I fell in love with international folk dancing in 1972 in New York City. It was relatively easy for me to learn the steps and I found I had the necessary coordination, alacrity and stamina to quickly progress into a strong dancer. While dancing 2-3 nights a week I auditioned for and was accepted (1978) into the George Tomov Yugoslav Folk Dance Ensemble, led by the energetic, diminutive and ever-cheerful George Tomov, who had danced professionally in Yugoslavia. The “Troupe” performed by invitation at various events in the Northeast and East, including numerous smaller festivals, the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y. and Carnegie Hall.
The Troupe showcased dances from the various regions of Yugoslavia, including Macedonia (George’s origin), Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, and one American Suite, which included Appalachian clogging and Kentucky running steps. Rehearsals were twice a week, 4 hours each rehearsal. These rehearsals were rigorous – and fun . Although I no longer recall what I was seeking when I joined, what I gained from my 2½ years of intensive participation was much more than I ever could have imagined.
Foremost in my sentimental memories is the camaraderie. Sharing what we loved in an atmosphere of cheerfulness, dedication and hard work created bonds that exist to this day. Via email, I am kept apprised of various happenings (both glad and sad) of “Tomovites” and I knew about, and attended, both George’s joyous 70 th birthday celebration in 2003 and an enthusiastic party for celebrated Gypsy singer, Esma, in 2004 (both with Michael Ginsburg and his brass band). Also, two long-standing close friendships had their origins in the Troupe.
Secondly is my gratitude for having had the opportunity to both enjoy, and share with others via performances, the uniqueness, strength and variety that was “Yugoslav” dance. To be led by a consummate professional of boundless energy, good humor and graciousness enriched this cultural experience manyfold.
Although initially “foreign” to my ears and feet, I came to appreciate and love the challenging rhythms and the often haunting music and songs. The ubiquitous “droning”, in both music and song, is now familiar, comfortable and rich to my ears. As my taste expanded to include and welcome these differences so, too, did my awareness and appreciation for the culture and history that created this music and dance.
And how I came to appreciate the details that make dancing beautiful to watch. Into every movement we learned was the awareness of “carriage”, how we held our bodies, heads, arms and legs and how we danced (was it a dance of pride and dignity or playfulness). Of course, always we were taught to aim for authentic Yugoslav styling (to my eye, precise and often “angular” or “sharp”) and top notch performance standards. Examples are: awareness of and experience in “placement” in relation to dancers on either side of us and also those in front and behind, and included adjustments as needed to maintain appropriate spacing; maintaining straight lines; cooperation with and adaptation to dancers on all sides (tall/short, strong/gentle, on beat/off beat, etc.); consistency of movements so all like steps really are alike; and ensuring “flow” of movement of individual dancers and lines/circles. These attributes are second nature to well-trained dancers and look effortless.
Woven into the very fabric of our studies was some Yugoslav history, culture and political challenges. The highlight of my time in the Troupe was our trip to Yugoslavia in 1979, before then-President Tito died and the resulting ethnic upheaval began. I am all the more sad at the tragedy that has since unfolded and ever more grateful for my joyous experiences with the Tomov Ensemble.