Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Good Man is Hard to Find....

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’m possible!
—Audrey Hepburn

Today's post takes us to western Slavic territory: Slovakia.

Last week I listened to some Czech brass band music and some Slovak folk dance music on YouTube. It made me think about why Czechoslovakia (a country that no longer exists) split up. It was an amicable breakup between two countries with similar language but totally different musical cultures.

It was weird to hear "Bavarian beer hall music"sung in Czech, not German. Culturally, Bavaria and the Czech Republic share two things: a love for brass band music and a love for beer. The best beer that I ever had was a Pilsener Urquell from the Czech Republic.  Turns out that the person who created that beer style was from Bavaria.

The first time I heard Slovak music was the theme song for a Slovak radio program in New York City back in the 1980's.  I didn't know the name, nor had I danced to it, but the song took up residence in my head. The music was haunting and beautiful and the first thought that came to my mind was a young woman, wandering in a field on a hot summer day, searching for something elusive to her.

A few months later, I was in Central Park, looking for the venue where the folk dancing was held (E. 82nd Street near the King Jagiello Statue).  It didn't take me long to find it because I heard that song again.  Because of that song I found the group.  A woman saw me watching, and drew me into the dance: "You can do this!" The dance was Horehronsky Csardas.

Slovak music sounds like Hungarian music with a Slavic accent because of the strong Hungarian influence in that region.  Here is an example:

As for Horehronsky Csardas, the song to it is To Ta Hel'pa, about a young woman who has an interest in one man out of 100 in the town of Hel'pa.  It was originally recorded (on vinyl, you can hear the needle static in the beginning of the recording, it's that old!) during the 1950's.

Here is a link to an English translation:

Before the Internet it was difficult to find folk song lyrics, and almost impossible to find them in English translation. Now I knew what had eluded the singer.....good men are hard to find.  Also, she would perform an amazing feat for this special guy; jump across the Danube, River of Many Names and a field as well. 

I don't know of anyone who could do this, except maybe Wonder Woman.  Here is an essential skill the singer could use.

This video shows a hydrofoil making the trip from Bratislava to Vienna. There are a number of huge vessels in this video. Check out the barges at 0:23 and 1:01. There are more if you continue to the end.

If our singer wants to jump across a river this wide and busy, she must be desperate for love.  This is a common them in folk songs; the desire for what one can't have.

Finally here's the video for the dance with lyrics so you can sing along.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The River of Many Names, Parts One Through Six (Part Six has links to the previous posts)

Balkan Dances That Are Often Confused, Part 10: Cigansko Horo and Ciganko (Ciganko is a song about a man who is madly in love with a Roma woman.)

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Left Footed Dances and Exceptions to the Rules

There are those whose sole claim to profundity is the discovery of exceptions to the rules.
Tom Eldridge

One of the ladies from my dance group had recently attended a workshop in Bulgaria.   One of the interesting tidbits she got from one of the dance instructors was that dances from the Bulgarian region of Dobrudja always start on the left foot.   I found out that is not always true!

Here is a dance I have featured before on this blog, Kutsata, a rachenitsa from Dobrudja. This version starts on the left foot. It goes by the rules.

Notice that the group's name is 7/8: the rhythm for rachenitsa is apple-apple-pineapple. There are other variations on the 7/8 rhythm, which have been covered in previous posts (see links at end of post).

It would take hours if not days to find an exception to the "starts on the left foot" rule regarding dances from Dobrudja, but I found two.

The first is Dobruđanska Râka.  That caret is over the "a" for a reason.  In this case the "a" is pronounced almost like "u" (sometimes rachenitsa is spelled ruchenitsa for the same reason). There is plenty of arm movement in this dance, and in Bulgarian rŭka means "hand" or "forearm."

In English speaking countries this dance is called Dobrudjanska Reka.  In Bulgarian "reka" means river.  I wonder how many Bulgarians have been confused by our pronunciation?

In this version of Kutsata, with different choreography and music than Video #1, the dancers start on the right foot. I think there are rebel choreographers who go out of their way to break the rules, even in Dobrudja.

Video #4 is a dance not from Dobrujda, but from Strandzha, in the southern part of Bulgarian bordering Greece.  It is home to the Nestinari, the Fire Dancers who celebrate the day of Saints Constantine and Helen by dancing on hot coals. This dance, however, does not involve fire.

This left footed dance is Brestaska Rachenitsa.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on a Theme by Petko Stainov: Rachenitsa Travels to Guatemala

Dancing in Sevens, Part Three (there are links to Part One and Part Two)

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance Kutsata

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Variations on the Greek Folk Dance Gerakina

In the end, when it's over, all that matters is what you've done.
Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was a king from the ancient Greek region of Macedon.  His goal was to conquer the world (and if he had done so, Macedonia would be much bigger than it is today.)  The name is much contested, especially in the southern Balkans.

There are three regions that use the name Macedonia: northern Greece, Blagoevgrad Province in southwestern Bulgaria, and the Republic of Macedonia.  The Republic of Macedonia and the Greek government are in the process of deciding a name that would be agreeable to both countries. One name being proposed is The Republic of North Macedonia.

Gerakina is a dance from Greek Macedonia that is very popular in the international folk dance community.

I couldn't find the lyrics in translation. According to a dance friend of mine (who understands Greek) it is about a young woman named Gerakina who fell into a well. Her rescuers were able to locate her by the jingle of her bracelets  (the "vroom vroom vroom vroom") in the song.

The recording is so old that you can hear the needle hitting the record at the very beginning of the music (it was cut out of the video).  Many of the recordings we use date from the Dark Ages :)

Version #1 is the one we use at dances.  The music is in 7/8 (pineapple-apple-apple).

Version #2 uses a different choreography than Version #1. This one was danced by kids in a Greek performing group. Watch how they clap along to the rhythm. Asymmetrical rhythms like 7/8 are very common in the Balkans. The kids grow up with it.  They walk, sing, and dance in 7/8.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Fun and Easy Dances from Greece

The Dances of Greek Macedonia

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