HI! REMEMBER ME? Yorke
HI! REMEMBER ME? I was that round fella in seventh grade with my back against the gym wall while the "cool guys" actually danced with girls. Me, scared? Nah, just didn't want to show up those guys in spit-polished penny loafers and madras shirts complete with fruit loops.
That's all behind me now 'cause I'm a dancing fool these days. I'm doing steps that are foreign to nearly everybody but the boys on the Eastern Bloc desk at the State Department. Thanks to a couple of international folkdancing lessons, I'm now on familiar terms with the Nebesko Kolo from the Balkans; the Lakhana and Serenitsa, both Greek Pontic dances; not to mention the Bulgarian favorite, the Kopanitsa (Gankino). I'm also getting to know my two left feet better, and I've found that there are such things as calf muscles.
One thing you can bank on with international folkdancing is that almost nothing is familiar to someone from, say, Reston, Anacostia or New Carrollton. Particularly the varied rhythms -- 8/8, the faster 11/8 or the even more extraordinary measured time of 13/8. "The rhythms are different than most Americans are used to, except for maybe a jazz musician," says instructor Jamie Platt. "They're syncopated."
The only things stranger than the beat are the sounds and the instruments themselves. Show me one Michael Jackson song in which you can hear a gaida, a bagpipe of goatskin with a high-pitched whining sound popular in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Or how about the zurna, a Turkish reed instrument with an even higher pitch. Then of course there's the dumbek, a Middle Eastern drum; and stringed instruments such as Serbia's tambura and Greece's lyia that are sure to confuse your feet and ears. Even George Harrison stayed away from these sounds.
But that's part of the charm for those willing to pay Platt up to $3 per week to learn something out of the ordinary. One recent Thursday evening, a handful of beginners braved an ice storm and traveled to Foggy Bottom to hear Platt, a claims representative with the Social Security Administration, lead the way with "right, left, right, left, step, kick, one, two, three, step one, two, and three," all the while nodding his head with the beat -- and a "boom ba ba ba boom, ba ba ba boom."
One woman, whose childhood ballet lessons nearly sent her father to the poorhouse, picked up the steps almost immediately and eagerly awaited the next dance. Others were out of step but committed no serious infractions. Me, well, I stepped lightly on other people's and my own feet, was off balance on most of the key steps and spent a lot of time clapping out of synch. But it gets easier and better with a little effort and a lot of practice. It's fun, too. Don't get me wrong. It's not the same kind of fun as water skiing or mud wrestling, but it's a kick.
The second class comes a bit easier as the steps fall into place. "It's the kind of thing where everybody starts off as a klutz. I mean everybody!" says Platt as he attempts to ease a beginner's frustration. "I started off as a klutz." Platt insists that being successful at Balkan dancing is simply a matter of paying attention and putting in a little more practice: "None of the steps individually is very hard. However, it's putting them together -- that's like a foreign language. Then you're learning a whole new repertoire."
Nearly all of the dances Platt teaches -- he knows between 150 and 200, including some German and Scandinavian -- do not require partners per se. The class, which rarely exceeds 15 students, dances in a line and the line usually turns into a circle, eliminating the need to ask her for the Big Dance.
If only I'd known about Balkan folkdancing back in seventh grade . . .
DANCING FOLK TO FOLK -- Platt's Balkan-oriented international folkdancing classes are held Thursday evenings at St. Mary's Church, 730 23rd Street NW. 547-6419.
For a listing of folkdancing in the Washington area, call the Folklore Society of Greater