Embrace your inner folk dancer
Published: Friday, September 7, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 7, 2012 22:09
“Opa!” The jubilant cry of the Houston International Folk Dancers resonates across the courtroom turned dance floor of Oddfellows Hall every Monday night. Here, a group of Houston’s dance enthusiasts gather to share in the magic of ethnic folk dancing.
A recreational and performance group founded in 1947, HIFD currently has about 85 active members and a repertoire of over 300 dances from 39 countries. More a welcoming club than an exclusive collection of dance gurus, HIFD is open to anyone who has an interest in folk dance or simply a desire to try something new.
I had the pleasure of joining this lively group of individuals at their weekly Introductory Folk Dancing Session. Along with 20 or so unsuspecting and open-minded Rice University students, I was led up several flights of musty stairs to an antiquated courtroom. There, we found ourselves transported to a land of unprecedented hipsterdom. A man in his late 60s, clad in a cleverly crafted bandana headband and suede moccasins you could not find in the most obscure thrift store, welcomed us to the land of dance. Slowly, people of all walks of life collected in the room. From the 5-foot-tall 80-year-old firecracker to the middle-aged Rice alum, all of the regulars were exhilarated to see new faces and eager learners.
A vintage stereo system attached to a not-so-vintage iPod filled the room with the sounds and spirits of Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the Americas. On the blackboard at the back of the room was a list of the 25 dances we were to master by the end of the night. They ranged from basic ballroom dancing to the renowned folk dance of Serbia, the Kolo. We stood in an amoebic circle and held hands, preschool style, as we awaited further instruction from the bandana man.
As fiddles and tambourines lit up the room with the vivacity of a different world, we were given instructions on how to shuffle, step, spin, clap and snap in the style of the natives. Of course, as stereotypical Rice students, we started out in notorious awkwardness: sweaty palms, nervous laughs and tripping over our own feet as well as each others’. However, as the music began to pump louder through the hall, the spirit of dance began to flow deeper through our veins. The room filled with joyful laughter, lively feet, sparkling energy and the increasingly frequent “opa!”
“It was a boisterously entertaining conglomeration of Eastern European auditory and tactile delight,” Brown College freshman Greg Kinman said.
Friendships were formed and bonds were created among not only the students themselves but also with the folk dance regulars. Young or old, awkward or agile, beginner or professional, we were all united in song and dance.
“It is a hidden gem in not only the Houston community but the entire nation,” Martel College freshman David Lam said.
It was an experience that cannot be matched by any other, and I suggest that anyone with a free spirit and open mind take a step out of his or her comfort zone and onto the dance floor.