearsighted People. The Songbook features lyrics from many different countries (especially the Balkans) in the original languages (transliterated for Bulgarian and Macedonian).  Most of the songs are translated into German and English.

You can view the publication in its entirety or each song as a single page. The font is large, perfect for those who are visually challenged :)

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Friday, July 24, 2015

The Different "Flavors" of Pravo Rhodopko Horo

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
French proverb

Pravo Horo and its numerous variations are popular all over Bulgaria. Today we shall focus on a single region, the Rhodope Mountains, and several versions of the dance from that area.

The basic village Pravo is a simple walking dance, three steps in and one step back, in a diagonal formation.

Here is an example of the basic village Pravo Rhodopsko accompanied by a kaba gaida, an instrument native to that region.  This bagpipe is larger and lower pitched than the traditional Bulgarian gaida.

This dance song Mitro is an excellent example of the fusion of traditional and modern in Bulgarian folk music. Listen to the gaida solo at the beginning and the end of the video.

It's different from the kaba gaida played in the previous video and loud enough to wake the dead.

The Pravo step is interwoven into the dance with stamps and step-hops.

Several dancers in my Sunday night group went to Pinewoods recently, during a session held the last week of June. This year,Yves Moreau taught a number of Bulgarian dances.  One that was introduced to my Sunday night dance group was Hajde Kalino.  Similar to Mitro, the Pravo step here is also interwoven with a faster figure that includes stamps and grapevines.

The dance is moderately slow and speeds up when the singing stops. Rhodope versions of the Pravo are generally slow to medium speed.  In other regions of Bulgaria, they can be so fast that you can barely see the feet!

In the next video, also of the song Hajde Kalino, the singers are accompanied by a kaba gaida.  What I find strange is that neither the singers or the gaida player are wearing folk costumes. This looks like an impromptu street performance.No one actually gets up to dance until 5:45.  Why did they wait so long?

The last video is another "souped up" Rhodope Pravo with claps and stamps (I thought Dobrudja Bulgarians, Romanians and Vlachs had a monopoly on those!)  The song is Sapril Dobri.  The instructor here is Jaap Leegwater, who specializes in dances from Bulgaria. He also led Mitro in video #2.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bagpipe in Bulgarian Folk Music

Bulgarian Singing Demystified (includes a medley of songs from the Rhodope region, directed by Tatiana Sarbinska)

Dancing Across Bulgaria: The Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Variations on a Theme By Diko Iliev Part 2: Gankino Horo

Music is the melody whose text is the world.
Arnold Schopenhauer

Today's post features several versions of Gankino Horo as interpreted by the composer Diko Iliev.  He lived from 1898 - 1984 and is best known for the piece Dunavsko Horo, danced at just about every celebration in Bulgaria, especially during the New Year.

To get an idea about what the dance is about (since I couldn't find anything on YouTube with people dancing to Iliev's Gankino Horo) watch the video below. If you are familiar with The Alien Diaries, you will recognize the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel.

The rhythm is 11/16 ( quick-quick-slow-quick-quick).  Gankino Horo is a dance in the kopanitsa family and there are many fancy versions of kopanitsa out there. The one in the video is the basic village dance. The slow beat is the "hiccup" in the middle.

The music arrangement is by Boris Karlov, an accordionist of Roma origin. (It is easy to confuse him with the movie actor with a similar name, Boris Karloff.  If you're a fan of old movies, you may find this link of interest).

The melody is familiar to folk dancers around the world.  Karlov made many recordings of Bulgarian folk dances  for accordion and this one is extremely popular more than fifty years after his death in 1964.

Diko Iliev also used this melody in his Maisko Gankino Horo; there is a link to it at the end of this post.

Remember all Gankinos are kopanitsas, but not all kopanitsas are Gankino.

The next video is music by Diko Iliev: Dukovitsko Gankino Horo.  My guess is that it's name after a village or town.  Many Bulgarian dances are named after cities or towns.  Some are named after people. Ganka is a female name in Bulgaria.

The CD cover pictured is from the album Spomeni (memories, not a fancy Italian ice cream called spumoni.) Confused? Look it up on Google Translate.

There is a picture of the composer, a score from one of his pieces and a bouquet of red flowers.It must be something connected with Diko Iliev.  Does anyone out there know why?

This version of Gankino is actually named after a person named Gano. He is a winner (gano means "I win" in Spanish. Bad joke).  In both Spanish and Bulgarian, female names usually end with the letter "a", male names with the letter "o".

If you like two for the price of one here is Rachenitsa followed by Gankino Horo.  It is common in a horovod (medley of Bulgarian folk dances) to combine dances in different rhythms.  Rachenitsa is in 7/8 or 7/16 depending on the speed; say the words "apple-apple-pineapple" and you have rachenitsa.

This album cover is a view from the town of Oriahovo, where Diko Iliev lived for 42 years. The town square is named after him.  The Bulgarian National Radio compiled this CD, and you can hear the music from it on YouTube.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Tune: Gankino Horo (three different variations of the same tune by different artists, including Diko Iliev)

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev (several different arrangements of Dunavsko Horo)

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

Bulgarian Dances Named After Cities and Towns

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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Dances of Greek Macedonia

A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.
Mahatma Gandhi

Today's post features dances from the Macedonia region of northern Greece.

The name "Macedonia" has been much contested because the region historically known as Macedonia spans three countries: northern Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Pirin region of Bulgaria.

My intent is not to start World War III in the Balkans, but to educate readers why the name of "Macedonia" has stirred up so much conflict.

There are also places with the name Macedonia in other parts of the world, and there are numerous towns in the United States with this name.

It doesn't make sense to me to fight over a name. See video below for an explanation.The one thing it  does not mention is that there is a region called "Pirin Macedonia" in Bulgaria. Its official name is Blagoevgrad Province.

By the way if people danced more, there would be no fighting. Too much time, money and energy are spent on war.

The first dance is Sire Sire. (If anyone can find the dance notes for this, please let me know).  It is very popular in recreational folk dance groups in the States. The rhythm and the movements of Sire Sire remind me of rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, which can be in either 7/8 or 7/16 depending on the speed of the music. The Greek tik is similar to the rachenitsa, and also to the Romanian geampara. It's the same rhythm: apple-apple-pineapple.

This group is from the city of Edessa.

There is a lot of cultural cross-pollination in the Balkans.  Brass bands, I've noticed, provide the music for all of the dances featured in this post.. They are also popular in Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, parts of Bulgaria, and also in Romania.

 You heard one in the last video, and you will see one here.  The dance is Raiko, also in 7/8 rhythm.

The last dance, which has been featured on this blog before, is also from Greek Macedonia.  It has a very strange rhythm: 12/16.  It also has two names, depending on which side of the border you're from.  In Greece it's known as LeventikosIn the Republic of Macedonia they call it Pusteno.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives

Dancing Through the Alphabet, Letter L

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