When I went to Eger last month, I asked my family to take me to a tanchaz some evening. A tanchaz (pronounced "TAHNTS-hahzz") is a "Dance House" where traditional Hungarian folk music is played, sung, and danced in an informal setting. The tanchaz movement, which began in the 1970s, is widely recognized as an educational tool for rooting Hungarian children and teens in the traditions of their culture. (The tanchaz movement is listed by UNESCO as an "Intangible Heritage of Urgent Safeguarding.")
If you have a bit of time for some genuine Hungarian entertainment, please enjoy these videos. I'll make some commentary to make sense out of Hungarian music.
My Eger family did take me to a practice session of that city's performance troupe of Hungarian dance. Now, the many folkloric performances troupes are not the same as the Tanchaz movement, but they are closely connected. Many young people are inspired by the performance groups in concert, then go to dance themselves at a local tanchaz, and even then go on to join a performance group. And so the circle is completed.
In Eger, the group has the daunting name of "Lajtha Laszlo Neptancegyuttes" Our contact was Gyorgy Molnar, one of their dancers. He welcomed me and my cousins for a practice session. We stayed for about an hour, amazed at the skill and stamina of these "amateurs." They were vibrant, friendly, and eager to dance… dance… and dance.
The focus that evening was a men's dance that opens the video below. They were practicing for the May 28 event and posted the video yesterday.
Now, this is primarily a men's dance, and it is a performance piece. The second dance are men's solo dances, and the third dance, with singing, is a couples' slow dance. The fourth dance is a couples' fast dance. (I will show you some informal tanchaz music later on.)
Hungarian dances -- including the csardas -- is a case of endless improvisation on fixed but flexible steps and patterns. Some musicologists liken the csardas to both flamenco and tango in that all three dance forms are 19th century developments out of older circle and line folk dances. It marks an important shift away from communal identity to individual identity, as well as a raising the consciousness of national identity -- as Hungarians, a Andalusian Spaniards, as Argentinians. In all three dance traditions, the paired couple of man and woman, are the energy centers of what is a very romantic and erotic experience.
(It is no accident that many Calvinist ministers in Hungary denounced the csardas. Catholics were a bit more forgiving. Indeed, I remember these dances at our church hall at St. Stephen of Hungary Church in New York City when I was a little boy… and my parents danced the night away with Gypsy musicians playing waltzes, polkas, fox trots, and -- of course -- the csardas.)
Here is the Bottle Dance, a women's dance called "Uveges" (pronounced "OO-veg-aysh")
It is important that these dances don't remain consumer experiences where one goes to a show and watches entertainment. Rather, groups like the Eger dancers encourage people to entertain themselves in the dance houses. This next video is live footage from a tanchaz. It is not staged. It is spontaneous. Ordinary dances and virtuoso dancers having a good time.
Here is another clip of the Eger performance group. This time the dancers are young people. While not as proficient as the older dancers, they are very good! The first is a couples' dance, followed by a women's dance. Then the men do solo dances -- all very distinctive and unique interpretations. Finally, the performance ends with a series of couples' dances. Both videos feature dances from the Hungarian communities in Transylvania.
This has been a long session of dancing, and you may be tired. But if you are one of those late-night party persons, you will enjoy this final clip of informal tanchaz music. This is a young country drawing on ancient roots. A lot of energy! It is quite a whirl.
Here is an interesting article on Hungarian dance if you are interested in the different dances and choreography
Coming in a future issue: Roma (Gypsy) Music in Hungary