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Performance Folk Dance



Welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm Morgan Roe, founder of the Zeitgeist Academy. Every episode here on Zeitgeist Radio, I speak with someone from a unique musical subculture looking to understand their relationship with music. Zeitgeist means spirit of the times. Imagine all the things that make this moment feel different from other times.

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Morgan: My guest today is Anastasia Verdoliak, a folk dance performer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Stacia, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio.

Anastasia: Thank you very much, Morgan. I'm so glad to be here.

Morgan: I'm so excited to talk to you about folk dancing. You and I have known each other all through college. We went to college together, and we've known each other in a lot of musical settings.

But I haven't seen you dance folk dance. And that's something that you're also really into. So let's start with, can you give everyone a brief intro of who you are? Musically, how would you say it?

Anastasia: Well, I took piano when I was little. My mom was a piano teacher, you know, forced into that. I enjoyed it though.

I then did public school, orchestra, learned violin at a public school. I want to emphasize that. And now I. Direct the high school orchestra. So I followed in that tradition and through college had wonderful pedagogues there and met some people for life. That is the short version. But I now also perform in a Transylvanian folk band.

As a fiddle

Morgan: player. So that's awesome. Long and short of it. We could do another episode on that. That sounds very interesting. What about as a folk dancer? What was your first experience folk dancing and how did you fall into that?

Anastasia: It's hard to pinpoint it as I was thinking through this. I was friends with, well, we had family, family friends growing up and the uncle basically of the person I knew directed this ensemble.

And so we would often be invited to go to the performances. And at some point when I moved to St. Paul to go to college, then I was invited to be an usher because then I could go for free, you know, for a college student. And so I would see these different performances and then they always. Asked, you know, well, you were in ballet growing up and your last name is Croatian.

I mean, you should join and they do a lot of Balkan dances. We'll talk about later probably. And I. Said I'm too busy. So eventually post masters, I, I did join, but you know, tapestry folk dance center was another place I did a couple of times in college. And I remember just being really intrigued by the line dancing and the different footwork and the music.

So again, hard to pinpoint.

Morgan: Yeah, I, I went to some dances there, some contra dances at Tapestry. That is a great hall, a great center resource in St. Paul, how fun. Nice. So yes, you brought up Balkan. Is that the main, so did I understand right? That you were doing that before the Balkan style

Anastasia: before?

I guess I had been introduced to it, but I never danced it myself beyond just a couple times a tapestry and then kind of post college post all sorts of schooling. Then when I joined ethnic dance theater, which is the, the. group that I had seen all through my life then that's when I really got into that.

And that's a large portion of what Ethnic Dance Theater does, although the reason that it has that name and now you know, these days it might have a different connotation, but the idea of the title of it was that the group does all sorts of dance. But well versed in Balkan dance, and that, that has to do with Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, kind of the, the Balkan peninsula region, of course.

Yeah, let's

Morgan: talk about that a little bit. So where, so you mentioned some countries, what differentiates that from other specific

Anastasia: styles? From my Perspective is it as a dancer and not as one who has specifically studied it or gone to the region for that. But for me, the things that I think maybe a person who's coming to a performance might pick out is a lot of line dancing.

So, as opposed to partner dancing, where I would say Croatia is the one where you might see. Some partner dancing as well. It's a little bit more Western influenced. But a lot of the, the Balkan region, you'll see some kind of attachment to the person next to you. And in a long line, it might be a mixed line.

It might be just women, just men. It depends on the music and the style and the region and what is appropriate. You might see. For example, we did a Bosnian piece that we had to use scarves because the men weren't supposed to touch the women, so then you both just held on to the scarf of the person next to you.

There was another one, Macedonian, where the scarf was a signifier of the line leader, so the person who might be setting what the footwork might be, which also might be dictated by whatever this person is doing. The musicians are playing but they also might do a little solo at the front and twirl around and come back to the line and things like that.

So a lot of line dancing, a lot of coins not that that isn't something present in other cultures, but for example, the Bulgarian pieces that I've always done or North Bulgarian or that I've done have always had some kind of coin necklace or, coins, you know, built into the costume in some way so that when you do the bouncing or any kind of leaping, it makes more sound that, you know, shows off whatever wealth you might have as well.

So so those are just a couple of, of things there. There are all sorts of mixed meters that might happen in the music. Seven, eight times is kind of one that Westerners can get into a little more and understand. But there are all sorts of Wild mixed meters. There's also the influence of the Ottoman Empire and Turkic influence of the nine, whether it's 9 8 or whatever, something in nine also kind of gets woven into that area, kind of the, on one edge of the Balkan Peninsula.

So, yeah, so mixed meter, costuming And then the line dancing was what I would say look for.

Morgan: Nice. Wow. This, you mentioned so many things. I, I have had some exposure to folk dancing both through my husband and then also some friends that we have, I've encountered. I've been to a couple like social folk dances as well.

I find them very intimidating because like you just learn by doing and you have to, Pay such close attention. So can you talk a little bit about what you what your process was learning this and learning all of those steps to the point where you could perform them?

Anastasia: Sure.

I think I'd having a ballet background that was both a blessing and a curse in that I had an idea of how to approach what my body might be doing, or I had some kind of coordination.

I had a sense of the pulse and what to listen for in the music. And at the same time, ballet is very. Up and you want them to look like you're floating. Folk dance is often very earthy and I really had to learn to use my knees in a different way. So having the sense of how to approach dance in general was helpful, but then It was just a lot of practice.

I mean, it was that idea of the practice room, except for the practice room for dancers is luckily you get to be with each other, but then also other people get to see you mess up as you're practicing. And a lot of feedback in the moment every time by the director or other dancers who are more versed.

So for me, once I auditioned and they thought, okay, well, you can obviously keep a sense of the beat and you've danced before, but we have some things we have to work on, but they allowed me to come in and kind of. slowly introduced me to different choreographies. And by the first show I think I was a little bit thrown into the fire a little in some ways, but in other ways, it was good for me to have to learn by doing in the, those nine months.

So but yes, it, it was a lot of, Drawing on my background, but then trying to coordinate what is different about each style and the good thing about having a little bit different background than maybe some of the folk dancers who came in, which is also a great background to have, like, in our group, we have people from the Czech and Slovak group in town Hungarian group, the Bavarian group, Polish, Ukrainian, missing some, but yeah, so we have people who want to do something more than perhaps just the, you know, Culture in which they're performing with or attached to and so we have people with all sorts of influences.

And for me, I sort of a Clean slate in some ways beyond the ballet. When I was like, I don't really know how to book dance. So I, I really enjoy watching it and I've seen, you know, gone to tapestry twice, but that was about it. So I, in some ways was able to say, okay, there are different styles. We're doing Macedonian.

We're also then doing Costa Rican. We're doing, you know, just such vastly different things going on there. And how to. Change the way that you either have your hands or just the movement that you have, is it aggressive? Is it lighter? Anyway, so I think that having a clean slate in some ways was, was good because we do such vastly different styles as well.

Morgan: Yeah, and I can't wait to get into some of those other ones too, but I have a couple more questions about the Balkan. That was really interesting that you said that the 7, 8 or the 9 meters are more accessible to People who aren't familiar with it. To me, seven, eight is like, not a super usual thing.

Like, if I think beginner friendly, it's not the first thing my brain goes to is seven.

Anastasia: I would say relatively speaking. Yeah. Yeah.

Morgan: Well, but can you, can you elaborate on that a little bit? Like what, what are the, some other meters that you might see then if that, if that's the easy one,

Anastasia: Well, okay. So, and I think part of it is just knowing how to break it down or that you're not even counting it out as a dancer often, although it helps to have that musical background and our director often tries to help us pick out what the musicians are doing, whether it's a recording or musicians we're working for with or so but it's the strong and the weak beats are often how we might group them.

And so, and is it a 3, 2, 2, is it 2, 3, 2? You know, et cetera, et cetera. And then where's the strong beat? Where do you hear the bass and or the percussion? Whatever might be the percussion section and holding that together. Yeah. So what to listen to with the strong beat and weak beat and how to group, group the meter because it's, it's not that you're thinking 1, every time.

But as a dancer, you have to know where your step needs to land. And is this going to be the longer landing? Or is this going to be the shorter landing of the 2, 2? Yeah. And is it a hop? Is it a skip? Is it a jump? And yeah, so I think being able to have that small basis of where's the strong beat and then how to group them is the main thing.

But yes, it does sound beyond intriguing if you're thinking, how do I dance to that? Because usually three, four, you know, you're the waltzing or you're doing a polka. And those are pretty standard as well. When we do certain other suites, like a Polish suite or Bavarian or even Croatian, we'll bring those in.

And that's, More, we're, we're more well versed in Western culture with those kinds of,

Morgan: yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's funny. Cause I think most people, when they hear the word line dancing, they picture like a country bar with cowboy boots coming on. That's not what we're talking about people.

Anastasia: It's like you're attached in a line.

Somehow you're holding on someone to the belt next to you or whatever. Yeah. So different.

Morgan: Interesting. I've, I've been to ones where you hold pinkies.

Anastasia: Okay. Yeah. Probably another version or behind. Is it a back basket as we unofficially call it, you know, is that you're putting your hands behind or just holding hands?

Yeah. There are many ways you can attach themselves and it's, it's folk dance. So, I mean, it's meant for the people. It's meant the people from the villages and everyone was able to do it. So whatever we've interpreted since then is, is a version of that, but everyone's connected. And I think that's, that's part of the whole idea.

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. So. Talk about costumes for a little bit. So with your, do you change costumes for every single dance? Like when you're changing regions, like you've already mentioned several your costumes look beautiful by the way. I love looking at pictures on Facebook. They're really good. Do you change in between or do you do like a separate?

Set that's all Balkan and then go change or how does that work? Oh,

Anastasia: that's a great question. So it we do change for every different region, but we often will do a suite. So a dance of dances and pieces. So you know, the music will change site slightly and we'll do three different types of dance, but it'll be from that same region.

And so it'll build in or incorporate different. Yeah, the different meters or, or how the different melodies fast, slow, medium, you know, tempo and so you can kind of get a smattering of what that region might hold. And then after that suite might is done, then in a, in a show where we have live musicians, at least we'll have, you know built in orchestra sets, or you'll have the people who worked in that piece then be in the next one because they're able to have their costumes on already.

So with our, our biggest suites where almost everyone is in it, then we have to have an orchestra set in between so we can all go change and get ready for the next one. So this 50th anniversary show that's coming up is going to be a marathon of, of doing that. And then, It's carefully crafted so that whatever is the opening and closing number of each set before and after intermission, then there's time to change whatever it is that you need them to.

But yes, every time, I mean, it's, it's the socks. I mean, it's, it's all the way down to what color tights we're wearing for the, for the women what socks, what shoe footwear, or do we own those shoes or are those ones that we have to get from the, the storage and, you know, whatnot. Yeah, whatever kind of dress it is, it often has some kind of apron and some kind of headgear and some kind of jewelry that's different for each one.

So yeah, that's the short version.

Morgan: Yeah, sounds like a lot to get changed in the middle of a performance. Wow. That's so cool. Is Balkan are all of these, I guess, let's set the stage. Is it true that all of these the dances are per song. So like a song comes on and you know, immediately what the footwork is or how does that work?

Like, how do you know? Cause I know some folk dances, like. Like the name of the dance is the name of the song, like the Macarena would be an example. Other people are familiar, like if the Macarena comes on, you dance the Macarena. You don't typically dance the Macarena to other songs. Is folk, is the stuff that you do like that or is it different?

Anastasia: Not quite in that We do choreographed pieces. So if we were, but if we were to be at just a dance with a folk band or whatnot, like at somewhere at tapestry, or we've gone to Milwaukee to Serbian church that puts on this big international festival. And at night, then they bring in the band and then people just.

Do the line dancing, the Serbian line dance, but like each kolo or dance or yeah, as they call dances, there might have a slightly different melody or whatnot that will tell you something about what the folk work can be. But then there also is some variation and how people might interpret it. Some people are really hard and fast rules, but this is.

This music says that this is what it is but if you do go to an actual dance, it might be that somebody's leading and mixing different things. And maybe they do or don't know. And so they'll maybe do a Bulgarian step to a Serbian, you know, piece. And that's fine too. That's I, I, I wouldn't know at this point.

I know some, but some people are very well versed in that. So For us, because it's choreographed, we learn a lot about what it could have been, should have been, whoever studied it and did the choreography wants it to be and wants to present the spirit of it to the audience. And so through that, then we can get an idea of, If I were to go to then a Balkan party sometimes they've had a Bulgarian March, beginning of March is kind of, you know, the springtime party.

And so they've had ones here in St. Paul, Minneapolis, pre COVID at least. And so, yeah, when something came on, it was like, Oh, we, I remember that melody from whatever choreography we did. And it makes sense because it has this bouncing tune and we do a little hop. We hear, et cetera, et cetera. So there are ways you can pick things out, but often you know, For our group, at least, it's choreographed.

Morgan: Who does that choreography?

Anastasia: Largely, the director. And so, Donald, of course, is a founding director, along with sadly deceased Jonathan Frye. They co founded it together. And he's, so Donald is still directing. And then co director now, Matthew, of course is also doing some of the choreographies.

And Other people throughout our history have contributed or we've pulled from other choreographies found either. Through connections or had people come in a workshop with us. So, our upcoming show, our 50th show, Golden Memories, is what it's called. It's a long time to have a founding director still be directing, by the way.

So, it's amazing. Don is Quite amazing. So all the choreographies are all the pieces we're doing have something to do with a choreographer who is either a director or a former director or a former current dancer in the company. So we have some really interesting or an interesting mix of what we'll be doing that there's a Franconian piece, which is a region in.

Germany, I'll say, for purposes of this. And Anne von Bibera is a professor at St. Olaf of Dance, and so she went there, studied. Came back, made a choreography. It's been in our canon for a while. We're pulling that out to do. It's a really fun one. There's Eva Kish, who is part of the Minnesota Hungarian community, basically, and she did a Moldvai or Hungarian piece that we also just recently pulled out in the last year and kind of revamped.

And so she's given some feedback. She's come and actually watched it and give us feedback. Give us feedback on that and et cetera. So we have, we have people who are still connected, who are trying to do their choreographies for this 50th show.

Morgan: That's awesome. So you've mentioned all these other communities.

So like the Hungarian community, the, the Bulgarian community, do these each all exist like separately or are, do they all come together in your true? Like how, what is the community like when you refer to the community?

Anastasia: It's it's, So I guess so the community I think of I guess is ethnic dance theater.

That's who I'm mostly connected to. And then but the larger Being in the Twin Cities, at least, let's say if not the Midwest yes, we have different, like, churches that might still hold some kind of cultural you know, festivals or whatnot. And so that might be the only time that their folk group gets together and doesn't, you know, plans a choreography and does something.

It might be that they perform at all sorts of things throughout the year. So there's kind of variances in that with the different communities. But there's definitely a very vibrant. Scene. That used to be kind of more displayed at Festival of Nations. And that's a big gaping hole in our Twin Cities cultural life.

I think it used to be a whole weekend in April or May and students from all over the state would like bus in and go there for a day. And there were cultural booths and music and dance and food. And so we, I think, dance theater performed there several, many years, I should say. And then covid kind of took it off track.

So that's 1 thing where when I say the larger community, that would be a place for us all to come together. And so different things have popped up since then to try to kind of take that place. Because if, you know, 1 folk dancer in this group, and then you happen to know another. You know, dancers through whatever connection.

Actually, some I see out, you know, swing dancing or whatnot. Like we dancers find each other, right? And so you're like, what, what things do you have coming up? And so you get to kind of know each other and the different, the groups sometimes have cross pollination. If their parents are both, you know, recent immigrants, maybe they're involved in both the Ukrainian and the Slovak community or whatnot.

Yeah. But I would say it is a little different than somewhere like Milwaukee or Chicago, where there are more recent, larger populations of recent immigrants. Here it's, it's a little bit more subdued, but it's still very rich. Once you find the communities. Yeah.

Morgan: That's me. I don't think people realize how they think the Midwest is very like monocultural.

And my experience, at least living in the twin cities is not that at all. The there well, and I guess. Part of it is, I believe the twin cities I think both of them are sanctuary city, right? For refugees. That sounds right. There ends up being a lot of really diverse culture there. That's really interesting.

So, okay, so we've talked about Balkan a decent bit. Can you walk me through, like, your last Performance or some of the performances from last year. Like what did the show look like? Where were those performances? Who do you perform for in the first place? Who comes to your your dances and, and what does

Anastasia: that look like?

Yeah, well, 1, I can kind of continue on about this lack of festival of nations in that we have the landmark center series, which I don't know if you had ever gone there when you lived in Saint Paul. And so downtown, there's a restored, beautiful building, and they have a huge. Ballroom that has four floors that you can look up and see around to the different floors, I guess you could say.

So it's acoustically, it's pretty terrible actually for as I played with Saska, my band there, you know, it's hard to hear, but it's a beautiful space and good for, for dancing at least. So we've held. These different experiences co hosted by the landmark center. So landmark center will do things on Sundays for like, family friendly events with different cultures.

And the last several years, we've done a partnership with them and we've had something like a Carpathian theme. And so it's not just our group, but then we're the ones who partner. Well, we partner with landmark, but center, but then we pull in those communities that we have connections to. So what is

Morgan: Carpathian?

I don't know that word or sorry,

Anastasia: like a Carpathian, the Carpathian region. So, like, they're the Carpathian mountains. So we would draw from cultures that are somehow connected there. And then we had a Balkan experience for a couple of years. So we tried to do the same thing a couple of years in a row, because then you.

build in some of the same groups and then COVID hit and whatnot. But now we had, we had a mosaic this year so we could bring anyone and everyone. It wouldn't have to be just by region. And so it was a tiny version of a festival of nations is what a lot of people said. They were so glad to have that.

And so we had food from different areas. We had groups from all over or who originated from all over. And we also performed a couple of dances. We had a North Bulgarian. piece that we did.

And then also one from Mosette, which is probably not too well known, but it's kind of the southern regions of Russia, right above Georgia, close to Georgian dance in some ways, or if you've heard Georgian Song. I'm not sure in your, I

Morgan: don't know if I have no, and if I did, I honestly, I wouldn't even know.

Have I, like, I don't know,

Anastasia: but it's so it's a very specific region that I should say, so this is kind of between those two and there's all sorts of political you know, turmoil with having Russia there. And but we actually had some of our dancers, directors, former dancers go there in either the 70s or 80s.

I've tried to remember learn the dance from there, come back, have the dance in our canon now for years and years. And it's been, have been modified somewhat, but one of those dancers came, back to one of our rehearsals in the past few months and spoke about it and brought these old photo albums from the trip.

And it was just incredible. And they were some of the only Westerners who had ever been there. So they're kind of celebrities as they were walking around. It's in the Caucasus mountain. area and so a very specific, like, strong people who are guarding the entrance of the, you know, to the rest of Europe from these mountain, this mountain pass and whatnot.

So we got kind of like the folklore of what goes into the dance and how we should hold ourselves and be so proud. And the women, like, wore, you know, daggers and the men had their swords, you know, it's like they're all, they're horse, you know, Writing people. And anyway, so I mean, that's just a little yeah, I guess view into when you go somewhere and you can actually speak to the people, learn the dance from them, just the richness of what can be learned.

And then that person came back and reminded us all of what that whatever the group was waiting 40 years ago or 50 years, but they had learned. So so that was 1 of the pieces that we did there. And people have reacted to that 1 almost every time with just I had somebody come up. Yeah. To a couple of us who are in costume still as we were just kind of around the dance floor, waiting for other dances to transpire and just asking us so many questions about the region.

And that's when I was like, I have to learn more about this because other people want want to know. So so it was great that we had somebody come and speak about it. But anyway, back to the landmark festival. So we did North Bulgarian piece and then we had other groups there. And what

Morgan: did you, what did you call these pieces, culpas, like these sections,

Anastasia: well in some Balkan dance, it'll called a kolo. Kolo. And, oh,

Morgan: that's just in Balkan dance. They're called that.

Anastasia: Okay. Yeah. And I would say, so anyway, it was, it's a, it was a festival. So that was 1.

Way of presenting ourselves and other groups, and there were cultural blues around in the food. So, so that same little miniature festival of nations. And then last year, we did a piece, or I should say, we did a big show in March. And of course there's a blizzard that weekend, so it was one of those things where you go, well, we tried.

Of course it snowed all last year, but oftentimes we'll have like a May or June show, but just the way things worked out, we hadn't had one in so, so long because of COVID. So we had many different elements, but we ended with a Ukrainian dance and that was a lot of fun, but also, you know, spoke to the times and, and trying to highlight.

the peoples who are going through so much there. So oftentimes when we've had dances that are political in nature, or I should say it's always political in nature, what we do, because there's always something going on. So I know I've heard before my time, this is my 10th year in the company, but before I was there, there have been different dances that I've done.

There was a Saudi Arabian piece that done during kind of post 9 11 was a very Controversial. There are other things that are also sometimes controversial that maybe display the gender roles in very striking or contrasting ways and not always in a way that we are used to seeing or want to as progressive peoples.

So there's always something political in nature, but. I would say trying to present it in a way that honors the cultures of of the peoples we're doing is, is the main thing and to not brush it under the rug. There's such beauty to be shown. So last year, that was, that was one of the pieces that we did there.

We had many others. Throughout the show and then looking forward to this next show. I know I sent you the lineup, but I mean, I, we have so many, so many dances going on. There's so many

Anastasia mentions a lot of geography here. It's really interesting to look at modern day borders compared to those regions where the different folk dance styles originate. If this all sounds interesting and you'd like to hear some examples, go to zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio and sign up for my newsletter.

I'll be listing out these dances Anastasia is talking about and the regions they come from. Where I can, I'll also provide links to examples you can go watch. It's amazing how different they are. That's Z E I T G E I S T academy. com slash radio.

Morgan: /

do you wanna just read some of these, what they are ? I, I know that my, like, geography of Europe could be a lot better, but some of these, I'm like, I don't even know if this is.

Like, like Assetian, I had never heard of that area. I didn't realize that was a region. So,

Anastasia: yeah. And some of it is that it's maybe it's a country or used to be a country or it's just a part of, or the people who live there live in another country or whatnot. So yeah, it gets a little wacky that way, but it's, it's, I think it's so good to think that way because it's, The way that reality is, is that we don't actually have borders that dictate everything being in boxes.

And, and so yeah, so anyway, this is a way to kind of think of it. So, Croatian is the first dance that we'll start with in our, in our show in June. And Polsovina is the region We have a lot of singing that goes on in that. So we're supposed to have a wall of sound. So as a singer, you can probably you know, relate to what that might be.

We have, we are having our most pointed singing, I guess, the way that our singing director, Natalie Nowitzki, who's a Ukrainian American. Singer who often works with us. It's incredible. She, she said, this is the one where you're pointing to the back wall of the audience. And then the Tajikistan solo piece just beautiful.

One of our dancers who's from the Ukrainian group actually is doing that one. The Saidi Egyptian piece is, has like a coin. belt, I guess you can really see the movements and feel them. The Moldvai Hungarian piece that's on that I said was one of the choreographies from a Minnesota Hungarian here in town.

And then the, the Ossetian or Georgian South Russian piece is a very Upright flowing piece, and we actually are on our our Demi point. You know, like, I don't know, not all the way up on our toes, but we have to be on our, you know, balls of our feet the entire time, almost that so that we can have this kind of floating feeling to it.

And the dresses are very long. So you can't see the feet moving that way. So it's a really particular. Style, and then the Bulgarian, North Bulgarian. So there's a, there's another political thing is getting the specific countries right when you need to, because some people will tell you that's different than just Bulgaria and the Franconian piece, Germany and then Norteño, the northern part of Mexico, which actually is largely, or heavily influenced by like a Germanic It's influenced by Germans as well because you'll hear a lot of accordion and whatnot, but then the skirts are bright and there is a lot of movement that is influenced by the indigenous culture.

So it's a, it's a really interesting kind of mix with that piece.

Morgan: That's interesting. So, so there, again, I'm picturing, like, these dances are all from France. Like, like folk dance, the idea is like the dancing of the people and it's like representing these cultures. That is an example I can think of that is like, again, kind of more complicated because you've got like, like, when you say indigenous folks, they're like, what specific.

You know, like there's so, Mexico's enormous. Which specific tribes are we talking about here? And then adding in, it's interesting that German and not like, like, I would expect like Spanish more styles to be. Right.

Anastasia: I, I was impressed. Yes.

Morgan: Wow. This is so cool. Like you're learning like so much political, like, the effect of, of political movements on, cultural elements.

I'm fascinated by this.

Anastasia: Yeah. And in that case, we have read a snapshot. So these dances are these costumes. It's where, when was it, when did somebody decide that was the case that we're showing this specific thing? But yes, I would say that it's just, it's fascinating people. They do their whole. Doctorates on some of these I'm sure.

Absolutely. So, and I'll just finish up with the Colossus leg and yes, leg and yes, is a Hungarian men's dance and call it to say is actually, well, the Transylvanian region. So there's a within that. Area I'm, I'm still learning a bit, but being in a Transylvanian folk band now I've been learning more. That the, the idea of course, Transylvania isn't a country, but it incorporates parts of both Romania and Hungary and peoples from those regions as well as the Roma people.

And so there's just. Influences from all, all of those parts usually but so the Kolota Segi Laganish is a men's kind of showing off dance. So they do a lot of boot slapping, the music is great. I'm hoping to play along on it with the Primash in my band, who's the main fiddle player And she's incredible Colleen Birch, and then my other bandmates Doug Coden and Sarah Bruins play the contra which is sideways viola and then bass with three gut strings.

So it's like a very specific sound that we get. And I'm still learning that piece, so we'll see if I play on that or not. I have to do a quick costume change, if so. But Would you play a

Morgan: violin? Yeah,

Anastasia: and I joined the group pretty like months before COVID. And so a lot of my first pieces that I learned were, were by zoom, which is,

And then one last one is the, the American piece of Appalachian or Appalachian. And I know that also is, has its controversy on clogging in the US.

Morgan: Oh, I was wondering like, what would this look like? Clogging?

Anastasia: Yeah. And yes, and you know, it's, it's, There's a history there with African American history within that and white culture and being in the mountains.

And I am not, I'm not well versed on it. I know that it can be controversial and we're doing it. And It's a great piece, and I hope it at least brings light to what we have here as a nation when people do come together and produce their own folk

Morgan: dances. Yeah, yeah. Do you do clogging?

Anastasia: I mean, beyond this, no.

Morgan: I'm just saying, like, the, like, clogging is its whole own thing. And I'm just picturing the steps. So okay, so you've mentioned a couple where you're, like, on your toes, or, I mean, I've seen clogging before, and it's, you know, Maybe not quite, it's not quite as complex as like Irish tap dance or not tap, but.

And I, and

Anastasia: it probably depends on how complex you want to make it. Right. Yes. But it's in the same realm, but not, yeah, but its own variation. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. And we did, we've done a lot of practice. I mean, rigorous practice of that. We have videos and to practice certain sequences and yeah. So it's, it's taken a while to get that style.

I done the piece once several years ago, and it was. So helpful that I'd already done it because those who are just learning it, it just takes a while to get the style. So, but yes, that's true of many of the pieces you're saying, whether

Morgan: it's. Yeah, the footwork. And that's just one that I could recognize.

Like, wow, that can be really, this is a lot of work. I think I do people, I think if you're listening and you have an idea of the folk dance, I'm like, Oh, this is sweet. Like old ladies walking in a circle. Like this is pretty aerobic sometimes.

Anastasia: And that is something that is maybe a little bit different about doing things that choreographies and with a company where we practice eight hours a week.

We're not paid. We are. still a performing ensemble. We don't have to pay dues, but we do, you know, have to take parts of our life and give it up in order to do this for the love of it, basically. But then we also get to learn these things and get to be dressed in these beautiful costumes that are owned by the company that aren't ours.

And so we get to be a part of something greater, but yeah, we are giving up a lot and it is quite rigorous. You have to be willing to put in the work. Whether it's dancing or singing, which we do a lot of, or getting pulled into the orchestra, like I have for just a little bit. And it's like, Ooh, the music in this, I want, I want to learn more about this.

So I can see that going, I kind of that direction for me now

Morgan: as well. Yeah. So as a performer again, you and I have played together, I know you're a violin player. So do you know, do they have any kind of alternate, like, I know for example, Egyptian music uses the Arabic. Scale, which has many more notes than our 12 tone scale.

Do you encounter that with some of these other ones too? Or are you use tunings that for a Westerner would not be intrinsically like, Oh,

Anastasia: you know what I'm saying? Great question. I, so I've only forayed into the Hungarian Transylvanian aspects of this, but listening to the recordings that we have from our.

Former shows and whatnot of of live music on our stage and we do bring our orchestra together. I mean, I can, there are certain things that definitely sound different to my ear, or we bring in certain instruments or the orchestra does or Don or own some of the instruments. Like, it's like, okay, I have this Croatian Instrument in my basement, so we're gonna bring it out for this show because we have, you know, or whatnot.

So, I mean, we have this kind of collection between the folk musicians and the orchestra and and then the director as well, but I myself have not well versed in the aspects of that beyond listening and thinking, okay, that's different than what I'm used to hearing or what is that instrument that's incorporated

Morgan: in there.

Yeah. Westerners can think it's out of tune. It's not. It's in perfect tune. It's just not Western. Do you have a live orchestra for every performance by orchestra? What do you mean?

Anastasia: So I would say going back to kind of the examples of different performances, for example, the landmark center, when we've had this sort of mini festival nations idea.

That's recorded music. We bring in other groups. It's a lot of just like a festival idea. When we've gone to outdoor festivals, we've performed like at the Czech and Slovak festival in the fall. We often have done the past few years. We'll use recorded music. When we go to Milwaukee Serbian church there recorded Chicago to Bulgarian.

So festival we've used recorded music. So that's most of what we do. And oh yeah, the Ukrainian center holds something in November as well. So it is. Anyway, these festival ideas recorded, but then when we have our own show that it's when it's only us, it's I think Dan Stater specifically, then the idea is to bring in the musicians and have live music.

And so they practice for months beforehand, and then we get together, you know, two months out and trying to put things together. Practice some more. We practice some more. We try to meld it together. And I just directed a pit orchestra for a high school musical for the first time a couple months ago now.

And now I understand both sides of it, I think a little better. And it is, it is very difficult. So I just feel for the musicians , because they wanna. Music side of it? No, it's like, oh my goodness. But it's different than a musical, but similar in that there are live musicians, there are dancers, we have to come together, there's singing, we can't rush, we have to know the tempos, yeah, so but that's something that, you know, we almost, we had a lot of conflicts schedule wise this past time trying to schedule the show, and It was down to the fact of, are we going to have live music or are we not?

And the, the director found it so important to have live music that he finally found, I mean, finally found a date. And, and so that's how important it is to him to have that.

Morgan: Yeah. That's amazing. It's, it's not as common and like your standard, your standard violinist doesn't know these tunes or how. How they would go together or, wow, that's awesome.

And I bet it does make a big difference just as a, an audience member to see that not only are people dancing, but there are people playing as well. Like that's makes it a lot more immersive.

Anastasia: And the number of instruments that each of them play is incredible.

Morgan: Yes. Oh man. So if I've been invited to a performance and I've never been before, What are some things you would tell me to kind of get me oriented because otherwise it can just be like, Oh, pretty costumes and weird beats.

Like, how would I, how, how can you help me if I've never been to get my feet under me and kind of walk in knowing a little bit about what's going on?

Anastasia: What you said already about, you know, looking at the costumes, looking at what the footwork might be that, that is kind of some of the basics, but I would say enjoy. Watching like people watching. So enjoy the people who are also watching the performers. See if there's food available. See if there's like a way to enjoy it that you're comfortable with.

So often, yeah, at these festivals and whatnot, there, there will be food. There will people be people walking around perhaps imbibing and whatnot having a good time, their families, their little kids may be running around trying to dance around to the music that's being played or yeah. So I would say, find a way that's comfortable for you to enjoy it, and if, if it's a festival setting and that would be a good way to get yourself into it, because a whole show, a whole two hour show, you might, you may like it, you may find it very long, you know, so I mean, I have only heard great things from the audience members who have gone, but yeah, to kind of get your feet wet, and because I think, That whole experience is what it is.

The folk culture of whatever festival it might be, or that they're bringing in different folk cultures from different places, whatever the setting might be to get a feel for it and Make yourself comfortable as possible. But as far as the dancing part of it, I mean, yeah, listen for the music.

What kind of music, you know, gets you curious. See if you can ask the performers afterward what they're doing or beforehand. That's often we'll try to stay in costume. Before or after so that people who are interested can ask and, and don't feel shy about asking, okay, why are you wearing those shoes or whatever it is?

Like there, there's no wrong question. I mean, I came into this, as I said, without having a folk dance background. And so I'm always asking

So there are no bad questions. I would just say curiosity and enjoying the experience fully.

And then if you do come to a whole show, if you enjoy that kind of thing, then to you know, Whatever the theme might be it's more about being able to present, again, the beauty of whatever that culture might be in an interpretation for today. So it's, we're trying to be authentic and like, how can the audience perceive that in a way that.

They can digest in today's society. And it might be that it's a little old school actually, because, because of the live music and, you know, sitting at a performance and whatnot. But the fact that we change costumes every three minutes or every, every other dance or whatnot is maybe something to at least be impressed by and share with other people.

And to understand

Morgan: it's intentional, like you've mentioned so many things that are like, like the types of shoes, like all these details, the colors of your tights. They all mean something. And

Anastasia: the amount of thought that's put in by Down the course of the director is incredible. When I first started, I couldn't believe how many different necklaces and bracelets I had to keep track of in these little plastic bags for our first show.

And we have to get them on in time. So get those shoes in order. And that's the first thing you change. So then in case something that happens, you don't get something else. And at least you have your shoes on. That's, that's another thing I wouldn't sell.

Morgan: That's amazing. What other tricks do you have for changing

Anastasia: quickly?

Oh, goodness. How do you do your hair? So that's a big deal every time. Okay, Dawn, do we need to have our, is it a braid? Is it a full braid? Is it a, you know, so we have fake hair braids actually. So we'll braid them in to make them look longer and fuller so that sometimes when you're spinning or whatnot, they might swing out and they look more impressive.

But other times we just loop them around, make a bun and then, you know, Oftentimes the headpiece will cover it. So it depends, you know, if we're doing German dance, oftentimes we'll see the bun. If we're doing almost any other type of dance, we have some kind of head covering. I'm trying to think, you know, I think I did a Polish dance where we could have our braid out, and I think the Croatian dance one of them, we had like two braids.

But besides that, it's always, yeah, what, what does the hair do for everything? And can we somehow put the headpiece over so so we can just hide it and put a lot of pins in and, but yeah, so helping each other change, you know, the last show, last March, we had a small number of women, the smallest I think we'd had in a while.

And it was hard because we just didn't have enough of us to help each other change like that. So with, you know, this year we have several more who've joined, which is great, but yeah, so helping each other and making sure you have everything laid out and you have some kind of system. Like you and we get a list from our customers and it says everything in the order that you should put it in on it on.

So yeah, it's It's quite a marathon. Yeah,

Morgan: well, yeah, literally, physically too, probably.

Anastasia: Yes, yes.

Morgan: Do you have a favorite story from a performance, either as a performer or like, attending? I don't know, I'd just love to hear some favorite awesome moments that you've had.

. You know, I had. This moment, I think it was around 2016. So I'd only been in the company a couple of years, but we went to Milwaukee to the Serbian church there or cathedral church and they have a whole. Festival that they put on, they're saying mid in mid winter, actually, so every time we drive there in February, there's always a blizzard and the way they're back, but it's a fun time and great people.

Anastasia: And we took a piece from region. Where's that? Bosnia Herzegovina to be brief. And so another kind of Balkan dance and, but very different in some ways in that, first of all, there is no music and it's, it was all performed by the pulse and some calls that were called out by one of the male dancers.

And we were performing it all and I should say the other part which is another controversial dance and in that the women aren't supposed to look at the men the whole time and that's actually something in the Ossetian dance as well. So there are some dances where you're supposed to either look down or to the side or look at.

In a certain way. And in this dance, you're not supposed to look at the men if you're a female dancer. And so some, you know, some folk dancers that don't really like that and we're today's yeah, I guess what we want for today for every human, but it was part of the culture. So we, we do it. But it was On this stage that is almost hollow underneath that the the wood was very resounding.

And so when we had each pounding pulse that we were doing with our feet and the different beats that we had to do in the calls, and we did some some singing that when you could just hear it echoing throughout and there was absolute silence and it's this huge hall. And I was saying for festivals. Like, there are kids running around, there's food, there's drink, there's everything happening, and people hushed each other because they wanted to see this and hear it, and there were, you know, it's a Serbian church, so mostly from that community, but they just erupted when we were done, and there were some, we found out later that there were some people from that region, actually, there, and they just Thought we did such a fantastic job.

So that really spoke to me only a couple years in like the integrity of the dance and the artistry that done the course and others throughout the years. He's brought in stick to and hold to for for making sure to present something that is. Correct. Or something that at least people from, from the place can be proud of.

Yeah. Wow.

Morgan: Do you, so that just reminded me the stage, do you have a stage that you take with you to these different events? Or some kind of dance floor. Cause you need a floor.

Anastasia: That's a great question. So the outdoor festivals try to wear shoes. They don't care about and sometimes we perform on parking lots, like asphalt, so that's not good.

But for shows that we're, we're there for the weekend, there's a Marley floor that's rolled out. And we do practice. The combination between a ballet studio in town and, and, and a church who has a wooden floor. But but yes, sometimes you're on terrible floors and you have to either get rosin or, or hopefully you don't tear your shoes up on the asphalt.

Oh my goodness.

Morgan: What do you wish that people knew? Just like the general public, Joe Schmo on the street knew about folk dancing.

Anastasia: Yeah, it's for everyone. And I think. You know, saying that I am in this group and we do a lot of choreographies and the more challenging and I guess impressive aspects of it and that there's a set way that we're doing it to the music that underneath all of that again, we're trying to present the spirit of something, which is the beauty of it and the challenge that it can be and the old ladies dancing in the circle until they're, you know, I'm 10 years old, and they can do that.

And the little ones can do it. Everyone in the village can do it. I think that's that's the point of it. And that's what's so beautiful about the fact that it's still going on here in Saint Paul, Minnesota in different varying ways. And I think and every culture, although again, our group largely does.

Balkan and European dances. And as I've said, there's some others, but are, we're largely influenced that way. I mean, every culture in the world has its version of this. And I think it's really important to get up and dance with your community. It's something we don't necessarily do a lot here in mainstream culture in the US.

Yeah.

Morgan: Oh, I love it. All right. Last question. So you were actually, so we did, I think we did almost all of our classes together. You were probably in, you know, I'm the class with Mark Zullo. I

Anastasia: might have listened to some of the episode with Ian Boswell earlier today because I was like, Oh gosh, I should get a feel for this.

And so many memories came back. Oh my gosh. I didn't even realize you weren't a music major until the ending. I just thought you were

Morgan: and you were. I mean, I was at heart. Let's be honest. But but yeah, so it was our, 18th century music history. And I think it was the lesson Mark Mazzullo did on Verdi and he talked about zeitgeist, the zeitgeist and how, like, I remember in that class, I realized, wait a second, like this whole thing just came alive.

And I was like, so like, I was like shocked by the gossip and I was loving the opera and all of this stuff. stuff that was going, and I'm like, I don't even like opera. What am I doing? And I realized that learning about all of these other pieces made it come alive. And Mark was such a good instructor in all of his classes.

He, he was able to do that. So yeah, you were there, you were there for the, the word that, that has made a big impact on me. So I call, I I've come up with a thing called a zeitgeist moment where like that moment to me is that that moment where you are, you learn something new about a culture and all of a sudden it just makes sense to you.

Or you're in a moment making music where you just click in and you feel part of something bigger than you. Like that zeitgeist spirit of the times comes alive and overwhelms you. Anyway, you, you shared a beautiful story earlier. Is there, would you call that a zeitgeist moment or is there another memorable or recent zeitgeist moment for you?

Anastasia: I mean, that is one, and, and, and I love this word, zeitgeist, and I, when I studied abroad, I studied in, studied in Austria, and so, it's like, oh, I learned a tiny bit of, I, ein bisschen Deutsch, a little bit of German, but anyway yes, I, I, I think this is a great word to use for your, your whole idea here.

And your, your school. So I have two things, I guess it, so there was an international folk festival in Madison through that I went to through the band that I'm in, Saska, the Transylvanian folk band. And there was an awesome Balkan horn band actually, that got up and I think they're Americans, but I mean, they do Balkan.

Music. But anyway, they just got the whole room up and dancing and granted, most of the people are there because they want to be there and dance. However, that was the most number, the highest percentage of dancers were up right then. And, and then I was thinking, also, just recently, I was at a bar in St.

Paul and there's a cover band playing, and everyone got up to dance this week, Caroline, and I have decided I'm not, I'm not. Music. Above that, I think that when you can't sit any longer and everyone jumps up if you, yeah, if you can't help but jump up and dance, then they, they have some magic there. And so whether it's, you know, people in St.

Paul at a bar or over in Madison at a Vulcan party, I mean, if, if the music, Calls for it and you can't help but move. Then that is a zeitgeist moment for me. And, and those are just two recent ones, right? I, there's so many, so

Morgan: I love them. I'll share, I'll share two as well then with you as they pertain to folk dancing.

Again, I have not done a whole lot but a few weeks ago, we did go up to visit Wade's old dance teachers and the community that he started with in high school, and I have been to several of these and it's always, like I mentioned, I It's, it's intimidating. And I'm, I'm someone who's danced a lot of different styles over the years, but they've mostly been partner dancing.

So these line dances, they freak me out, man. Like you got to follow the footwork. But I had a moment where there was, there was one, there were a couple actually through that night that I kind of, sort of remembered a little bit from the three or four times I'd done it before. And all of a sudden I just like relaxed and I was like, wait.

I know this, like I can do this. And it was your body. No, yes, yes. And another one that I was many years ago, there's a an Oktoberfest in Mount angel, Oregon. That is a phenomenal Oktoberfest. And they had a Bavarian group performing and they like hammed it up and went all like, like they were carrying, there was like these These six or eight guys and they were carrying a door and there were these women on the door.

And like, they would like push the door up and these women would flip. Like it was very dramatic. They do this whole, like they pro processed through the audience. And the, of course it was like really loud music and it was just, but they were in these fancy costumes. It was kind of like, like river dance is to Irish dance, you know, very dramaticized.

But I just remembered being like, Oh my God, this is. It's like, this is exciting. This is alive. This is vibrant. Even though it's, you know, you picture Bavarian folk dancing. It's not like the first thing that comes to mind is like, wow. But I had a moment there. So yeah, I wanted to share those with you.

Anastasia: Thank you. I'm really glad we had an excuse to share those. Yes,

Morgan: absolutely. Thank you so much for being on my podcast.

Anastasia: Thank you for inviting me, Morgan.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Zeitgeist Radio. If you'd like to take the next step in your musical journey, head over to zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio to join my newsletter. Seriously. It's fun and informative, and I never spam or sell your information. That's zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio.

Music for this episode was created by Ian Boswell. Please hit that subscribe button and tell all your friends you found a cool new podcast. See you next time.


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