Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the November 7,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Europe’s Spirited Folkdance
Folk dancing’s appeal is more than sociable. It’s
The interplay of unpredictable melody, eccentric rhythms, and
footwork plunge receptive folk into an appealing, alien world.
On Friday and Saturday, November 9 and 10, practitioners of two
species of folk dance offer workshops and dance parties in New
World-traveler Yves Moreau, champion of Balkan dance, who brings
movement from southeastern Europe to its fans in America and the Far
East, offers two workshops and a dance party on the Rutgers University
Presenting Hungarian culture, the Eletfa band (the name means
of life"), with roots in the metropolitan New York area, and the
New Brunswick-based folk dance group Csurdongolo, whose membership
consists either of those born in Hungary or their children,
their efforts on Saturday, November 10, in the Hungarian Scout’s Home,
66 Plum Street, New Brunswick.
And for spectators, the famed Tamburitzans, a 38-member troupe of
dancers and musicians from Duquesne University performing dances of
Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, are on stage at Kelsey
Theater, Saturday and Sunday, November 10 and 11.
The experience of the workshop-presenters testifies to the appeal
of folk dance across ethnic boundaries. Moreau, the Balkan expert,
is a native of Montreal, Canada. Eletfa band director Kalman Magyar,
whose parents emigrated in the 1960s, points out that its dedicated
followers are not necessarily of Hungarian background. "Some
fall in love with Hungarian music and dance, and work as hard as those
whose culture they’re preserving," he says. Magyar estimates that
half of those who come to their workshops in New York are not
although he adds that speaking Hungarian is an advantage for those
who would like to sing.
I caught up with Yves Moreau by telephone when he alighted at his
home in Montreal for slightly more than 48 hours. He was on his way
between Bulgaria, where he was working on a recording project, and
Japan, where he was slated for dance workshops. "There’s a big
interest in Balkan dancing," he said. "It’s challenging and
varied, and people like the music. The rhythms are complex,
exotic, and challenging to western ears. People like to folk dance
because they’re socializing, learning about another culture, and
a good workout."
Moreau, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Balkan dance,
covers nine ethnic communities, started with folk dance as a
"I was about 12 when I connected with folk dance in general,"
he says. "Groups in Montreal were offering classes for kids. I
enrolled in one; I had friends going and it sounded interesting. I
didn’t know what to expect. When I heard the music I got hooked. The
more I danced different kinds of dances, the more the Balkan stuff
appealed to me. It grew into a passion."
In 1966, at 18, Moreau, now 53, finished high school and took a summer
trip to Europe. "Bulgaria was on my mind," he says. "1966
was the right time and the right place. I met interesting people and
saw interesting things. Now it’s getting wiped out. Societies are
changing; borders are changing; political regimes fall; folk culture
disappears. I would not have found what I saw in 1966 even five years
ago. Compared to many other countries, folk customs were very alive
in Bulgaria in 1966. Before I knew it, I was labeled a Bulgarian dance
"I’m working on a book summarizing what I learned in the last
35 years," Moreau says. "If I can stop traveling for a bit,
I can put more energy into it. Still, with a computer, I can work
on it little by little. I’ve amassed the information. Now I need to
put it into an order that will appeal to people, and hang together.
It’s amazing how much you gather. The problem is writing it down in
a cohesive form. I enjoy teaching, sharing what I know, and seeing
people enjoying it. That’s what is most rewarding about what I
Though the book is not yet finished, four videos with matching audio
cassettes, as well as three Bulgarian village CDs have been published.
They are available, along with additional information, on Moreau’s
Moreau is married to France Bourque-Moreau, a specialist in teaching
folk dance to children. In her repertoire of hundreds of dances and
singing games from all over the world, French and French-Canadian
dances are heavily represented.
From an ethnic vantage point south and east of Hungary, Moreau
a major distinction between Balkan and Hungarian dance. "Hungarian
dances are mostly in duple time," he says. "They’re really
central-European couple dances. Balkan dances are non-partner circle
or line dances."
For my education, Laszlo Hajdu-Nemeth, Jr., artistic director of New
Brunswick’s Csurdongolo Dance Ensemble, supplies a video of a 1998
performance by the Hungarian dancers. The music is provided by Eletfa,
with whom Hajdu-Nemeth also performs. The video confirms the absence
of circle and line dances among the Hungarians.
The roles of men and women are distinct on the video. While the men
move and freeze with authority and power, defying gravity, the women
tend to behave demurely. As men click their heels in the air, stamp,
tap heels and toes alternately, or slap their shins, the women twirl,
make little jumps, or balance bottles on their heads. "It’s the
man’s task to lead his partner using the vocabulary of the
says Eletfa director Magyar. In both Balkan and Hungarian dance, forms
are often associated with a particular village, and regional
abound. In some Hungarian dances, men and women perform separately.
While dance is the primary source of Moreau’s income, the Hungarians
depend on day jobs to pay the rent. Kalman Magyar, director of Eletfa,
is a litigation attorney at Bressler, Amery and Ross in Florham Park.
Laszlo Hajdu-Nemeth, director of Csurdongolo, is a founding member
and creative director of Exceed Communications International, an
software and services company. Of Hungarian ethnicity, they have grown
up with Hungarian culture.
Magyar was born to parents who immigrated to the United States in
the early 1960s. They met at Hungaria, a Hungarian dance group in
New York City. As they grew expert, they became the leaders of
and began teaching folk dance throughout the United States as a hobby.
Kalman, 28, and his sister Ildiko, 30, grew up in Teaneck. "We
became involved in Hungarian dance by osmosis," Kalman says.
parents took us with them to folk dance camps and folk dance groups.
I began dancing when I was very little." In the mid 1980s Kalman
and Ildiko began providing music for Hungaria in an ensemble that
proved to be the kernel of Eletfa, whose official origin dates to
Shortly after, Magyar took over Hungaria. "People in my parents’
generation had kids," he says. "Some of them thought they
were too old to dance since they were in their 40s. It’s very
dancing, and also very time consuming." After Hungaria dissolved
in 1996, Hajdu-Nemeth’s Csurdongolo took its place.
Magyar’s violin training began with the Suzuki method, where young
children learn to play by mimicking, rather than by reading music.
"It’s an advantage for Hungarian folk music to play by ear,"
he says. He studied classical music at Manhattan School of Music’s
During summer visits to Hungary and at Hungarian folk music camps
Magyar expanded his experience with Hungarian music and dance. Of
particular importance was the Symposium camp at Enon Valley near
There he met his wife Beatrix, who grew up folk dancing in Toronto.
"We saw each other off and on when we were in college," Magyar
says, "and ended up getting married. It was a natural
Beatrix has an MBA from Seton Hall University and works as a corporate
training coordinator. For their wedding in April, the couple had a
Transylvanian gypsy band. "We went all out," says Magyar.
Symposium, with space for close to 200 participants, continues to
exist. Eletfa is now regularly on staff at its biennial Hungarian
music and dance workshops. The next session takes place next June.
Hungarian folk music, Magyar says, is "unique, archaic, and rich.
Because of Hungary’s situation," he says, "its music still
has remnants of the Turkish occupation. The Austrian influence shows
up in the use of standard major and minor scales, and in the use of
conventional western harmonies and melody; Gypsy music is a component.
And Hungarian music is shaped also by the surrounding countries."
Eletfa has produced a CD, "Gyokereink" ("Our Roots"),
which samples folk music from various regions.
"Hungarian music is in two," Magyar says. "There are no
waltzes." Magyar’s Eletfa uses several unique instruments. The
uto gardon (percussive cello) has four strings, all tuned to the note
D above middle C. On the downbeat all four strings are struck with
a stick; on the upbeat one string is plucked. The kontra (Hungarian
viola) is designed to play only chords; it has a flat bridge and three
strings tuned to pitches close to middle C. These instruments as well
as the hurdy-gurdy and the violin will furnish the live music at the
November 10 workshop.
With careful planning folk dance fans can sample both Balkan and
dance in New Brunswick this coming weekend. No partner is necessary
for any of the workshops or dance parties. Only an open mind and a
willingness to move to music that you’re not likely to hear on any
of our popular radio stations.
— Elaine Strauss
Workshop with Yves Moreau at Werblin Recreation Center, Piscataway,
Rutgers’ College Avenue Gym, New Brunswick, $10,
10, 2:15 p.m.
Center, College Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-249-6999. All are welcome,
New Brunswick, 732-545-6332. Children’s workshop at 6 p.m.; workshop
for all ages on dances from northern Hungary at 7:30 p.m. Tanchaz
Hungarian dance party begins at 9 p.m., with music by Eletfa. $5.
609-584-9444. The 38-member troupe from Duquesne. $18
November 10, 8 p.m. and
Hall, 609-683-7956. Caller and live musicians featured every Wednesday
at 8 p.m.
Drive, Princeton, 609-924-6930. International dancing and instruction
every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
dances on the first Friday of the month in various locations including
Princeton and Titusville.
Center, Busch Campus, Piscataway, 732-249-6999. Lessons followed by
open dancing, $3. Every Friday at 7:30 p.m
Church, 19 South Second Avenue, 732-356-5164. Monthly contra dances
on Saturdays with music by Illegal Contraband.
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