do they do it?
American-Statesman Arts Writer
Posted: Jan. 20, 2000
do otherwise normal Austinites rehearse up to five times a
week, for no pay, solely to demonstrate movements preserved
from a faraway culture? Just what's the allure of folk dance?
In preparation for Austin DanceFest, which showcases 40
area dance troupes at the Texas School for the Deaf Auditorium
next week, we delved into the other-worldly world of Austin
Lesson No. 1 for this arts critic: These guys are serious.
Many local folk troupes rehearse as often as Austin's ballet,
modern, postmodern and jazz companies, night after night after
completing a full day's work at their day jobs.
From our chats with these brave folksters, we learned a
good deal more about what pushes them into a life of scratchy
vinyl, costumes sewn from hundreds of ribbons, and an endless
swirl of jigs, reels, rants, hornpipes, arpas, marimbas, cs rd
s, verbunks, leg nyes, tangos, waltzes, horas, debkas, bombas,
plenas and seises.
Now we understand the attractions, at least better than we
did before. Let's look at them closer.
DANCE MANIA: It's been called the endorphin factor.
Once you start dancing, physical stress activates those
devilishly pleasurable hormones, and, before long, you are
addicted. Folk dancers can move for hours without asking for a
break. "I've always danced," said Nancy Penner of the Irish
Dance Company. "Then I became intrigued with Irish dance, got
hooked and can't stop," Just like long-distance runners, folk
dancers talk of a high achieved after hours of intense
rehearsals. "Believe, me, this is exercise!" said Mike Revesz
of the Cs rd s Hungarian Dancers.
SOCIAL MASSAGE: You read it right, massage, not
message. Folk dance brings people into close physical
proximity and weaves a common activity into their daily lives.
"We run a very close-knit company," said Eimer Ni
Mhaoileidigh, founder of the Irish Dance Company and
descendent of award-winning dancers. "We're carrying on a
family tradition," she said. In the world of folk dance,
there's always the chance you might find a life partner, or,
if you prefer, not. "Scottish dance is for women who don't
like some man leading them around the floor," said Sarah
Harrington of the Austin Scottish Country Dancers.
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: "Every dance is a new
adventure," said Holly Plotner of the Cs rd s Hungarian
Dancers. "The man leads, but after that, everything is
improvised." Dancer after dancer told me that their hearts
were totally engaged by their off-hours activity. "The music
touches me," said Gayle Rosenthal of the Israeli Folk Dancers.
"It's so ancient and modern at the same time. I feel it deep
inside me." And then there are those for whom the intellectual
stimulation is just as vital. "It appeals to engineers,
mathematicians and librarians," said David Houston of the
Austin Scottish Country Dancers. "People who deal in
linearity, who like structure, like Scottish dance."
CULTURAL ENHANCEMENT: "I grew up listening to Puerto
Rican music," said China Smith of the Puerto Rican Folkloric
Dancers, who spent most of her youth in Austin. "Later, I
found the dance (to be) so lively, colorful, diverse,
expressing my cultures in a way that's sensual and dramatic at
the same time." Whether an immigrant experiencing culture
shock in a new country, or a native Texan discovering hitherto
buried cultural affiliations, folk dancers tend to be
fascinated by something they can't get from television, movies
and pop music. It's a link to the past, a bond with deep
histories and ethnic associations. "I like to share my
culture," said Cathy Mendez of Roy Lozano's Ballet Folklorico
de Texas. "It's just so beautiful. I'm proud of my heritage."
Before you think that DanceFest is only about these
traditions, note that besides these folk troupes -- all slated
to perform -- the 40 represented companies will move their
bodies in just about every genre known to American dance. And
if you were surprised to learn that there are 40 Austin dance
groups, let me share this: DanceFest producer Chris Valentine
tells us that he has tracked down more than 70 area dance
Seventy! Obviously, a lot of local people love to dance,
perchance to dream.
You may contact Michael Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org
or at 445-3647.