“You dance with such light feet!”
This is what Elizabeth, a Tapestry dancer, said to Yuliyan Yordanov, the Bulgarian dance teacher who taught the annual fall weekend workshop at Tapestry Folkdance Center, September 28-30, 2012.
“Oh, maybe many years ago, but not now!” responded Yuli. Elizabeth also remarked that the smiling Yuli brought such an uplifting spirit to his teaching.
Yuli presented a series of traditional Bulgarian village dances, and shared recordings of the folk music and a printed syllabus of detailed descriptions of the dance steps. In addition, at our workshop’s traditional cultural hour after Saturday’s lunch, Yuli told us stories and showed pictures of his family history.
Yuli spent the first six years of his life in Doyrentsi, a small village in the Lovech region in north central Bulgaria. He showed us an end of World War II wedding picture of his maternal grandmother and grandfather. Another photo showed Yuli as a toddler with his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. A very observant Ceil Wirth pointed out that the pose of Yuli's mother in this picture was like the one Yuli models for his dances. It signifies a proud, dignified, and respectful attitude.
So, through his stories and photos, Yuli showed how his background led to his love for the traditional dances of his region and the decision to become a teacher. Showing us a 1969 photo of a brass band marching to the wedding of his parents, he reported that village brass band members were his childhood heroes, and that he took trumpet lessons from them. Remembering this story added depth of meaning to his teaching of Doyrenska Ruchenitsa, the line dance from his home town, that was accompanied by a brass band. The styling for this dance is "springy" with a basic motion of the Ruchenichna (three leaps). Though "most of the dance the arms are in a 'V' hold, the arms [swing]... forward on (1-2) and back on (3) of each measure." (Yuli's syllabus)
Yuli also fondly recollected a childhood memory of village wedding on the street, when the bride gave him a kiss. Another early recollection was of the time the wedding party came to take away his aunt to her wedding ceremony--and Yuli held the door shut because he didn't want them to take her away from him! In her old age, his aunt gave him some of her special personal possessions, in recognition of his lifelong loyalty to her. Others in his village also recalled his youthful enthusiasm for their ethnic dances. In one photo he showed of a recent visit to Bulgaria, an old woman in a little street is fondly presenting him with a bottle of the local wine. This woman was one of the babysitters who looked after him while his parents were away at work.
Another typical childhood photo showed Yuli, about four years old, with his brother and mother, and some colored Easter eggs. He recalled how his parents took the train each day to work in a factory producing Russian cars and bicycles. Like other village families, his family also kept goats, pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks, and a donkey, in a barn near their house. Yuli explained, however, that since his drunken grandfather was killed by a cow, his father did not keep a milk cow. Yuli reminisced about how he enjoyed sitting outside his house in late afternoon, waiting for the animals to come home.
When Yuli was 13, a Communist youth group came to the village to recruit dancers. But he didn't like the idea of being told when to dance. So he purposefully danced off-beat so that he would not be selected. However, a close friend of his was selected, and the friend convinced Yuli to join after all. So Yuli soon became hooked on dancing. Within months he was dancing solo, and he started touring when he was 16. He showed us a 1988 picture of his tour group.
The website, http://www.phantomranch.net/folkdanc/teachers/yordanov_y.htm, reports the following:
A graduate of the acclaimed Academy of Music and Dance Art in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, he worked professionally as a dance director, choreographer, and Bulgarian folk dance instructor beginning in 1993. He and his students participated in many concerts, celebrations, and international festivals throughout Bulgaria and the rest of Europe. In May 1995, they were selected to appear on Channel One of Bulgarian National Television in the folklore program "Slunchevo Kolelo" (Sun Wheel).
Since his 2001 move to the United States, Yuli has taught young people of Serbian and Bulgarian parentage in Milwaukee and Chicago. Ludina, a current dancer at Tapestry, was once a child student of his in the Milwaukee Bulgarian community. At workshops across the U.S., he has also been teaching adults.
Toward the end of his cultural presentation over our workshop's lunch break, Yuli showed us a film of his students performing in Lovech, Bulgaria. The performance included a fearless seven year old girl singing traditional Bulgarian folk songs as if she were an old pro. Then, another film showed the kids dancing line-dances just for fun, at a party at a hotel following the performance. One young boy winked at the camera. The dancing party continued with the adults, including Yuli and his brother, all having a good time until after midnight, according to the clock on the hotel wall. It was fun to see that some of the dance moves in the film were ones that Yuli had taught us that morning.
One of the dances he taught us was Beratis, a line dance from Northern Epirus, in today's Albania. This dance has a much different feel from the Bulgarian dances he taught us, which were full of quick bounces and quick movement along the line of direction. Beratis is slow, deliberate, subtle bouncing in place with the left leg lifting behind and back before finally crossing in front to make a slow progression in the line of direction. The dance is done to ancient instruments, a slow beating drum and wind instruments which sound like bagpipes.
One of the things Yuli stressed in his teaching was that there many variations to the basic moves in the dances. These variations, he explained, were the "spice" in the dance. He taught us many variations but emphasized that there were many others as well; and while dancing with us he would frequently show off some interesting variations that he had not had time to teach.
Ginka, a line dance from southwest Bulgaria, was one of the dances Yuli taught with several variations. In an open circle with hands in a 'V' hold, the dance begins with a bounce on the left foot and a step on the right, followed by a pause. Then the second measure is similar, except that the bounce is on the right and the step is with the left. In the 5th measure you turn "diagonally to L lift and move L in a circular motion around and behind R while bouncing subtly on R..." (Yuli's syllabus). This fifth measure is key: You can drop hands and turn in a complete circle, or you can make two complete circles instead of one. Another variation is to replace earlier measures with a jump ahead on two feet and then stepping back before performing measure five. And you may combine this variation with the other variations to measure five, with each dancer spontaneously dancing his or her own variations as the line continues to travel. This was the dance the students and the adults in Yuli's film danced as they snaked through the hotel's ballroom following the children's performance in Lovech.
Another of Yuli's dances which has become quite popular at Tapestry is Snoshti vecher Rade. "Styling is relaxed and subtle, no bouncing. Arms are in a W-hold. Moving slightly to R with small steps, facing center." (Yuli's syllabus) You would think this mesmerizing dance with only four measures would be easy. But some of the subtle moves are tricky and, just to make things interesting, there are three sudden stops in the dance when the singer stops singing. The song is about a young man who dreams about seeing the black eyes of his love, Rade. But when he wakes up, she is not there. Yuli indicated that the background of this story may be that the young man is a shepherd who wakes up to the black eyes of one of his sheep.
Yuli's personal stories and pictures, as well as the variations in the dance steps, added spice and interest to Yuli's dance instruction. Local and visiting dancers alike felt that his workshop was a very enjoyable and memorable Tapestry event. Equally important, beyond the workshop, Yuli's dances now have a new life at Tapestry. In a series of Friday night sessions led by Tapestry International Folkdance's own instructors, Dan Garvin, Mary Garvin, and Dennis Fritz, these beautiful dances were carefully reviewed and shared with other International dancers. Now they are regularly requested as part of the International Folkdance repertoire, and they will surely continue to enrich Tapestry's folkdance legacy in the Twin Cities and beyond.
--Ron Williams and Amy Hummel