Clad in traditional American dress representative of the pioneer and Old West eras, the International Folk Dance Ensemble performed for nearly 14,000 European audience members while on tour in Hungary, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. The group performed under the name of American Folk Dance Ensemble while participating in the Danube Carnival International Folk Festival in Budapest, Hungary, and the Zlatna Sopela International Festival in Porec, Croatia.
During the first leg of the tour in Hungary, the group had the unique experience of performing in the week-long Danube Carnival Festival. This festival was a life-changing experience for these BYU students, who, after having studied Hungarian dance, found themselves immersed in the heart of Hungarian dance culture, dancing with several of the best Hungarian groups.
Mixed into their busy performance schedule, the dancers attended a workshop taught by Miklos Teszary, director of the Bartok Ensemble. In the workshop Teszary helped the group improve styling, steps, and technique associated with the Hungarian town of Mekerehk. “This was very exciting for our students since one of our most popular dances for the men comes from this town,” said Ed Austin, artistic director for the group.
The folk dancers were equally impressed with the dedication and passion they witnessed at the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble’s rehearsal they were invited to attend. “I know that the technical expertise and discipline left a strong impression in their minds-–in fact the experience ‘blew them away,’?” said Austin.
Group member Tyler Walker related how the dancers came away from the experience with a goal to improve their own practices. “There was no down time at their rehearsals,” Walker said. “After watching this rehearsal, we resolved to be more dedicated, to be more enthusiastic, to be more engaged, and to be more respectful.”
This set of experiences in Budapest culminated with the group sharing the stage with the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and Duna Art Ensemble to perform “Szatmari,” a traditional Hungarian dance. The Hungarian groups wore their traditional costumes while the Americans donned cowboy hats and Western attire. The audience was enthralled with the bonding of cultures through dance.
As the group traveled to the Czech Republic, the opportunity to build friendships through dance took on a different character. Clogging has become a popular dance form in Central Europe, and the group was asked to teach a workshop on advanced clogging techniques. The best cloggers from 20 different groups from around the country traveled to the outskirts of Prague, eager to learn. Many of the groups brought video cameras so they could take back the choreography they learned to their respective groups. Folk Dance member Brian Watson said the dancers came excited to be taught and were reluctant to leave, wishing they could stay for more than just a few hours.
“They were great learners, and it was fun to see them have their light bulb moments when they figured out the steps,” Watson said. “Though we didn’t speak their language, we were able to cross our cultural boundaries through dancing.”
The folk dancers left Central Europe filled with inspiration, a renewed vigor for folk dance, and new friendships created through a mutual love of dance. Next year the group will share this passion with audiences in Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
Source: Performing Arts Management