Winter 2015-16
From the Editor

Dreaming of Summer and Balkan Camp?

By Julie Lancaster

From the depths of winter this issue brings you a reminder of summer, music, dancing and Balkan camp. Continue Reading

2015 Scholarship Recipients

By Kef Times Staff, Winter 2015-16

The community pulled together this year to make 18—count ‘em, 18!—scholarships available for the summer 2015 Workshops. Scholarship types included the Dick Crum/Kef Scholarship, Balkan Night Northwest Scholarship, Čoček Nation Scholarship, Stefni Agin Scholarship and Lillie Cooper Scholarship.

Read on for reports from scholarship recipients Mik Bewsky, Barbara Byers, Stephen Chelius, Cherrymae Golston, Zenyi Hunsberger, Emily Laliotis, Jonathan Mei, Andreas Musselman and Shireen Nabatian (Mendocino); and Kassia Arbabi, Joanie Atkinson, Eve Bernhard, Mariya Ivanova, Jeremy McClain, Savannah Powell, Meghan Quinn, Jennifer Shearer and Bonnie Silver (Iroquois Springs).

To learn about applying for a scholarship for a future Workshop, visit the Scholarships page on the EEFC website.

Mendocino 2015: Mik Bewsky

By Mik Bewsky, Winter 2015-16
Mik Bewsky

Mik Bewsky

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Occupation: I guess technically I'm unemployed, but I am often designing t-shirts and logos for people for money.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I intersect with Balkan music for the rest of the year by playing [guitar] along to recordings usually, or if I'm on the left coast I can play Balkan music with real people!

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my second year at Balkan Camp and there are sure to be more.

Studied at camp: I was studying mostly rebetika at camp.

Memorable moment at camp: An experience that really stuck out to me this year was watching Vlado [Pupinoski] and Kalin [Kirilov] play casually at the smokers’ table. They were just having musical conversation; changing so often in between new melodies but totally on the same page at all times. Then, after a twenty-minute medley of absolute mind destruction for the audience, they would have a cigarette and leave it between their fingers while they played the next tune like it was nothing. It was something I had never seen before.

Mendocino 2015: Barbara Byers

By Barbara Byers, Winter 2015-16
Barbara Byers

Barbara Byers

Location: Oakland, Calif.

Occupation: I sing with Kitka, and I am a caterer, fishmonger, sound designer and composer.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I play oud and study on my own, and also [sing] with Kitka. For dancing, I go to community dances when they happen, and go to as many Balkan shows as I can to dance the night away.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first year at camp.

Studied at camp: I took Michele’s [Simon’s] vocal techniques class, Greek singing with Christos [Govetas], Turkish singing with Bob [Beer], and Greek ensemble with Lise Liepman. I ended up for the fifth slot trying something new every day, including Serbian dance, brass band, kemençe, Rhodope singing and beginning tapan.

Memorable moment at camp: I was so touched by the way the community opened its arms to me, both socially and artistically. I had injured my wrist previous to coming to camp and so I wasn't able to play oud as I had hoped. I was on my way mournfully to an empty second period, when I passed Lise's Greek ensemble, and it was so glorious I couldn't help but stick right where I was. I got an idea that perhaps I could join them, learning the tunes just with my voice. I was a little nervous to ask, but when I did, I was met with such enthusiasm and support that all my fear melted away. I was able to sing with the ensemble the whole week, and learn songs which came up later that summer as I was in Greece studying music with the Labyrinth program.

Mendocino 2015: Stephen Chelius

By Stephen Chelius, Winter 2015-16
Stephen Chelius

Stephen Chelius

Location: Eugene, Ore.

Occupation: Unemployed audiologist 🙁

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I dance with two different folk dance clubs in the area. I participate in workshops held in the Eugene and Portland area (Veselo and Balkanalia). I've been the foreman of the floor crew that lays down the wooden floor over cement for several years at Balkanalia. I attend Balkan folk dance parties in Seattle (NW Balkan events and Folklife). I talk about Balkan folk dance with almost anybody that knows me.

This year I taught several Balkan dances at the new Dance Pavilion at The Oregon Country Fair. This enabled willing participants to join in and dance while our local Balkan band, Kef, provided live music. The Oregon Country Fair is a very large and unique annual event that draws attendees from all over the country. This year there were 17,000+ staff workers with over 50,000 fair-goers. I am trying to expand this to have more time to teach Balkan dances before each live Balkan performance next year. This is such a good opportunity to expose many (especially young folks) to Balkan dance and culture—people who might never be exposed otherwise.

I often go to local parks here to practice playing my kaval. In doing so I often get the opportunity to tell people about the kaval and dance and culture. I am not in a Balkan band now. I don't think that my playing is good enough yet. However I do play the kaval on occasion with other musicians with whom I play others types of music. I've been practicing a lot and hope to be able to play some Balkan music for our local dance clubs to dance to as my abilities progress.

Number of times at Balkan camp: I've been to Mendocino Balkan Camp three years prior to attending this year. I first attended camp in 2010.

Studied at camp: Kaval. I also took dance classes from Milo Destanovski, Alex Marković and Martin Koenig.

Memorable moment at camp: I'm always so impressed with the how good the musicians are at camp and how hard they work to increase their skill and knowledge of the culture. I'm also impressed with how helpful and willing others are to mentor those of us that are at different skill levels, from beginner to advanced. Valeri Georgiev was the kaval instructor this year. He is so helpful and patient with his students that have such broad range of capabilities and skill levels.

I put in a lot of time practicing in preparation for coming to camp this year. However, I found myself feeling very frustrated as I was struggling with the material at camp. I thought I was further along than I was. Sometimes it seemed painful and hopeless to me. But now the lesson seems clear: seeking to improve in something requires hard work and patience. If it's worthwhile, then trudging through it with diligence and patience brings rewards later. I came home with much greater knowledge, skill and determination to keep working on playing the kaval. I have continued to practice diligently since camp and feel like I'm moving along quite well. It amazes me how when something seems impossible (such as some of the required fingering changes on the kaval)—if I just slowly work on the those changes that within a few minutes or the next day it becomes natural to do that which seemed impossible not long ago.

Mendocino 2015: Cherrymae Golston

By Cherrymae Golston, Winter 2015-16
Cherrymae Golston

Cherrymae Golston

Location: Albuquerque, N.M.

Occupation: I am a fiber artist and a ceramicist. I also sub in the Albuquerque School System in bilingual elementary schools.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I folkdance sporadically and I sing Balkan music on a weekly basis with a group of experienced and inexperienced singers in Santa Fe. We are led by Willa Roberts.

Number of times at Balkan camp: I went to camp for the first time in the late ‘70s and this last summer was maybe the fifth time. I think it was 16 years between the last time I got to go to camp and this most recent time.

Studied at camp: I loved Michele Simon's warm-up class and I loved that it happened first thing in the morning. It warmed up my voice for the other singing classes I took. I got very useful information on how to use my voice, which has made me more confident when I sing. I learned new material from Carol [Silverman] and singing with Brenna [MacCrimmon] made me more comfortable about singing in Turkish.

Memorable moment at camp: I was very happily surprised by how little camp had changed over the years. It was still the welcoming, fun, beautiful place I remembered. I was also touched by the generosity toward the camper who had had her luggage stolen.

Mendocino 2015: Zenyi Hunsberger

By Zenyi Hunsberger, Winter 2015-16
Zenyi Hunsberger

Zenyi Hunsberger

Location: Victoria, BC, Canada

Occupation: Student; I did my undergrad in applied linguistics at UVic and am now working toward a master’s in speech pathology at UBC. Before that I was trained in Russian ballet in Mexico. I teach ESL and Spanish at a language school and also teach circle dancing.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I went to a circle dance camp in Mexico, where I met Steve and Susan Kotansky. They told me about Balkan camp and about the possibility of getting a scholarship.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.

Studied at camp: All of the dance classes except one session, when I took frame drum with Polly [Ferber]. I was there mainly for dancing.

Memorable moment at camp: I loved the intergeneration community vibe. There were 80-year-old people and 2-year-old children all eating in same dining hall—amazing food and musical parties every night. I loved the community atmosphere; you could feel that it’s been going on for a long time.

Emily Laliotis

Emily Laliotis

Location: Tacoma, Wash.

Occupation: I am currently a student at the University of Puget Sound, double majoring in music and religion.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: My interest in Balkan music stemmed from my involvement with the Greek folk dance community, namely the Folk Dance Festival. However, as a musician, my interest in Balkan music went far deeper than only dance. In my regular life, I'm a singer-songwriter of American folk music. This style is my primary focus, but I also study Byzantine chant and am studying classical voice in college. I also participate in classical anda cappella choirs. I stay busy in lots of areas of music.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first year at camp.

Studied at camp: I studied singing at camp, both Turkish and Greek.

Memorable moment at camp: The whole experience felt like a dream—some utopia where good people come together and make good music all day, every day. Each night, I was amazed at the endless energy and support, from the dance hall to the kafana and everywhere in between. I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face for the whole week, and even now am amazed at the experience that I had the great fortune of being a part of.

Mendocino 2015: Jonathan Mei

By Jonathan Mei, Winter 2015-16
Jonathan Mei

Jonathan Mei

Location: Tacoma, Wash.

Occupation: I am a student at the University of Puget Sound.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I sometimes take violin lessons in Balkan music and incorporate elements of the style into my compositions. Occasionally I get the opportunity to feature Balkan music and give a presentation about it during cultural awareness events at my school.

Number of times at Balkan camp: I came to camp for the first time when I was 7 years old, about 15 years ago.

Studied at camp: This year I took the theory and ornamentation class, beginning Balkan singing with Carol [Silverman], beginning dancing with Michael [Ginsburg] and Romanian violin with Miamon [Miller].

Memorable moment at camp: One experience that really left an impression on me this year was taking the Bulgarian theory and ornamentation class [with Kalin Kirilov]. It was fascinating to learn about the Balkan styles from a theoretical perspective, especially because my Western classical training has been largely based in this framework. It was mind-boggling to try to comprehend the complex asymmetric meters that Balkan musicians often use, and to examine the traditional patterns and motifs that guide improvisation. Our teacher made an observation that stuck with me, and it was that Balkan music is largely "modal" the same way that American jazz is. It is fascinating to see intersections of musical phenomena among cultures that are so far apart from each other. This is a big part of why I love music, especially Balkan music!

Mendocino 2015: Andreas Musselman

By Andreas Musselman, Winter 2015-16
Andreas Musselman

Andreas Musselman

Location: Kent, Ohio

Occupation: I do odd jobs: natural building work and work trade stuff. I also help rehab conventional houses.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am really trying to learn the music. I got introduced to it last summer when I was hitchhiking in California and throughout the year since then I’ve been trying to fill my head with every bit I can get. There’s not much of a Balkan scene in Ohio that I’m aware of yet, but I’m actively playing and trying to learn as much as I can. I’m new to the music and to fiddle in general, but I played in a school band when I was young—saxophone, then percussion—and then later played a lot of hard-core really intense metal music. After high school I started traveling and explored different instruments, then learned about Middle Eastern scales, then started diving into Romanian music. I’m planning a trip to Moldova or Romania for this fall.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.

Studied at camp: Greek violin with Beth Cohen, maqam theory with Beth, Miamon Miller’s violin class. I did a few sessions each with the Greek ensemble and Trans-Carpathian ensemble.

Memorable moment at camp: I was impressed by the bands that were assembling with people that maybe knew each other outside of camp or for previous camps but also people who were there for the first time, putting these little groups together to perform in the kafana. These musicians are so, SO talented and really know the styles. Coming together, they might read a little sheet music or not, but can make great sound. It was wonderful to be part of such a great community. The scenes with the bands in the kafana were definitely spectacular. I remember one great little klezmer ensemble that combined experienced campers and first-time attendees—super lively, great spirit.

Mendocino 2015: Shireen Nabatian

By Shireen Nabatian, Winter 2015-16
Shireen Nabatian

Shireen Nabatian

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Occupation: I manage a whole bunch of projects that are generally related to community-building, in the areas of public relations, collective housing and property management. At the moment I'm general contracting a full renovation of a large character house, retaining the 100-year-old heritage of the building while updating all the guts and making it beautiful for a shared living environment for my awesome friends!

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I sing and play the violin. I play in three Balkan music bands ranging from pan-Balkan folk repertoire for folk dancers and discerning Greek restaurant-goers (Grupa Dunbarov), to Serbian ethno-rock (Byzantine Blue) and female vocal ensemble Zlatna Pesna.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my third camp.

Studied at camp: Turkish singing class, maqam.

Memorable moment at camp: My camp experience this year was predictably AMAZING! My biggest learning curve was Beth [Cohen͛]s maqam class. My strongest impression that I did not foresee was Brenna [MacCrimmon͛]s Turkish singing class. I have always meant to take a musical journey back to my Persian roots. The joke is that I have made a very long stop in the Balkans, but I think deep down I have also felt a personal obstacle to embracing this tradition because of my own complicated family history. Brenna's class inspired me so much to pick up the thread of Persian folk music again. I told her about this epiphany on the last evening and we shared a couple tears brought on by the power of this beautiful music that we are all custodians of. Amazingly, only one day after camp, the universe supported me as my brother dug up his old setar from his basement storage and loaned it to me on the condition that I actually learn to play it lest he take it back.

I have now had a couple setar lessons and I love it so much! The Turkish music and theory that I learned at camp has opened up a new musical world for me. I feel so enriched, and excited about continuing my studies in Balkan music and now by the opportunity to complement it with a deeper understanding of Middle Eastern and Persian music.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Kassia Arbabi

By Kassia Arbabi, Winter 2015-16
Kassia Arbabi

Kassia Arbabi

Location: Richmond, Va.

Occupation: Musician and massage therapist.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I just moved to Richmond, and am playing with the following bands: Richmanian Ramblers (Romanian music); The Vulgar Bulgars (traditional klezmer, Balkan, Romani music with funky original arrangements); and My Son the Doctor (traditional klezmer and Balkan music). I also busk on my own and play tons of Balkan music; people love it!

Number of times at Balkan camp: First time at camp!

Studied at camp: Albanian violin, Albanian ensemble, Greek violin, Bulgarian ornaments, songbook singing.

Memorable moment at camp: I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone was, how much everybody loved to play this beautiful music and how supportive everyone was. My favorite moment was getting to sing with the Macedonian village ensemble evening performance for dancing; almost all of my cabin mates were in the class and/or in the songbook class that joined them! I loved porch front jams playing this beautiful music with my cabin mates.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Joanie Atkinson

By Joanie Atkinson, Winter 2015-16
Joanie Atkinson

Joanie Atkinson

Location: Arlington, Va.

Occupation: Belly dance instructor and dance studio administrative team member

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I don't get too many opportunities throughout the year; usually just Golden Festival and occasional gatherings.

Number of times at Balkan camp: First time!

Studied at camp: I took beginner santouri, a variety of dance classes and the songbook singing class.

Memorable moment at camp: I grew up playing music but, since high school, dance has become my primary means of artistic expression. However, I miss playing instruments and was excited to be able to take music classes in a such a welcoming environment at camp. Waking up to santouri class, although difficult after late nights at kafana, quickly became my favorite part of the day.

During our first lesson, Yianni [Roussos] gave us a CD of music to help us practice. I didn't get a chance to listen the first day or so but I got in the habit of going in to practice during my lunch hour. After practicing the song we were learning in class, I started noodling around. I have a pretty good ear so I was able to pluck out a song that I was familiar with because my roommate Jen Shearer had used it this past winter in a choreography she designed for her belly dance students. The next day in class while we were warming up I started playing the tune and Yianni said to me "Oh, you learned one of the other songs from the CD?" I hadn't yet listened to the CD and only then did I realize that the song Jen had used must have been one that she had gotten from a previous camp CD. It was such a fun moment to realize even though I had never been to Balkan camp I had already taken in pieces of it by spending so much time with Jen. Although it was just a little coincidence, the moment still made an impression I won't soon forget.

Also, jamming out to a Balkan rendition of the Star Wars theme song in kafana, seeing the amazing generosity from the community during the auction and realizing how thankful I was to everyone who donated for making it possible for me to attend camp. One more: sitting and having a late breakfast at the picnic tables on a beautiful sunny morning and hearing the sounds of multiple ensembles and classes wafting through the air.

Eve Bernhard

Eve Bernhard

Location: Waitsfield, Vt.

Occupation: I mentor farm- and forest-based education.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I play Balkan music in a wonderful little group, consisting of cello, clarinet, doumbek and violin! Most of the music that I listen to at home is Balkan, and—after Balkan dancing at camp for the first time and thoroughly enjoying it—I go to the small Balkan singing and dancing meet-up that occurs sometimes near my home.

Number of times at Balkan camp: First time!

Studied at camp: Singing with Eva Salina, doumbek with Polly Ferber, dance classes.

Memorable moment at camp: Many moments at camp awed me. The sheer talent of so many musicians and dancers was deeply inspiring and a true delight to be around. Never before have my ears been so pleased so many days in a row! Never before have I danced so late into the night so many nights, energized by the amazing sounds and people around me! I loved the family vibe, too—the closeness and simultaneous openness of the campers. Perhaps the strongest sentiment I had was that after being that weird girl lonesomely in love with Balkan music for much of my life, it felt a little like coming home. Thank you, EEFC! I am so very grateful for this experience!

Mariya Ivanova

Mariya Ivanova

Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Occupation: During the day when not dancing and listening to Balkan music, I teach little, little people (ages 2-4) at a Montessori preschool.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: Balkan music and dance pop up at the great, surprising times when my friends reach out to tell me that a band is playing at a Brooklyn bar, at the unpredictable and delightful Raya Brass parties and during Golden Fest. Most intensely, I get my yearly, almost-fix during the summer when I return home to Southeastern Bulgaria, a town called Dimitrovgrad, where my family runs a folk dance ensemble called Zvezditza. With the group, I dance and play music almost every day in preparation for a concert or a folk festival.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first camp!

Studied at camp: I took intermediate tapan, beginner tambura, and dance classes and played with Bitov ensemble. Looking forward now to learning more!

Memorable moment at camp: Camp was a series of scenes and experiences that surprised and touched and impressed. The friendly new faces who were eager to share their passion for everything Balkan; the first time the Bulgarian musicians played a familiar tune that immediately welcomed me back home; the Chichovo tune that was just like the one my dad and I loved to dance to; the moment when my dear friend gave me a warm hug and told me that she was at the dance hall during the Bulgarian set only to make sure that if and when the music stirs nostalgic joy and memories, she will be there to support me; the Blender Band and the wonderful people I met through it! Our serious-goofy practices and oh-such-fun performance!! And the precious times when so many friends gave me hugs and spoke a kind word, especially at the last day of camp, when I was so very in need of sleep and so very heartbroken to see that the week of this homelike, warm, fun, joyful magic was over. Thank you all for a most beautiful, touching, hospitable and spirited camp!!!

Iroquois Springs 2015: Jeremy McClain

By Jeremy McClain, Winter 2015-16
Jeremy McClain

Jeremy McClain

Location: Lawrence, Kansas

Occupation: Have worked as a field botanist but am currently disabled and three years into my battle with Lyme disease. I have been bedridden much of the time for the past two years. I applied for a scholarship when going through a good period. Once about every 10 months I get about two good weeks; fortunately for most of the week of camp I was pain free and able to engage.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have set up monthly lessons on piano accordion.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time.

Studied at camp: All accordion: Kalin [Kirilov]’s Bulgarian ornamentation class, Raif [Hyseni]’s accordion class and Albanian ensemble.

Memorable moment at camp: I was trying to a little dancing and had never done any before. But one of the really powerful dances that’s doable for beginners, I was able to get into that muscle memory. Dancing the odd meters, feeling it corporally in your body, really helps you as a musician. Another enjoyable thing was seeing Kalin just playing outside his cabin on the porch in the early evening; he was playing with some guy playing gajda from Northern California. There was another guy playing some sort of percussion. It was very memorable.

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Location: I just moved to Eugene, Ore.

Occupation: I will be working as an archivist and a graduate student with the University of Oregon Folklore Department.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I have been singing and performing with Planina: Songs of Eastern Europe.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time attending camp.

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Savannah Powell (Steward Hartman)

Studied at camp: I attended classes on Greek violin (or in my case, viola), Albanian singing, Macedonian tambura, Bulgarian tambura and santouri.

Memorable moment at camp: I arrived at camp late because I was flying in from the national festival in Koprivštica, Bulgaria, so I had to work hard to catch up with the classes. I decided that I wanted to observe the intermediate Bulgarian tambura class. When I arrived the teacher [Stoyan Kostov] and other students asked if I had any experience playing guitar. When I told them that I knew how to play guitar they scrambled to find me an instrument and explained the similarities in chords of the two instruments. One of the more experienced students met with me outside of class to give me a few pointers. Due to the patience and overall support of the class and our wonderful instructor I learned a great deal and was able to participate in the student concert. It was very encouraging to feel so supported to pick up a new instrument!

Iroquois Springs 2015: Meghan Quinn

By Meghan Quinn, Winter 2015-16
Meghan Quinn

Meghan Quinn

Location: Saugerties, N.Y.

Occupation: High school English teacher.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: Before I moved to the Hudson Valley this summer, I played in Ahavaraba, a Buffalo-based klezmer band. We added some Balkan tunes to our repertoire, but I knew that I was just scraping the tip of the iceberg. I had heard about EEFC’s Iroquois Springs Balkan camp, and it seemed like an ideal way to immerse myself in learning about the many styles of Balkan music. Since I also found out I’d actually be moving to the Hudson Valley, camp seemed like the perfect place to make some new musical connections. I met so many great people through camp, including some folks in my area that I have started to play with weekly as part of a Balkan music club based at Bard College. I plan to keep playing and learning about Balkan music, and I hope to be in a band someday soon.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my first time at camp, and it most certainly will not be my last!

Studied at camp: I took four different classes each day at camp: accordion lessons and Albanian ensemble with Raif Hyseni, and accordion lessons and ornamentation class with Kalin Kirilov. I also participated in Mavrothi Kontanis’s Greek singing class a few times! It was immediately apparent that at Balkan camp, you are learning from the best of the best—people who truly live and breathe the type of music they are teaching. I found all the teachers to be very generous with their time and talents. What I learned from them, and from my fellow students, made me not only a better Balkan musician, but a better musician in general.

Memorable moment at camp: I especially loved the opportunity to perform and share what we had been learning in classes with everyone. Kalin’s accordion class did a surprise performance one night, playing in the dance hall as folks spun in a circle around us. Raif’s Albanian ensemble performance was incredibly fun, since almost the entire camp was participating too. I got chills the first time Merita [Halili]’s beautiful Albanian singing class added their voices to this ensemble.

Balkan camp is a total immersion into music that goes far beyond what I learned in classes. Walking on the winding paths, I would hear the sounds of gajdas and zurlas off in the woods somewhere, tapans echoing from an outdoor classroom, teenagers playing ukuleles on a porch, and people practicing their instruments all over the place. The dance hall is the center of camp life after dinner, and it is filled with lively bands, singing and dancing every night. Then the fun continues at kafana until the wee hours of the morning.

Beyond the learning opportunities and musical experiences, I quickly discovered that the people at camp are fantastic. Whether newcomers or longtime participants, people were open-minded, curious, kind and passionate. I was instantly welcomed as part of the community by cabin-mates, classmates, dancers and teachers. I can’t wait to come back to camp next year to be part of it again.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Jennifer Shearer

By Jennifer Shearer, Winter 2015-16
Jennifer Shearer

Jennifer Shearer

Location: Arlington, Va.

Occupation: Belly dance teacher and performer.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: Balkan music has been "trendy" in the belly dance community for a number of years. Watching Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes perform a kafana-worthy shot-glass-balancing choreography to Boban i Marko Marković was one of the primary experiences that drew me in five years ago. However, it quickly became apparent that most belly dancers have no idea that the Balkan region possesses a rich movement history and repertoire of its own. It was just that place with "Gypsies" and great catchy music. It's become my personal mission to offer an alternative vision for "Balkan fusion" within the belly dance community, one that is rooted in the actual folk movements, region-specific stylizations and cultural markers of the various communities and nations within the Balkans. To that end, I offer workshops on Balkan folk dance and my brand of Balkan fusion within the belly dance community and work with my dance company, The Slivovica Sizzlers, to produce choreographic suites that entertain and educate by physicalizing the spectrum from pure folk dance to pure belly dance while highlighting the movement commonalities between them as the most fruitful grounds for thoughtful fusion. Check us out on YouTube to see what I mean!

Number of times at Balkan camp: I'm a "camp kid" so I've attended almost every year of my life, which is 20+ years!

Studied at camp: I always take as many dance classes as my legs can stand, but Alex [Marković]'s Serbian dance classes are always my favorite. This year, I tried two new instruments: santouri with Yianni [Roussos] (during first slot nonetheless!) and zurla with Jessica [Ruiz] and Milo [Destanovski].

Memorable moment at camp: Growing up, I watched Luka and Eva Primak sing their hearts out to perfection, Jesse Kotansky play up a storm on his violin, and many other camp kids pick up melodies and instruments with an ease that I could barely fathom. After a botched attempt at joining the brass ensemble on trumpet (there was no Čoček Nation to ease the transition from Marlis [Kraft]'s kids class back then), I decided to give up on anything beyond drumming and dancing at age 14. My inner perfectionist decided that those two things were my only talents, and everything else was an embarrassing waste of time.

This year (a decade since my fateful decision), I went to camp ready to get back into the game with santouri. It's about as close to a drum as a melody instrument can come. All you have to do is hit it in the right place at the right time with sticks. Perfect. But zurla came as a complete surprise. I heard that Jessica's sole beginner zurla student would be leaving midweek, and as a staunch supporter of all things zurla/tapan, I rounded up some of the young ladies at camp, and we trooped up to the kafana after lunch. Unsurprisingly, my fellow students were naturals, and once again, I felt like the village idiot. Jessica would sing or call out fingerings, and the class would reply back almost perfectly, except for me. I sat there sweaty, pink, and too anxious to put enough air into the instrument to make some of the loudest mistakes of my life. I could feel Milo and Jessica slowly getting exasperated with my unwillingness to play (although in retrospect their level of patience was saintly) and I knew that the only way I'd ever get better was to do just that.

Finally, Jessica told us to spread out and play far enough away that our ears might stop ringing. I found a spot in the woods, and as the mosquitoes bit through my jeans, I still couldn't get myself to play. This internal battle was exactly what pushed me out of Brass ensemble right there at kafana 10 years before. Back then, I was too afraid to sound anything less than perfect in front of a community saturated with talent. I couldn't handle the expectations that came with being a "camp kid." I had been told stories of Zlatne Uste sounding like "noise and drum" when they first started, but that felt impossible. That was obviously a myth used to comfort unpromising beginners like me, and so I had given up.

I began regretting that decision the day I made it, and so I used that pent-up frustration to fuel my next move. With at least half of camp as my captive audience, I threw my entire lung capacity at that little reed and began to play. I hit wrong notes, my pitch was questionable, and as my mouth grew tired, squeaking became a frequent phenomenon. But then something magical happened, I dropped into "the zone" just like I do with dance, and I lost track of time as I repeated mistakes and struggled to recall the melody. I noodled and bumbled and fumbled, until all of a sudden, class was over. Čoček Nation was marching up the hill, and Jessica was calling for us to return our instruments. I was beaming as I walked back to my cabin that day. I had done what used to be impossible for me and discovered that being the loudest and most unaccomplished beginner in my class was actually the biggest accomplishment of all.

Iroquois Springs 2015: Bonnie Silver

By Bonnie Silver, Winter 2015-16
Bonnie Silver in center, playing tapan (April Renae)

Bonnie Silver in center, playing tapan (April Renae)

Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Occupation: I am a psychotherapist in private practice.

Connection to Balkan music/dance: I am so lucky to be living in a city where there is so much (although sometimes still feels like not enough) music and so many opportunities to dance. There is a folk dance group that meets bimonthly in a Chelsea studio which we try to keep alive, and an impromptu gathering in our local park which someone else from camp has organized for dancers and musicians, which I hope we can keep going as long as the weather permits. I continue to study the tapan privately and have participated when I can in classes (last year with the Bulgarians) and jams.

Number of times at Balkan camp: This was my fourth year at camp: I began by only attending a dance party. After the bed and breakfast option became available my whole experience changed: I remember how I felt leaving camp in the morning while the ensembles were gathered and people were playing music: I knew then that I needed to be a part of this environment and would be a camper. I began with 1/2 a week, then a full week, then only 1/2 (due to financial constraints), and finally this year I was able to have a full week at camp as a scholarship recipient.

Studied at camp: My classes concentrated on tapan—both instruction and ensemble playing; and of course, at least one dance class. This year Joe [Graziosi]'s Greek class captured me!

Memorable moment at camp: This year's camp has put me deeply in touch with the cultural roots of the music I have loved since I was a teenager. In my tapan class, Matt [Moran] collaborated with Alex [Marković] on a group of dances and rhythms which Alex has only seen in a small Serbian village. The set of rhythm changes was complicated and remained a "work in progress" even as we performed it at the end of the week. This to me was the essence of the real musical work we do at camp—the importance for me is in the effort and the learning, not as much in creating a polished finished product. Being part of an ensemble with professional musicians and scholars is an opportunity I cherish. Particularly moving was when Alex told us we were the first non-Roma people ever to play this sequence.

There is another visual image that stays with me—it is the expression on my friend's face on the last morning of camp. We are saying goodbye and I have asked her what it is like for her, as a person from the Balkans living in the U.S., to spend a week with so many people immersed in her own cultural heritage. She is moved to a great smile and to tears.

This year's camp has deepened my understanding and appreciation in ways new and surprising for me. I cherish what I have learned; I look forward to what lies ahead.

© 2014 – 2024 East European Folklife Center