Interested to learn more about dance in Hungary? Check out the excerpt below from my best-selling book Dance Adventures: True Stories About Dancing Abroad. This story, written by Oluwadamilare Adeyeri, shares about Damilare’s time studying dance in Hungary through his Choreomundus Masters program.

Trying on a New Hat

As I entered the school gymnasium, I was met by a chorus of fiddles, rhythmic stomping, and clapping. The space was packed with men and women engaged in lively conversation. At the center of the room, 50 couples danced to songs played by two violinists and a double bassist. The gymnasium had become a space for this táncház (literally translated as “dance house”), a Hungarian folk dance and social event. 

I’d dressed for the occasion that night, making sure my outfit would be appropriate for this new experience. I’d donned a multi-colored, long-sleeved shirt tucked into black trousers, and a black hat. I’d chosen what to wear  – and especially my hat – because it was similar to the style of the Roma men from Transylvania whom I’d met. I quickly made my way through the crowd, looking for the familiar faces of my graduate school classmates. 

Although I’d known what to expect, I was still nervous. I had only lived in Hungary for three months, and I was still very new to the culture. Moreover, I stood out! In a part of the world where most people are white, there was no one else who looked like me. So far, this had only evoked appreciation and curiosity from local dancers.

“Where are you from?” people would ask me politely during social dance events. “What interests you about our dance? How did you learn it?”

I was once even asked these questions for an ethnographic documentary about the transmission of Hungarian cultural heritage in society. The researcher had noticed me dancing at a local event, and was intrigued since I looked distinctly different from the others.

Dance felt like my all-access pass to new conversations and friendships, and I had no reason to believe tonight would be different. Still, I wanted to be respectful of this culture’s traditions. The Hungarian dances were different from the dances I’d learned growing up in Nigeria, but no less wonderful. I had great respect for the artists I’d met so far, and wanted them to know how much I appreciated their work.

***

My journey into the world of Hungarian dances started as a result of working through a two-year Erasmus Mundus Master of Arts degree program called Choreomundus. The program was a partnership between four European universities, and focused on dance knowledge, practice, and heritage. I was one of 18 people from 15 different countries who had recently arrived in Szeged, Hungary. We’d come to continue our Choreomundus studies at one of the partner universities, the University of Szeged, for our third semester of the program. My colleagues and I had become close friends over the last year and a half of our program. 

Csaba Varga, a Hungarian member of our cohort, played an especially important role on this leg of the journey. He had grown up in Kalotaszeg, Transylvania, and was like an honorary, additional professor who was deeply knowledgeable about many dances from the Transylvanian region. 

Tall, fair-skinned, and slender, Csaba had a warm and unassuming look. He was a man of few words, but once you got to know him, he would engage you in fascinating conversation. I loved to hear him talk about the many Transylvanian folk dances that he knew, and especially the Kalotaszegi Legényes (lad’s dance), which was his specialty. 

While Transylvania is today a part of Romania, it was once part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Many Hungarians still live in the area, where a plethora of art forms were born before political lines divided the region into two different countries.

Our time in Szeged included a research course called, “From Field to Archives.” The course focused on documenting Hungarian folk dances for the purpose of comparing past and present versions, as well for cultural preservation. 

The minimum dance requirement for this course was to learn the basics of csárdás, a traditional Hungarian folk dance; however, I also fell in love with a dance called mezőségi korcsos the first time I saw it.

A depiction of csárdás. Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

During one of our class rehearsals, Csaba started teaching us embellishments to the csárdás with moves borrowed from korcsos, a traditional Transylvanian men’s solo dance from the Mezőség region and a subtype of the legényes dances. The real name of Korcsos, Csaba told us, is târnăveana, although most people don’t realize that. Târnăveana is a Romanian term used by the local Hungarians and Romanians who still live in Transylvania.

I was intrigued by the percussive nature of the embellishments and wanted to learn more of the original dance.

“Would you teach me more korcsos?” I asked Csaba at the end of class that day.

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