Passionate about Balkan dance

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Passionate about Balkan dance

Post  Sonia on Thu Sep 25, 2008 5:02 pm

I grew up attending an International folk dance group every week, and it was the best part of my childhood, so I figure that's why I'm passionate about folk dancing. I don't have a clear explanation about why I specifically love the Balkan dances and music the most. People keep asking me if I have Balkan ancestry, but I don't as far as I know. I've also met lots of people who started dancing as adults, and they seem to feel equally strongly about it.

What do you think? What is it about Balkan or International dancing that engages people so powerfully? Those of you who do contra, swing, Scandinavian, etc. as well as Balkan, do those dancers feel as strongly about their dances and dance groups?

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Downside of passion

Post  denismurf on Mon Oct 06, 2008 2:32 pm

Balkan dancing has been a source of pure exhilaration ever since I got the hang of it about 6 months after the first encounter.

I have danced in a LOT of places since then and had to confront something I still don't understand. How is it that an activity that generates such incredible musical, physical, spiritual, and social pleasure can also cause participants to verbally slash other participants to pieces over differences of opinion on stuff like how high to raise your leg on that second beat or how to pronounce the name of a dance?

This question isn't rhetorical. I've been on the receiving end myself several times and watched it happen to others many more, almost always delivered by otherwise nice, polite, fun people. If we could figure out why this behavior happens, maybe we could start getting rid of it as a Balkan-Ethnic dance phenomenon.

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dance conflict

Post  lenusz on Tue Oct 07, 2008 7:20 am

I can help you on that Denis. Within Balkan dancing there's a variety of dancers and their approach. Some look at it as exercise on a level with some of the calisthenics clubs or other types of dancing such as contra or square dance or rock and roll. The details aren't important to them. Others want to keep a certain type of culture, music, and dancing alive, as it is, without losing the form in either the near term or long term. Now how they do this is personality stuff. Some folks will mention it in a "this is my opinion" gentle thing, and others will agressively roll over you as if they were driving a tank. And this is the kind of thing you find in every group (religious, political, sports, dancing,etc.). So getting back on track, if you don't know that the dance you just did was a racenica, you might call it the "swim". And maybe to a racenica tune you'll dance a mezoseg (and this has happened with a mezoseg for just about every dance that exists). And if this happens repeatedly, then the racenica, as a racenica, will be perverted and ultimately disappear. Now granted, I exaggerated. But I did that to give a clearer idea.

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Taming wild passion

Post  Dansingsal on Wed Oct 08, 2008 1:31 pm

Ah yes, the ugly side of passion. In the heat of passion (of any kind) people are not usually thinking rationally. A calm and reasonable voice injected into the mix can have an effect if repeated often enough. The one that I have seen work is, "It's only a dance." I know it works because someone said that to ME often enough! I seldom ever got upset with other people, usually only with myself when I messed up, but still, "It's only a dance" worked to calm me down until now I even believe it myself.

Cool, calm, and collected, but passionately so,
Sally ;-)

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ah, yes. it's only a dance.

Post  lenusz on Wed Oct 08, 2008 2:15 pm

The Serbians have a dance called the "The Silent Kolo". After the Serbians lost the battle of Kosovo to the Ottoman Turks in 1389, among other things, the Turks said "no music". So the Serbians would do this dance silently, and the "music" was the jingling of the coins the women wore, and the stamp of feet on the ground. Well, the Turks occupied Serbia, very harshly, for over 500 years. "ah yes, it's only a dance."

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Calming mantras

Post  Sonia on Thu Oct 09, 2008 11:20 am

I've seen some of that critical behavior as well, and I've also struggled with my internal critical voice as I've learned dances. I like Sal's calming mantra, and I have a couple of my own. "I'm here to learn" helps me with my own mistakes, especially after I noticed that somewhere between just following someone else and being able to do a dance on my own, I make more mistakes than I did when I knew nothing about it.

The silent mantra that helps me the most when someone else is being critical out loud is, "People are usually talking about themselves." I'm guessing they struggle with their internal critical voice and they project that outwards. If it gets too bad, I avoid them and seek out friendly dancers, since fortunately there are lots of them around.

As Len is pointing out, dance does hook into deep places in our bodies and spirits. That brings in vulnerability as well as joy, and perhaps triggers some people's critical side. I'm eager to see what others have come up with to deal with this less pleasant aspect of dance.

As a leader in my own group, I can do slightly more. I make it really clear that mistakes aren't a problem as people learn new dances and new roles (line leader, teacher). In every session, I encourage people to take risks by trying something new, and tell them that I'll back them up if they need help. I give lots of positive feedback and emphasize the joy of dance. So far no one has been critical out loud, but if someone were, I'd consider it my responsibility to respond and deflect it, even if it weren't directed at me. I'm interested in ideas on how to do that, too!

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Crossing dance types

Post  denismurf on Thu Oct 16, 2008 11:46 pm

Here's another possible source of folk dancer anger or, at least, misunderstanding. A dancer from a home group that's inclusive visits a performance-level group, or the way around, and expects the visited group to behave like his/her home group.

Any merit to this?

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Re: Crossing dance types

Post  Sonia on Fri Oct 17, 2008 9:55 am

That's a good point, Denis. I bumped my chin on that one really hard. Performance-level groups don't hang a sign on the door saying, "The rules are different here." The adjustment between dancing to recorded music and dancing to live music is a big one too, but at least it's obvious that there's an adjustment to be made, and it's mostly a matter of attending live music events enough times to get the hang of it.

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Going to new group

Post  denismurf on Wed Oct 22, 2008 1:27 pm

I like Sally's admonition to be "Cool, calm, and collected, but passionately so."

I've learned to avoid teaching or leading dances in groups I'm visiting, unless absolutely nobody else steps up and unless I warn loudly and repeatedly that I might do them differently from what the group is used to. Even then, conflicts frequently arise. I know I'm probably in a performance-level group if a veteran tells me, "You're doing that wrong," instead of, "We don't do it that way here."

Of course, if I'm merely another dancer in the line, I watch the leaders of even the simplest, most ancient dances and just do whatever they're doing. I've also learned that very few people are interested in hearing that the way their group does a dance is different from the way other groups do it. It's better to leave that kind of discussion to Ron Houston's Problem Solvers.

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Joy at the dance!

Post  denismurf on Sat Oct 25, 2008 6:18 pm

I tend to forget how much dance events are revved up by the presence of joy. Last night, at the weekly Balkan dance at Greenlake in Seattle, about 8 people in their 20's showed up and let it be known that some of them were familiar with Bulgarian dancing. Chief Bruce immediately replaced whatever he was going to do with long versions of accessible Bulgarian favorites and let the good times roll. And good times they were, complete with shouts, whistles, stomps, and all those sounds produced by dancers caught up in the moment; in a word, joy. Nothing else can compare. -- Denis

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