Israeli Folk Dancing:
A View from Inside the Circle
by Gloria Bilchik
Israeli folk dancing is like DNA. It has a few components and a million combinations. Almost everything boils down to four steps: mayims (grapevines to international folkies and country line-dance aficionados); debkas (bouncy heel-steps); yemenites (three-count combos); and cherkaziyas (forward-and-back steps that are easier to do than to spell). The words and music range from patriotic, political and militaristic to romantically schmaltzy and just plain silly.
Choreographer-sadists keep making these dances more complex. Only lifelong addicts know all 2,000+ in the burgeoning repertoire. Some folk purists object to contemporary Israeli dances, because the choreography shows. But everyone sweats to the oldies, because they evoke that idealistic, founding-pioneer spirit. Newer editions reflect Israel’s cultural potpourri, spiced with Arabic, Yemenite, Russian, American and Latin rhythms and moves.
Israelis have elevated folk dancing to a national sport, complete with hero worship for the sexiest choreographers. In Israel you can dance every night. At some sessions, a foot count of 800 is considered a so-so turnout. Some dancers come dressed to kill and looking for love.
There’s also a big Israeli dance network here in the U.S. The seriously obsessed, with nothing else to do and a big budget for airfare, can dance across America and attend weekend workshops year-round.
One thing you learn right away is that Israeli folk dancing is not for the aerobically challenged. Israeli folk dancing etiquette (now there’s an oxymoron) calls for neophytes and klutzes to dance at the outskirts of the circle. Otherwise, there are few restrictions. Bottom line: to make it in Israeli dancing, you don’t have to be Jewish, and you don’t have to take sides on Middle Eastern politics. Just stick with it, give yourself permission to stumble, and wear cotton.
Israeli Folk Dancing’s Spring Workshop will be Saturday/Sunday, March 22-23, at the JCCA, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. Call for fees and information: Gloria Bilchik, 569-1333. Regular sessions—open to dancers of all levels—are Thursdays, 8-10:30 p.m. at the JCCA.
See Israeli listing.
Another Wild Oats Dance!
Belly Dancing at Wild Oats! Head on over to Wild Oats natural food store in Ladue on Friday, April 4 from 7-9 pm for another in a series of jointly sponsored FolkFire/Wild Oats events that promises to be fun, fun, fun! Admission is $5 for a whole evening of Middle Eastern belly dancing by the Aalim Dance Academy (see description of the company on page 7), one of FolkFire's friendliest and most helpful dance company members.
Aalim will both perform dances and demonstrate how many of the moves are done. You can even get up yourself and try some of them -- or just come to watch. Wild Oats will provide free beverages and snacks with a Middle Eastern flavor. The event is a benefit for the Aalim company as well as FolkFire and Wild Oats' other community programs. It takes place in the Community Room at 8823 Ladue Road, one block east of I-170. Thanks once again to Wild Oats for sponsoring their wonderful series with us. Come on down for a fun evening!
See Aalim's Listing
English Ball Season is Here
by Jeff Sadler
I’ve been involved with English Country Dance nationally for the last 5 years. One thing I really enjoy is the crown jewel of English Country events: The English Country Ball. This is English Dance in its ultimate setting. The Ball allows the attendees to feel like a “million bucks” (inflation adjusted of course), and dance to beautiful music performed by “The Speckled Band.” Preparations for our ball in the Spring are underway in earnest. Many of the dances selected for this year will have a very modern flair (and flow!) to them.
Our event does not require wearing period clothing, but most participants feel like dressing up a bit to get in the mood. In order to enjoy the ball at its fullest we recommend that a dancer attend our Monday night dances as much as possible through the month of April. The first Monday dance workshop will be dedicated to dances for the ball, while the second and fourth Monday nights will be a mix of regular and ball dances. These events should give the dancer a working knowledge of the dances we will be doing. We will also be doing a dance review the afternoon before the ball.
Our ball this Spring will be held on May 10 at the Just Dancing studio, so keep an eye out for the flier, which will be available soon. We hope to see you there and at our regular evening dances!
English Country Dancers
In Step With Morris Dance
by John M. Ramsay
English Morris dance has roots in prehistoric ceremonies. The primitive origins may be seen in the stamping on the earth, leaping from it, and jangling bells to awaken nature in celebration of the fertility of springtime. Large white handkerchiefs may have been used to chase off the cold, dark spirits of wintertime. Morris, as we know it today, also has dramatic characteristics added during the Crusades; staves and swords from a time when those were the weapons of combat, costumes from 18th century military drill, and popular tunes from all historic ages.
Morris is vigorous, requiring strength and stamina. It is as useful today to keep the body fit as it was in Shakespeare’s time, when Will Kemp, one of the bard’s lead actors, danced from London to Norwich as a nine day publicity stunt. Many doubted that he could complete the route. Not only did Kemp prevail, but a girl joined him for part of the way as well, to prove that women were also capable of Morris.
Morris and the Matachin, its Spanish counterpart, were brought to the New World as early as the 16th century. The Morris disappeared with the team on board the Golden Hind in Hudson’s Bay but native Americans in the Southwest and in Mexico still dance the Matachin. The 100+ active North American Morris teams today date back to the visit to America by Cecil Sharp, English folksong and dance revivalist. Sharp gave classes in St. Louis to over 1,000 students in March and April, 1916. However, the Capering Roisters, St. Louis’ resident team, was not formed until 1983.
Morris dance practices are open to anyone at any time. However, practices must be attended regularly to reach performance level proficiency as either a dancer or a musician. Currently there are no membership fees, and when dancers reach proficiency they are supplied with a costume kit.
The group usually meets on Wednesdays, 8:00 pm, at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on Bruno Street, one block west of McCausland and one block north of Manchester. Contact Foreman John Long at 647-1804 for more information.
Also stay tuned for information about the Capering Roisters May Day celebration starting before dawn.
See the Morris Dancers Listing
FolkFire Board Nomination Time
FolkFire is holding its annual election for the board of directors in June. Ballots with a list of candidates will run in the next issue. Being on the board of directors takes a lot of hard work; we welcome your participation. If you wish to be a candidate, you must submit your name and a brief description of the functions you would like to perform by March 31. You may nominate yourself, or someone else with their permission. Submissions may be by mail to FolkFire / 2920 Shenandoah / St Louis, MO 63104, or call Dan at 771-7619 (# disconnected in 4/2002) or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No write-ins at election time will be accepted. The actual ballot will appear in the next issue of FolkFire.
The Current Board consists of Dan Klarmann, Andrew Limanni, Mark Silverstein, and Kevin Keach. There are several others serving on editorial and marketing commitees who do not attend board meetings, but do much of the actual production work. If you are interested in this sort of arrangement, please call Dan or any of the other volunteers listed in the mission box on page 2.
The Amidons are Coming
by Elliott Ribner
Twenty years ago, when I shared a flat with him in Cambridge, folks in Boston had a game — give Peter Amidon an unfamiliar musical instrument and see how long it would take him to play a dance tune on it. He would think, he would frown, he would mull. Ten minutes later out would come a tune — from concertinas, from rebecs, from Afghani flutes or Bulgarian unpronounceables. If Peter saw it he could play it — and play it well. And in another ten minutes his wife Mary Alice would have a song to go with it. And if you waited another minute or two, you would hear three-part harmony. (Peter would sing one and play another!)
While I moved to the Midwest, Peter and Mary Alice moved to Vermont, where they raised two Amidon-type children, Sam and Stefan. They are just as talented as their parents, so naturally the Amidons brought the kids into the act for four-part harmonies and formed a contradance unit. (Sam is known throughout New England as a consummate contra fiddler and his daddy is renowned for his calling.)
The Amidons are phenomenal musicians; they are also great fun. They sing songs from all over the world, play parties from the Georgia Sea Islands, gospel songs from North Carolina, sea chanteys from New England, shape-note hymns from Alabama, freedom songs from South Africa, children’s songs, British ballads — and they tell stories from all over, too. Get the idea? Anything can happen at an Amidon Family concert!
Jay Unger describes Sam and Stefan Amidon as -- incredible musicians that I’ve been proud to share the stage with. Their playing is full of energy, taste and a great sense of musical fun! We won’t even talk about their ages...” (but I will — Sam is now 14 and Stefan is 11). Pete Seeger was pretty impressed with Peter, too: “I’ve known shape-note singing for 55 years ... but I never was part of such a large gang so expertly led.
Though the Amidon Family is well known in New England, they don’t travel all that much (except for touring Europe last year with Larry Gordon and The Village Harmony Chorus!). So when I found out they were driving to Kansas on their first nation-wide tour, I implored them to drop by St. Louis. A few phone calls later they were set up with a concert and a community dance.
If Dave and Cathy make you smile, and if the Grace Family make you want to get up and dance, I promise you will be dancing and smiling at these two Amidon Family events: a concert on Thursday, February 27th and a family-friendly contra dance and potluck dinner at Taproots on Friday, February 28th.
Allons Danser: Cajun and Zydeco Music & Dance
by Donna Eckberg
If you’ve been to southern Louisiana, then you’ve experienced a unique culture which is filled with music and dance. Cajun and Zydeco bands are touring the world and spreading the gospel of “Laissez les bon temps roulez!” (Let the good times roll!) Many cities are hosting dances featuring Louisiana-style music, and dancers are networking on the nation’s computer lines. (I’m often asked if I have E-mail or Internet access.) Many have taken on the mission of spreading the gospel.
Cajun and Zydeco music is infectious. Played on accordian, fiddle, ‘tit fer (little iron or triangle) or frottoir (washboard), the music sends body and feet into motion. The music has also become a commercial success, winning Grammies, accompanying television advertising, the Superbowl and even the Compton Heights Concert Band (Buckwheat Zydeco). It is firmly rooted in French music brought from Acadia, with American music styles incorporated along the way. One can detect elements of old time, Irish, bluegrass, western swing, country, big band, rhythm and blues, pop and rock music. We can be grateful to the 1960’s folk revival for bringing Cajun music and language back to life from a culture once repressed. The Acadians had been forced to integrate into the American mainstream and were punished for speaking “French” in school. The term Cajun was derived from the word Acadian to name these resourceful refugees from Nova Scotia.
Cajun music was played by members of rural farm communities at house parties for everyone’s dancing pleasure. The dance parties were called “Fais Do Do’s” after the term used by mothers urging children to “go night night” in the nursery area, so they could enjoy the dance. The dances gave people a release from hard work and the chance to socialize.
Cajun dance forms are simple, danced in couples moving around the dance floor in a counter clockwise circle. The Cajun two-step is similar to the polka. Danced on the beat to 4/4 time, stepping on beats one, two and three, with a pause, tap or brush of the foot on four. This sounds simple enough until you try it with the lively Cajun two-steps or “specials.” You suddenly find it takes some practice to keep pace with the music. Two-steps are alternated with waltzes, the other staple of Cajun dance. The waltz is the standard three steps to three beats of music. The style is smooth and elegant; nothing fancy. The recent revival of Cajun music also intruduced a new dance style called the Cajun jitterbug or jig. This incorporates a stepping and bobbing body movement with arm movements borrowed from swing dancing. It is this showy style that has attracted many converts to Cajun dance.
Zydeco music and dance evolved in the African-American culture out of the same Acadian traditions. The term is thought to come from the French saying “les haricots ne sont pas sale” which means “the snap beans are not salty,” a sign of hard times when salt was a luxury item. Clifton Chenier added that it’s Zydeco “because the music is snappy.” Early black music was often made without instruments. Feet or hands could be used to create a rhythm. Two spoons, sticks or a washboard could get a party going. When instruments became available, players le