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The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)

Heroes of the
Second Bulgarian Renaissance

By Ron Houston and Tatiana Nikolova

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Tatiana Nilolova-Houston Ron Houston


For the first time ever, sixteen brave American folk dancers trained and performed with Folklore Ensemble GABROVO, the professional ensemble representing central Bulgaria. Widely known as the most authentic of the Bulgarian State Ensembles, GABROVO instilled in these foreigners a love of and appeciation for the vanishing traditions and dances of Šopluka, Dobrudža, and of course, Gabrovo region. Toung-twisters such as Rûčenica, Opas, Denjovo, Čuček, Buenek, and Šopsko Horo became the currency of conversation in a group that otherwise communicated freely with smiles and mime.


First must be Margaret Strickland, dancing with a broken arm! Brave Phyllis Cohen lost shoes and luggage, was bumped from her flight to arrive four days late, and still completed the course, with blisters! Nancy Yugo danced without a right ankle and still managed to smile and to partner husband and noted musician Michael Kuharski in superb couple Rûčenici! California contributed Tony Canavarro, Jean Faulkner, and Anna Haulenbeek. Seattle sent Greg Posick and the dynamic vocal duo, Jana Rickel and Kathy Sandstrom. Texas lent kavalist Steve Ginzbarg and seminar organizers Ron Houston and Tatiana Nilolova. Jana Rickel of Tulsa both danced and served as official videographer while Laura Dickinson of Albuquerque and Leslie Scott of Columbus doubled as highly proficient musicians and dancers. Most of these remarkable pioneeers lead their own groups, teach dance, and are some of the most friendly folk dancers in America. Experience one of the forgotten benefits of international folk dancing – the opportunity to meet exceptional individuals – and meet these.


The Society of Folk Dance Historians organized this, the first and utmost Bulgarian Performance Seminar, through Stefan and Valentine Marinov, directors of Folklore Ensemble GABROVO. Tatiana's father, Nikolay Kolev Nikolov arranged so many daily tours to folklore sites and visits with other ensembles that to even list them would be difficult. But overriding all were the hundreds of small kindnesses and facilitations from the ordinary people of central Bulgaria. We cannot thank them enough.


Bulgaria verges on its second cultural and economic renaissance through recent exposure to the world. We, the Society of Folk Dance Historians, record the traditional songs and dances of Bulgaria lest they be lost, and disseminate this knowledge in an atmosphere of total immersion.


Beyond preserving tradition, the Society enabled its dancers to give something back to Bulgaria. In addition to pumping thousands of dollars into the Gabrovian economy and creating international and interpersonal exchange, Society dancers delivered gifts to Gabrovian orphans and raised over five hundred dollars for Gabrovo's future Starčeski Dom (Senior Senior's Home). As Kathy said, "I appreciated being able to participate in supportive activities for the old folks home and the orphanage. Instead of this whole trip being just for me, me, me, we had a chance to do good for others." These projects now have dollar accounts in Gabrovo's First Private Bank. Never content with their accomplishments, members of the Seminar successfully lobbied Gabrovo's City Council to establish Starčeski Dom in the huge, modern abandoned Communist Youth Home overlooking Gabrovo. And our single greatest reward came from seeing the joy we ignited with our improvised concert at the Gabrovo Home for the Disabled.


Articles in recent folk dance periodicals suggest the demise of international folk dancing. Some blame splinter groups. Some blame shyness. Some blame intropection. They're all correct! No community can survive on a basis of self-gratification. If you want international folk dancing to survive, try dancing beyond yourself. Think of others when you dance. Help with the group you attend. Give to the countries you visit, instead of only taking.


1993 saw the utmost, but not ultimate, Bulgarian Seminar. The Society organized another two-week performance seminar with Ensemble GABROVO for June of 1994, as well as three two-week ethnographic tours to explore in depth the cultures of various regions of Bulgaria. You think you know a lot about "Bulgarian" folk dance? Good. You'll need it. But you learn more in two weeks than most Americans learn in a lifetime of folk dance workshops. And, you will be able to help us help Bulgaria. Our sixteen intrepid pioneeers have blazed the trail and it is for you to follow.


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