Where to Dance

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

visceral.

The interplay of unpredictable melody, eccentric rhythms, and

coordinated

footwork plunge receptive folk into an appealing, alien world.

On Friday and Saturday, November 9 and 10, practitioners of two

different

species of folk dance offer workshops and dance parties in New

Brunswick.

World-traveler Yves Moreau, champion of Balkan dance, who brings

authentic

movement from southeastern Europe to its fans in America and the Far

East, offers two workshops and a dance party on the Rutgers University

campus.

Presenting Hungarian culture, the Eletfa band (the name means

"tree

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,

concentrate

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

non-Hungarians

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

Hungarian,

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,

asymmetrical,

exotic, and challenging to western ears. People like to folk dance

because they’re socializing, learning about another culture, and

getting

a good workout."

Moreau, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Balkan dance,

covers nine ethnic communities, started with folk dance as a

youngster.

"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

expert."

"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

do."

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

website (www.bourque-moreau.com).

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

sketches

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

village,"

says Eletfa director Magyar. In both Balkan and Hungarian dance, forms

are often associated with a particular village, and regional

differences

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

Internet

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

Hungaria

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.

"Our

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

1987.

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

strenuous

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

Preparatory Division.

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

Pittsburgh.

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

progression."

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

Hungarian

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

Balkan Folkdance Weekend , Rutgers University,

732-249-6999.

Workshop with Yves Moreau at Werblin Recreation Center, Piscataway,

$10, Friday, November 9, 7:30. Second workshop with Yves Moreau,

Rutgers’ College Avenue Gym, New Brunswick, $10, Saturday, November

10, 2:15 p.m.

Balkan Folkdance Party , Rutgers University, Student

Center, College Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-249-6999. All are welcome,

$10. Saturday, November 10, 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Tanchaz , Hungarian Scout’s Home, 66 Plum Street,

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.

Saturday, November 10.

The Tamburitzans , Kelsey Theater, Mercer College,

609-584-9444. The 38-member troupe from Duquesne. $18 Saturday,

November 10, 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 11, 3 p.m.

Top Of Page
Where to Dance

Princeton Country Dancers , Suzanne Patterson Center,

Borough

Hall, 609-683-7956. Caller and live musicians featured every Wednesday

at 8 p.m.

Princeton Folk Dance Group , Riverside School, Riverside

Drive, Princeton, 609-924-6930. International dancing and instruction

every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Lambertville Country Dancers , 609-882-7733. English

Country

dances on the first Friday of the month in various locations including

Princeton and Titusville.

International Folkdancing at Rutgers , Werblin Recreation

Center, Busch Campus, Piscataway, 732-249-6999. Lessons followed by

open dancing, $3. Every Friday at 7:30 p.m

Contra Cauldron , Folk Project, Highland Park

Reformed

Church, 19 South Second Avenue, 732-356-5164. Monthly contra dances

on Saturdays with music by Illegal Contraband.


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