The teams have been practicing for weeks, working to recognize the songs for each and to master the complicated steps that subtly differentiate each one. Folk dances are accompanied by guitar, accordion, bagpipes, and sometimes even the haunting melodies of folk singers (yay my favorite!!).
The event began with an introduction from the school dance instructor, Stefka Ivanova, and a wonderfully adorable dance troupe of bouncing children.
Judges were introduced, bread with honey was passed around, and two students from my school sang to begin the festivities, while a third accompanied them on the guitar.
Kalina serves bread to a judge
Galena and Yuliana sing, while Birsefa makes a face like the devil
Each team wore matching outfits which in some way gave a nod to the costumes of old, when such dances were a regular part of Bulgarian life. Most of the groups were a mix of girls who participate on our school's folk dance team and their classmates who simply dance for fun and to uphold Bulgarian tradition.
The folk dance team is probably the most visible school activity at Ivan Bogorov. Schools here don't have the same established sports programs at every high school like they do in America. We have a volleyball team, but other than that, I think most sports groups are affiliated with the city. I could be wrong! Understanding how sports work here is more difficult than advanced level sudoku for me. The dance team practices every week in a special room on the first floor of our school. Every Wednesday, I hear music drifting through the halls as the girls gather to practice. They have been the spearheads of this event, and helped make it possible.
I give to you...THE COMPETITORS *ding ding*
The ladies of 9a and 9b
The upperclassmen, team one
The upperclassmen, team two
The ladies of 10a
8th grade superstars
The teachers! (forgive me)
Each team moved with such grace, poise, and spirit that it was hard for me to recognize which ones were superior to the others. I simply sat in awe for two hours as I watched everyone competing. Folk dance is moving and very, very emotional to watch.
I asked some of my students who are on the school team to tell me a bit more about their experiences dancing, and I hope you enjoying learning about their involvement as much as I did!
Milena (left) and Kalina (right) are two of my wonderful, spirited ninth grade students. Both girls grew up in a village outside of our city, called Dobrich, and began dancing there. They've been dancing together since they were 9 or 10 years old, for nearly six years!
Plamena (far right) is one of my talented tenth graders, and she has been dancing for 3 years.
So the big question. Why do you dance?
P- I love to dance Bulgarian folklore dances. So... in this way, we keep the Bulgarian spirit [alive], and--
M- Yeah, it's fun, we meet new people... and--
P- and it is good to know your history and your dances.
How many dances do you think you guys know?
P- like 30... 30
M- No no, noooo! 50
K- Yes 50, more than 30
S- So between 30 and 50?
M- Yes. Upwards!
Ok, Milena and Kalina, how many years have you girls been dancing?
K- Wait a minute...
M- From... 9 or 10 years old, in Dobrich.
K- Yes, since 5th grade. 5th grade or 4th grade, this is the first time we started it.
M- For six years.
S- and Plamena?
P- I have danced for three... three or four years.
Awesome. Which are your favorites?
K- The hardest ones are our favorites because once you get to know them, um--
M- You are feeling proud.
K- You are feeling proud that you know them, that you can dance this hard dance and--
P- There are... [similar] elements in many of them--
M- You feel so proud and... nice
K- Yeah and... usually they're the ones we enjoy the most, not only because they're the hardest, they just make us... happy, like when you dance break dances, you know, they are fast and there are so many moves. It's kind of the same as when you dance one hard [dance].
What does it feel like to do folk dancing, what does it feel like when you are all together in your costumes, when you're holding hands in front of a crowd. How do you feel?
M- You get emotional because... all the things... they--
P- It's very emotional. When you see all the people standing up-- and, applause...
M- and clapping, it's really cool.
Do you feel different when you do folk dancing than when you do other kinds of dancing?
M- Yes!! I... I can't dance! I can dance just... like... traditional Bulgarian dancing. I'm just like... *does the disco*
K- But she can twerk!
S- She can twerk?!
M- Yes! *laughter*
K- Just watch some videos!
P- And you can see, we are representing the beautiful girls of Bulgaria!
Why is it important for people your age to carry on traditions like folk dancing and singing, why is that important?
M- Because everybody just dances other dances and we are forgetting...
P- We are forgetting the Bulgarian spirit.
M- Bulgarians are forgetting their past, and their dances and their traditions, so--
K- We try to remind them what we really are--
P- What they are.
K- Yes, where we come from, what our traditions are.
Where do people normally do dances?
K- In the past, they danced every night when they'd gather--
M- Every night at the center.
S- Every night?!
M- Yes, young boys and girls would just meet and start dancing, singing...
K- And get to know each other.
S- How long ago?
M- Maybe, 100 years ago.
K- Yep. There is where they would meet their future wives or husbands, that's where they'd meet and get to know each other.
M- But now we dance just... at competitions or celebrations.
Anything else you want people to know about dancing?
K- They may seem very difficult to learn to dance, but they are really simple when you try to understand them, they are not that hard and difficult, you have to try it.
M- When you dance one dance right, when you do it, you feel... so so happy, I...I can't explain it to you.
K-Yes and they have to try it.
Last question. Do you want people in other countries to try Bulgarian dancing?
M- Yes, yes...and I'm sure they will love it. And, you, too!
* * *Subsequently, I learned two dances with the girls. And I do love it, I really really do. Dancing has always felt freeing, the action that makes me feel the most me. Learning the dances that my students and friends here cherish so fondly is an honor.
I'm always impressed when I see Bulgarians dancing, as it seems so effortless. I feel like I have tree stumps for feet when I try to join, in extreme contrast to their sprightly steps and confident posture. I know how I feel when I get one right- in sync with the rhythm and the group, a little less like an individual and more like a part of a pulsing, living something larger than myself- so I can only imagine how special it must feel to dance with your closest friends, representing your heritage. Horrah for horo!