News Opinions/Publications “Folk danc­ing is a phe­nom­e­non that holds us together.”

“Folk danc­ing is a phe­nom­e­non that holds us together.”

Sanyi was born in 1980 in Szeged, Hun­gary. He grew up in Kiskun­halas, where he first had the chance to explore the world of Hun­gar­i­an folk danc­ing. From then on, he has been a devot­ed dancer and a folk­lore enthu­si­ast. He moved to Edmon­ton, Cana­da 17 years ago, where he was blown away by the amaz­ing Hun­gar­i­an dance cul­ture that keeps thriv­ing thou­sands of miles away from the mainland.

He is a stal­wart mem­ber of the Csárdás Hun­gar­i­an Folk­dance Ensem­ble of Edmon­ton, and one of the founders of the Össze­tar­tozás Tánc­e­gyüttes (Togeth­er­ness Dance Ensemble).

How did you first dis­cov­er the world of Hun­gar­i­an folk dancing?

I moved from Hun­gary to Cana­da 17 years ago. I first start­ed danc­ing in Hun­gary as a mem­ber of the Halas Tánc­e­gyüttes in 1990. The group’s leader used to gath­er chil­dren from schools to join his dance class­es. That’s how I dis­cov­ered folk danc­ing and start­ed out in the children’s group. Danc­ing has been an impor­tant part of my life ever since.

When I came to Edmon­ton, Cana­da, I got to know the Csárdás Hun­gar­i­an Folk­dance Ensem­ble. To be hon­est, I didn’t know what to expect at first. Back then we didn’t real­ly know much about the folk-dance groups of Hun­gar­i­ans liv­ing abroad, far from Hun­gary. After encoun­ter­ing the dance group in Edmon­ton, I was shocked, in a good way. It was a huge sur­prise for me that 8000 kilo­me­ters from home, Hun­gar­i­an folk danc­ing is on such a high lev­el and peo­ple take cul­ture and tra­di­tions very seriously.

What was the defin­ing moment that made you feel like danc­ing is more than sim­ply a hobby?

Tricky ques­tion. When I start­ed danc­ing in the Halas Tánc­e­gyüttes, the first thing that real­ly grabbed me was the col­lec­tive. I got into a great team, and I was feel­ing great. To this day I’m still in con­tact with a lot of my child­hood friends from the dance group. It’s safe to say that the friend­ships that were made there will last a life­time. The oth­er advan­tage of being part of the group was that we got to trav­el a lot. In the 90s it was much hard­er to trav­el abroad so this was a big plus.

What was the main rea­son behind estab­lish­ing the Össze­tar­tozás Tánc­e­gyüttes (Togeth­er­ness Dance Ensemble)?

Cul­tur­al­ly speak­ing, the peak of the year for the Cana­di­an Hun­gar­i­ans is the West­ern Cana­di­an Hun­gar­i­an Folk Fes­ti­val, which is has been an annu­al tra­di­tion for more than 40 years. It’s being held in a dif­fer­ent city every year from Vic­to­ria to Win­nipeg. The first time I attend­ed the event was in 2005, where I’ve met a lot of folk dancers. I was in awe. It was fan­tas­tic to see how tal­ent­ed the youth is, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing that most of them have nev­er been to Hun­gary or the Carpathi­an Basin. Right there, I already start­ed think­ing to myself that it would be great to bring the dif­fer­ent dance groups clos­er and strength­en their ties with each oth­er. I also felt that these incred­i­ble dancers deserve this oppor­tu­ni­ty because they sac­ri­fice so much of their free time to pur­sue danc­ing, and they strong­ly feel the need to pre­serve their nation­al iden­ti­ty and traditions.

As time passed, I got to know more mem­bers and teach­ers from numer­ous dance groups like the Vic­to­ria Búza­virág Dance Group, the Vadrózsa Hun­gar­i­an Folk Dancers from Cal­gary, and the Kapisz­tran Hun­gar­i­an Dance Ensem­ble of Win­nipeg. We start­ed plan­ning chore­o­gra­phies and per­for­mances togeth­er. So, the coop­er­a­tion was being built up step by step. That’s how we even­tu­al­ly con­clud­ed that we could form a new dance group togeth­er with dancers from all the dif­fer­ent parts of Cana­da. 2017 and 2018 were two very impor­tant years for us because we began orga­niz­ing our events for 2020, which was an impor­tant year for us because of the 100th anniver­sary of the Tri­anon Treaty. We’ve dis­cussed our plans with Szen­the Anna, the Cana­di­an Pres­i­dent of the Hun­gar­i­an Dias­po­ra Coun­cil. I’ve sug­gest­ed that for the spe­cial anniver­sary we would estab­lish a new group and pre­pare a pro­duc­tion togeth­er. The pres­i­dent was in favor of the idea, so the only thing left was to get some financ­ing for it. The finan­cial sup­port has been pro­vid­ed thanks to the Hun­gar­i­an State Sec­re­tari­at for Nation­al Pol­i­cy and the Cana­di­an Hun­gar­i­an Cul­tur­al Soci­ety of Edmon­ton. After all this, we’ve man­aged to arrange our first com­mon prac­tice ses­sion in Feb­ru­ary 2020.

Is Hun­gar­i­an folk­lore and folk danc­ing pop­u­lar amongst the Hun­gar­i­ans of the dias­po­ra and the Canadians?

Folk danc­ing is a phe­nom­e­non that holds us togeth­er. At home, in Hun­gary, folk danc­ing is one of the best ways to show our own tra­di­tions. I feel like 10 – 15 years ago it was eas­i­er to pop­u­lar­ize danc­ing among the chil­dren. Nowa­days, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, it’s basi­cal­ly impos­si­ble. Oth­er­wise, folk danc­ing is pop­u­lar because it’s one of the great­est tools of build­ing a com­mu­ni­ty. Almost every city has its own cserkész team, and Hun­gar­i­an folk danc­ing is the heart of the giv­en com­mu­ni­ty. The balls and the nation­al hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions, or munic­i­pal events such as her­itage days and Hun­gar­i­an days are also excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ties to show the beau­ty of Hun­gar­i­an folk­lore to our audi­ence. My expe­ri­ence is that the par­ents have a cru­cial role regard­ing this ques­tion, and how a giv­en fam­i­ly views the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing their nation­al identity.

Hun­gar­i­an danc­ing is also very pop­u­lar among the non-Hun­gar­i­ans. In August each year, there are so called “Her­itage Days” in Edmon­ton, where almost 500 000 peo­ple attend every year. I’m proud to say that the Hun­gar­i­an sec­tion is one of the most pop­u­lar sights. The Hun­gar­i­an dish­es are always a hit and peo­ple also love to watch our tra­di­tion­al dance per­for­mances. The Pol­ish-Hun­gar­i­an friend­ship is also a defin­ing fac­tor in Cana­da. This is espe­cial­ly true for the Hun­gar­i­an dance group from Win­nipeg. We also have a good rela­tion­ship with the Pol­ish com­mu­ni­ty here in Edmon­ton. We coop­er­ate a lot and attend each other’s events.

What does the Pol­ish-Hun­gar­i­an friend­ship and coop­er­a­tion look like in Canada?

In 2007, the Hun­gar­i­an and the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment declared March 23 as Pol­ish-Hun­gar­i­an Friend­ship Day. Back then we had 4 Pol­ish dancer pairs in our group who were also mem­bers of the Pol­ish folk-dance group in Edmon­ton. There­fore, we’ve decid­ed to set up a lit­tle cel­e­bra­tion of our own, so we invit­ed the two Pol­ish dance groups of Edmon­ton to a Pol­ish-Hun­gar­i­an night. We’ve all pre­sent­ed our tra­di­tion­al dances and music, tast­ed each other’s nation­al dish­es, admired the works of Pol­ish painter, and lis­tened to the charm­ing music of a Hun­gar­i­an clas­si­cal vio­lin­ist. We’ve basi­cal­ly cre­at­ed a pro­gram to empha­size the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing our cultures.

This event has become some­what of a tra­di­tion for the upcom­ing years, grow­ing larg­er and larg­er each year. On the first year’s event, which was held in the Hun­gar­i­an House in Edmon­ton, there were approx­i­mate­ly 150 par­tic­i­pants. The next year we had to move to the Pol­ish House because the num­ber of peo­ple attend­ing had basi­cal­ly dou­bled. We’ve also invit­ed the dance group from Win­nipeg, which has its own Pol­ish folk music band. This event has been a suc­cess each year so we sin­cere­ly hope that we can keep up with the tra­di­tion after the pandemic.

Let me tell you anoth­er intrigu­ing exam­ple of our friend­ship. One time the Low­icz Pol­ish Folk­lore Ensem­ble asked our dance group to teach them Hun­gar­i­an dances from the Alföld, which they pre­sent­ed at the World Fes­ti­val of Pol­ish Folk­lore Bands Liv­ing Abroad in Rzeszow.

How does it feel to be a Hun­gar­i­an folk artist in Cana­da and how dif­fi­cult is it to orga­nize dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al events?

We can basi­cal­ly orga­nize any­thing. We get invi­ta­tions to numer­ous pro­grams to per­form our chore­o­gra­phies. For instance, we often vis­it the Ser­bian and the Por­tuguese cul­tur­al orga­ni­za­tions. From this aspect, we have an easy job because as folk dancers we get a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties. The Edmon­ton Folk Arts Coun­cil also has an impor­tant role regard­ing these events.

There was a time with the Csárdás Hun­gar­i­an Folk­dance Ensem­ble of Edmon­ton when only five mem­bers were eth­ni­cal­ly Hun­gar­i­ans, the rest of the group con­sist­ed of Poles, French Cana­di­ans, Ukra­ni­ans, and things still worked per­fect­ly. They were singing and danc­ing the same way as Hun­gar­i­ans, so for the audi­ence it was vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble to tell the dif­fer­ence between the Hun­gar­i­ans and the non-Hun­gar­i­ans. A few years ago, in a méta camp, one of our French-Cana­di­an mem­bers per­formed a ver­bunk, and no one could’ve guessed that he was not actu­al­ly Hun­gar­i­an. We also have a Pol­ish and a French-Cana­di­an mem­ber in the Össze­tar­tozás Tánc­e­gyüttes. The rest of the mem­bers there are Hungarians.

Are you able to have prac­tice ses­sions and per­for­mances dur­ing the pandemic?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the COVID sit­u­a­tion is on a high point now in Cana­da. The basic con­cept with the Össze­tar­tozás Tánc­e­gyüttes was to have a spe­cial pro­duc­tion on June 4, 2020, to com­mem­o­rate the 100th anniver­sary of the Tri­anon treaty. We already had our reser­va­tions at the the­atres but then came the lock­down in March. We’ve been unable to prop­er­ly prac­tice since then. We’ve tried hav­ing online prac­tice ses­sions on Zoom but those didn’t real­ly work out. Our chore­o­g­ra­phers, Kádár Ignác “Náci” and Nagypál Anett, have pre­pared videos for us so we could prac­tice at home.

Last year in Octo­ber, we were final­ly able to meet up for a live ses­sion in Edmon­ton. We had four days to plan out the one hour-long per­for­mance. In the end, we were able to plan out the whole chore­og­ra­phy, and we’ve danced 42 hours dur­ing those four days. We’ve had sore limbs for a week after­wards, but we were hap­py about our accom­plish­ment. The COVID sit­u­a­tion got bet­ter in Novem­ber so we could once again come togeth­er to prac­tice in Cal­gary. We were going to have our debut on Feb­ru­ary 12 in Toron­to but sad­ly all the event plans for Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary had to be can­celled. Right now, we can’t even meet up in per­son. Oth­er­wise, every­thing is ready for the per­for­mance, we have recent­ly received our beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion­al cos­tumes, too.

Our next panned per­for­mance will be on March 18 in Edmon­ton. This will be an ide­al oppor­tu­ni­ty to cel­e­brate March 15, the nation­al hol­i­day of the 1848 – 49 Hun­gar­i­an Rev­o­lu­tion. It’s hard to say any­thing for sure because of the con­stant­ly chang­ing sit­u­a­tion, but we con­tin­ue to prac­tice at home and moti­vate each oth­er with short dance videos. Actu­al­ly, all of the dancers have 20 – 30-years expe­ri­ence in danc­ing which means a lot regard­ing our future per­for­mances. This is also one of the main rea­sons why we were able to set up our whole chore­og­ra­phy in such a short time.

What are your plans with the Össze­tar­tozás Tánc­e­gyüttes regard­ing the dis­tant future?

The orig­i­nal debut which was due on Feb­ru­ary 12 in Toron­to has been delayed and the new date is June 4, 2022. This date would be great because it would be on the same day that was orig­i­nal­ly planned two years ago. Besides this, we would like to show our chore­og­ra­phy in Octo­ber at the West­ern Cana­di­an Hun­gar­i­an Folk Fes­ti­val, which will be in Van­cou­ver this year.

A great dream of ours regard­ing the future is to bring the whole pro­duc­tion home to Hun­gary and per­form at numer­ous places there. It would be so excit­ing so we real­ly hope that this will hap­pen as soon as possible.

Source: idance​hun​gary​.hu