Monday, 20 May 2013

Guest post: "The genuine 'Hungaricum'", by Angéla Hont (Hungary)

The event that definitely marked my first visit to Budapest was the dance-house experience. Seeing people of all ages, but mostly young people, enjoying their Saturday night playing, singing and dancing their folk music was something I had never seen before. It was the energy, the pleasure, the pride, the joy this experience involved that made it truly special. And also the possibility to be part of it, to be taken into the round dance, to try to pick up the steps and enjoy the party in the company of the locals. My friend and colleague Angéla Hont is passionate about her country´s folk culture. As Head of Marketing at the Hungarian Heritage House, she has the possibility to work for the promotion of this valuable heritage, both nationally and internationally (the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Wahsington this summer will be celebrating the Hungarian heritage and Angéla will be there). In this guest post she presents the dance-house movement and shares a bit of her passion with us. mv  

Photo: Hungarian Heritage House

I have been in the dance-house movement since the age of 6. It is natural for me that it is part of my professional life and leisure time; it charges me physically and spiritually. I am not the only one to live like this. Thousands of people in Budapest and all over Hungary, as well as in neighboring countries and the whole world (from Australia to South America) share this feeling.

But why could this be important for those who are not part of this subculture? For those who visit Hungary as tourists or come on a business trip? For those who are looking for genuine and unique features while exploring a new country? For those who like to identify a nation with things that are typical only to locals?

Ladies and Gentlemen, because this is Hungary’s unique specialty. All Hungarians can be proud of it and all foreigners can learn it. The dance-house and the resulting dance-house movement is a real Hungaricum.

Talking about Hungary and Hungarians to a foreigner, a number of stereotypes come up, form paprika to the spas, from the Nobel laureates to the view of the Danube with the Parliament, from the goulasch to the puszta, from the poppy-seed bread (mákos guba) to the most beautiful women in the world, from the palinka to the Herend porcelain, from Puskás to Bartók and to Imre Kertész. However, if we are honest to ourselves, we have to admit that, even though we think that these things, lives, and results are outstanding and worth telling the world, none of them is truly unique. Special buildings, food, manufactured goods, beautiful views and people can be found in almost every country; they are just called jalapeño, Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal, Ronaldo, Michelangelo, the Dead Sea or the porcelain of Meissen.

Before explaining why the dance-house is so special, let’s have a short overview of its history for the sake of those not familiar with this unique phenomenon.

The first dance-house was organized in Budapest on 6 May 1972 in the banquet hall of the Book Club on Liszt Ferenc Square, with the contribution of four folk dance ensembles and some professional ethnographers. It might look a rather meager result at first sight, given the multiple layers of our folk culture which were refined during centuries. Yet, it needs to be noted that all this could have not happened without the preceding almost one hundred years: from the first phonograph-recorded folk songs by Béla Vikár (1896), through the world famous oeuvres of Bartók and Kodály, the Gyöngyös Bokréta (Bouquet of Pearls; see here) movement in the 1930’s and 1940’s, to the folk dance research by György Martin and his colleagues. Finally, in the beginning of the 70s, a group of urban youth had the chance to participate in a so-called dance-house in Sic (Romania) and marvel at the special atmosphere of an authentic live music dancing party that is based on improvisation, yet strictly regulated. Wishing to share this experience with their friends, these young men organized the first dance-houses. Having been private events for political reasons at first, dance-houses opened to the public a year later. Since then, anyone could join the dance-houses in Budapest and, within a few years, all over the country. After a decade, the first National Dance-house Festival and Fair was organized (1982) as the parade of folk music, folk dance and handicraft. In order to maintain the high standards and an adequately wide repertory, folk music and dance research increased. Ever since the political changes in 1989, even the most remote villages in the Carpathian Basin can offer the chance to meet elderly residents who did not grow up under the effects of globalization. Folk dance groups boomed, its members spreading in more and more regions. So much so that, by now, dance styles are not only distinguished by regions but by villages or even by their authentic performers.

Folk music education got a huge impetus as well, since dance-houses needed musicians and folk music bands who were able to play the music of several regions all night long. Nowadays, folk music and dance can be learned from elementary school to university level. Dozens of folk music camps offer the possibility to be immersed in the music, handicraft heritage and dances of specific regions (according to the webpage of dance-house Guild, there is a selection of about 60 Hungarian folk art camps available in 2013.) In due course, various institutions and organizations were created all over the country in association to the dance-house movement (e.g. Folk Dance Resource Centre, 1981; Union of Hungarian Folk Art Associations, 1985; “Heritage” Children’s Folk Art Association, 1990). In 2001, the Hungarian Heritage House was founded as the background institution of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture. The community building potential of dance-houses is well proven by the fact that today different generations gather in pubs and cultural centers where Hungarian dance-houses are regularly held, not just in Budapest, but all over Hungary. Moreover, dance-houses are held all over the Carpathian Basin as well as in Japan, USA, Australia, or England.

Before the movement is stigmatized as nationalist, it has to be noted that other ethnic groups living in  Hungary (e.g. Southern Slavs, Greeks, Bulgarians) soon took over this appealing method and started to organize their own dance-houses. Hungarian dance-houses, on the other hand, feature the Hungarian verbunk of Szatmár region, but also ethnic Romanian dances from Méhkerék, Southeastern Hungary, the csángó round dances from Moldova, or Gypsy dances from Nagyecsed.

The dance-house and the dance-house-method built on it – the method of applying rural heritage in the 21th century society – has been a success; other countries have taken over this practice of Hungarian culture and it also served as a model for the Slovak dance-house movement. The Hungarian dance-house method is part of the UNESCO Register of Best Safeguarding Practices of Intangible Cultural Heritage, thus serving as a role model for other nations to preserve their own cultural heritage in a modern world.

Photo: Hungarian heritage House
And what is a dance-house after all? Dance-house is a cultural space where professionals and beginners, older and younger alike have the chance to dance authentic dances to live folk music and to party together in the way of their ancestors, varying steps which were refined from generation to generation, evolved in a strictly regulated folk culture but always shaped to the individual. Those who don’t know these dances should not be afraid as, in a real dance-house, a dance teacher can be found teaching the steps for beginners so that in a short time they will be able to form their own dance from these steps.

Nowadays, when anywhere in the world children are watching the same animation movies, teenagers are adoring the same pop stars, listening to the same hits, young (and less young) women are searching for inspiration in the same fashion magazines and considering the same top models as their ideals, peolpe are reading the same books and watching the same films, it is an especially great achievement that there are some places where youth in jeans are having fun to their own music and dance with their heart.

I wish that if you come to Hungary you can take this experience and feeling home with you!

Angéla Hont works at the Hungarian Heritage House, a governmental cultural institute founded in 2001 with the purpose of cultivating and promoting the folk tradition of the Carpathian Basin. As Head of Marketing and Sales, she is in charge of establishing institutional co-operations, managing a great variety of programmes and marketing activities. She has also assisted in the preparation of press releases, managing public relations, and developing programme policies for Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, as well as the auxiliary activities of the Theatre. She is the Founder and Secretary of the Association of the Hungarian Heritage House’s Circle of Friends. She holds a Master’s degree in International Studies with a diplomacy major from the Corvinus University of Budapest (formerly known as the Budapest University of Economy) and a Master’s degree in Ethnography from the Eötvös Lorand University. At the age of 6, she started dancing in Bihari János Folk Dance Ensemble, one of the highest-ranking non-professional folk dance groups of Hungary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am Slovakian and this article really resonate with me. We have common dance and culture for sure. Great article. Thanks. Monik