The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
Dick Crum Culture Session, 1981
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There were a lot of people who had equated certain leftist tendencies in the politics of folk dancing so you had a burgeoning of folk dancing by people who looked crooked and un-American. (Laughs)
Then in the forties, you had this man, Michael Herman, to whom all of us, whether we had heard his name or not, owe a great debt of gratitude. This guy was the first one to open up folk dancing as a recreational thing for everybody. What Michael did was establish a place for folk dancing he called Folk Dance House in New York and invited people like us, not necessarily of any particular ethnic association, who could go there and do all these dances that had been done by the imigrant people from communities all over the United States but had never gotten up to the New York rooftops had never gotten out among us plain unassociated ethnics. So we owe a lot to that man. At the same time, there is Vyts Beliajus, who many of you know is working in the midwest. These two guys, plus a few others on the west coast, really opened up folk dancing so we could do it and enjoy it and explore it and challenge our bodies with new styles of movement and so forth with dances that allegedly, in many cases, had their origins in foreign countries.
One of the things that had only recently begun to happen is that we've been looking a little more closely at how the people over in those countries really do the dances that we've been doing for eighty years without asking them. Those of us who have been to Europe recently will tell you that there are a lot of surprises for you. Let's say you learn the dance Polka from Romwa. You may plan your tour of Europe when you go there so you can go there and dance the Polka from Romwa with the Romwabians. I know people who've done that! They've gone to Europe somewhere and needed a touchstone somewhere so they said, "Let's go to Romwa! We know the Polka from there and maybe the friendly Romwabians will invite us to dinner." So, they get to Romwa and what happens is they get there and say, "Hi there! I'm your friendly folk dancer from America and we have a Polka from Romwa and we want to dance it now." And the friendly natives say, "What? You came all the way across the Atlantic to dance here with us? Of course we do not believe you so stand up against the wall . . ." (Laughs) No, they expected you there for other reasons. They really do! They can't believe that that's what you're there for. To make a long story short, they don't do the Polka from Romwa in Romwa. That's the first thing you discover. They've never heard of the Polka. They don't know it. And suddenly you're caught. And you say, "Oh my, you mean we've come all the way to the boonies to dance the Polka from Romwa and the people of Romwa have never even heard of it?" And then when you do it and teach it to them, they might like it and want to learn it. (Laughs) This has happened so often, especially since World War II, since the United States, at least, has become a lot less isolationist and more people have gone over there looking for things. We now know people do not wander up and down the street in Amsterdam in wooden shoes. We now know that when you go to Rio de Janeiro, there are no funny natives walking around with pirhanna fish. We've learned a lot about other parts of the world! And what we are beginning to learn now is that in Romwa, they don't necessarily know the Polka from Romwa. And if you're willing to trace the Polka from Romwa, you'd learn that the origins are from an apartment in Pismo Beach, Nebraska, on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Laughs) Somebody who was going to be teaching the next weekend had a polka record and a map (Laughs) and all of a sudden the following week taught the Polka from Romwa. (Laughs) So, more and more, we are finding that dances that we do every time we get together for our evening programs are not necessarily known or have ever been known by the people to whom they are attributed.
So, that's all leading up to this dance I'm going to share with you, as we say in California (Laughs) . . . I'd like to create a space in which (Laughs) . . . This is really, in a way, an experiment interestingly enough, in many languages, the words for experiment and experience are the same and you ought to think about that . . . (Laughs).
In Romania, way up in the north, if you'll look at your syllabus on page whatever it is, there's a map that I drew once that shows a little area called Oaş. This is a valley right up near the Ukrainian border with Romania. Twenty-three little villages up there and that's the totality of this district called Oaş. They have two dances there and they alternate them. So if you go to an afternoon dance in one of these villages you would find a violinist and a guitarist. The violinist will play the melody and the guitarist, who calls his instrument "zombura," has kind of a permanent capo on it and he just plays one chord, no matter what the violinist is playing (Laughs), and what kind of modulation is on top, and is so far undefined by any musicologists (Laughs). This the instrumentation they prefer they want that. "Oh, have you heard that new group?" "Yeah, man, that zombura player, he has a mean elbow. Wow!" (Laughs) And this is the kind of music they really currently like to dance to. And they will be assembled under the roof of a pavillion with a wooden roof and a couple of posts and a wall made up of screens, and it's called a "tupetka." And they have these two guys playing and they do this dance called Venderti which means "spinning dance" that they also mate with a men's dance called Vlata and that is it; two dances. Vlata: all the men get up (it's a very macho society, by the way), the men do their dance then they go get the women who are learning to make stuffed cabbages and all that stuff (Laughs), and they dance all by themselves.
One reason I'm teaching the dance this afternooon is so that you'll be able to appreciate a little better when you see the film tonight. In this film I brought you'll be able to see them dancing in the pavillion the dance that we're going to be working on now. The thing I want you to remember is that this is going to be a dance in which I'm not going to tell you this is Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3. A lot of the weight and responsibility in making this dance work and be fun and enjoyable is going to be you and the decisions you make. I'm going to show you the modules, as it were, and then you will "co-modulate" them in their own particular way. You are going to put these things together in a way that suits you. Very much as we used to do in the Jitterbug or the indy hop or whatever you called it in those days. There are a lot of figures and you kind of do them as you feel like it. That is exactly what they do over there. And it is very important to me at this point in my life not to make those people over in Oaş so much different but to show you how similar they are. One of the things, when they really dance, they don't read syllabi. They don't do Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3. They dance very much like we did when we were in the ballroom in high school. The only thing is when I was in high school, we didn't have all our parents sitting around watching us at our high school hops, which is unfortunately what happens in Oaş.
I'm going to show you steps and movements and I'm going to give you a very vague idea of how to assemble them, but the final version of the dance is going to be up to you. And each of you is going to be doing the dance (Venderti) this afternoon in a way that has never been done before in Oaş, and will never be done again by you. Nor, will it ever be done again by anybody. It's going to be your individual handling of the basic material I'm going to show you. If there are no questions, and I assume there aren't, we'll now get down to it. So, if you'll take your partner and don't wander far from here; one of the important things I would like to get you to feel is the closeness of dancing under a mushroom. (Laughs) So don't stretch out anyplace where I have to really yell.
The first thing I want you to get used to is this music. This is recorded in the 24th village, which is called Lovesomejanets by Maimon Miller, a fantastic violinist he spent quite a bit of time in this area and learned how to play in their style. And this is the music we're going to be dancing to. With very few exceptions, which we won't even be getting to today, we will be dancing in this rhythm: 1 (2) 3 4 (5) 6 7 (8). Now you can clap this, or slap this, or slap somebody else . . .
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