The Bog of Lost Scholars

March 16, 2007

Dance Performance

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 6:23 pm

Last weekend was the San Antonio Folk Dance Festival, a weekend-long workshop with a dance concert on Saturday night.

I’m told that the teachers, Daniela Ivanova (Bulgarian) and Daniel Sandu (Romanian), were excellent. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do the workshop because I was in the concert with Village International Folk Dancers (or rather, I could have, but I’d have missed the entire afternoon for dress rehearsal, so I decided against it).

But the concert was fun, with lots of excellent dance groups including some amazing kids from a Serbian dance group in Houston. (Several of the groups did use similar dances, though; after a while we began to joke about the preponderance of csardas dances and guys jumping over sticks.) And our group did a good job with our Israeli set, considering that half of us had never performed before and that the dress rehearsal was the first time one person had been able to come to practice in three weeks. We got a lot of compliments on the staging for Likrat Shabat, which we did with the stage lights turned down and the dancers silhouetted against the background.

Learning dances for performance was a good experience for me, and I’m glad I did it, but I find I don’t have the performing bug. Next time, if VIFD is performing, I’ll probably pass so I can actually do the workshop and learn dances well enough to bring them back to our group.

December 1, 2006

Texas Camp 2006

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 8:46 am

I spent Thanksgiving weekend at TIFD’s annual camp again, and I think I’m finally recovered. It was a fun weekend, with great food and great dancing. This year’s teachers were Lee Otterholt, general Balkan, and Richard Powers, vintage couple dances. I heartily recommend both.

Unlike a lot of teachers who focus on one particular country, Otterholt taught dances from several countries and peoples around the Balkans — Greek, Albanian, Rom, Assyrian. Mavromata, Paraliakos, and Syrtos Pyleas were fairly simple dances; Cobankat, Kotitsa, Opa Cuba (non-Kotansky version), and Bracno Oro were a tad more complicated, and Kotchari and Krivatvorena were fast-paced and demanding. (Krivatvorena is a dance, I discovered, that one genuinely can do better with a small quantity of alcohol in the bloodstream; the individual segments are all ones my feet know how to do, and as long as my brain shuts up my feet can get on with it.)

I’m overall not crazy about couple dancing. True, I greatly enjoy dancing with my boyfriend, and I don’t mind dancing with someone I know or doing a mixer with strangers. But it’s one of those activities whose coefficient of static friction is pretty darn high; it’s very easy for me to decide “no, I don’t feel like trying this”. And indeed, after getting one really awful partner (awful = criticizing me for starting on the foot the teacher’s telling women to start on and generally acting like he’s the teacher, not the guy in the center of the room), I decided to sit out the rest of the classes.

But I’m glad I at least stayed in the hall and watched, because Powers is a hoot. “Some people have fun with tango; others make fun of tango. Both are valid styles.” He’s an excellent teacher of social dancing, giving lots of good tips and all along keeping an attitude that this is meant to be fun, and that there is no One True Way to do a social dance. I did dance the two quadrilles he taught on the first day, and actually liked them enough to suggest that they be taught at the Monday night dance group. And I’d like to try the cross-step waltz with my boyfriend or some other partner that I trust to make it fun.

Overall, definitely a worthwhile weekend.

October 10, 2006

The Metadance of International Folk Dance

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 12:43 am

One of the members of the local folk dance group commented that when he was out at another dance spot, someone told him that they weren’t interested in international folk dance, because the dancers were more interested in preserving dances than in having fun.

While I disagree with this assessment — I can’t think of anyone in our group who isn’t interested in having fun — I can see how someone might get that impression.

There’s an inherent tension in recreational international folk dance between accuracy and entertainment. If you focus too closely on the precise styling and getting the dance Right, you’ll drive away everyone but a few hard-core folks. But if you relax your standards too far, you’re not doing the dance anymore. You’re doing a dance from someone else’s folk tradition, so you want to know how the dance is actually done in the village where it originates — and yet, the folk process doesn’t stop just because the dance has crossed a national border or an ocean. (Bounces in the third bar of Arap feel right, darn it, whether or not Macedonians actually do them.)

There are definitely people whose idea of fun is doing these dances as accurately as possible. They’ll research the region or even the village; they’ll find out which variations are actually attested and which are foreign additions; they’ll visit the country if possible; they’ll look at how this area’s style differs from that area’s.

Dance groups need those people. They’re the ones who keep reminding us that this isn’t just Balkan-influence aerobics; these are the cultural expressions of other people, that have actually been performed by folks on the other side of the world as part of their everyday lives. We didn’t make these dances up ourselves; we’re not from those cultures (or at least, if it’s a recreational group that doesn’t focus on a specific country, we’re from at most one or two of them).

And on the other hand — we’re not from these cultures. Men and women dance together in dances that would’ve been single-sex in the original village. The dance that’s done in a village to celebrate a marriage might be done by our group to celebrate the visit of a good accordion player, or just because someone loves the music. We think nothing of doing back-to-back dances from two cultures that are mortal enemies, or at most we joke about equal representation.

These dances are dual citizens; we’ve made them part of the International Folk Dance culture. So as we perform the dance itself, we also perform a metadance, a balancing act between the dance as it was created and the dance as we recreate it.

July 15, 2006

Israeli Dance Workshop

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 7:05 pm

I spent the 4th of July weekend at an Israeli dance workshop taught by Ya’akov Eden. Eden is a wonderful teacher with an acerbic sense of humor, and the dances were fabulous. It’s a good workout, too.

Dances taught:

  • Ba’ah Mechunah, a fairly slow and laid-back circle dance
  • Debka Hachamor, lots more energetic and challenging
  • Dror Yikra, another energetic dance with lots of grapevines and a funky knee dip
  • Likrat Shabat, a very sweet and peaceful circle dance
  • Nigunim, a slow couple dance
  • Dodi Li, a slightly faster couple dance
  • Kuma Echa, another energetic dance

June 17, 2006

New Orleans: Folk Dancing!

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 12:08 am

Thursday night I took a break from the meeting to go dance with Crescent City International Dancers. It’s quite a fun group doing a good variety of dances; many were familiar, a few were different from what I’ve learned (like their version of Biserka Boyarka, which looked like Setjna to me), and a lot were new to me. I enjoyed dancing with them.

CCID, like Houston International Folk Dancers, does a more complicated dance to Miserlou than Austin IFD does — they do the dance that we’d just do to Never on Sunday. I wonder how widely spread that variation is.

December 10, 2004

Texas Camp

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 4:43 pm

I spent Thanksgiving weekend at Texas International Folk Dancers’ Texas Camp, an annual folk dancing workshop/party. Dance classes during the day, music classes in the afternoon, dance parties all evening, for three days straight. Plus fabulous food and fascinating people.

It was educational for more than the dance. I’ve attended a couple science fiction/fantasy conventions, and while they were pleasant enough, with lots of interesting people and interesting panels (and sometimes food; I shall always treasure the glory of Industrial-Strength Chocolate liquid nitrogen ice cream, a taste that has redefined the heights of Chocolate Pleasure), I really didn’t get why so many people I know are so enthusiastic about attending the things. I figured that I must just not be the convention type.

Well, I’ve clued in now: It’s not the con; it’s the topic. SF cons, much as I enjoy speculative fiction, aren’t my thing. Folk dance cons are my thing.

Needless to say, I’m already planning my money-saving campaign so I can attend next year.

December 11, 2003

International Folk Dance

Filed under: Dance — castiron @ 1:30 pm

For the past year, I’ve been intermittently taking folk dancing classes at my church — mostly Eastern European folk dances, but some Israeli, Turkish, and French dances as well. This weekend, I went to a meeting of the local folk dance group for the first time.

It was great fun. Since it’s an amateur group, the fact that I’m a beginner doesn’t matter, and the totally unfamiliar dances are interspersed with ones that I’ve already learned. And two folks who knew me from the church lessons asked me to dance during the couple dances — first time someone’s asked me to dance in twenty years!

I’m hoping to start going more regularly; the dancing’s enjoyable, and the people are pleasant. It’s great exercise. It’s also rather nice, to do occasional dances with close body contact and not have to worry about whether it means anything — it’s just a dance! And it’s good therapy for the part of me that hates making a fool of myself; I can get out there and dance badly, and either no one’s watching or anyone watching will drop hints on what the next step is.

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