Monday, August 26, 2013

Tying the Mazurka Knot

Boombal Stage where beginners danced with experts
I have a bad case of festival fever, having been in the thick of dance and accordion workshops for the last eight days. It leaves one dizzy from an excess of good times and rife with new friendships. What a treat.

Boombal Stage in Lovendegem was delightful. Nastasia Stein led the beginner dance class with flair and panache. Her best art was her ability to single out someone for extra advice, often it was me with my two left feet, and make that person feel special and successful rather than slow and stupid. Well that and being an extraordinary dancer. One night on the dance floor I saw her cut loose with a dazzling grace and beauty that left me breathless. And I was only watching. Her partner must have been gasping.

Nastasia and Gwen slipped learning the mazurka into our busy days, only slightly ahead of schedule to accommodate my leaving early to attend the Stage voor traditionele Volksmuziek. We stalked this admittedly challenging dance in slow stages. First we paced out the curious halting rhythm with the right foot, circling our dance-tent classroom. Then the same thing with the left foot. Then side by side and finally facing. For me it was a giant leap to learn to walk three steps followed by one, two, hesitate.

Dancing the cow pie two-step
In theory, it sounds so simple. In practice, not so simple. I had never before asked my feet to do anything more complicated than moving me forward step by step, so this methodical approach to a new skill was entirely necessary.

After class, I found myself heading off to the food tent in mazurka rhythm, while avoiding the plentiful cow pies in that grassy meadow. This added a bit of diversity to my lurching along. Along the way I got a thumbs up from Nastasia, perhaps for keeping my shoes clean, but I prefer to think for my graceful mazurka like moves as I tacked between manure shores.

Beginners met Greet Garriau (and her mirror image)
At Gooik, I was put in Trekharmonica beginners met Greet Garriau, which proved to be quite challenging, despite Greet's giving a second set of instructions in English for Duck, as I came to be called.

Usually her explanations were detailed and easily understood. Sometimes though, in the press of teaching, she would spend several minutes explaining something in Flemish followed by an aside to me like, "Melody" or "Pull". Then I watched the others and started punching buttons when I figured out what they were doing. I must say that I improved my ability to join the class play along late, in grand slacker style. In contrast, now and then I found myself soloing while everyone stared in polite disbelief and Greet waited patiently for me to catch that we were to listen rather than play.

Between classes I practiced like crazy, trying to hammer the melody and fingering into my memory. During one break I was sitting by the food tent bumbling along when I saw Pascale Rubens of Naragonia fame. On a whim, I played her mazurka, Le lac de St-Croix, which happens to be's Tune of the Month for August. She approached, smiling graciously, and we chatted for a moment. Then she brought over two of her boys and introduced them, explaining that I had flown in an airplane to get there. They were suitably impressed about the plane, if not the tune.

That same evening I was leaning against the stage watching Pascale play for the ball when Toon van Merlo announced a mazurka. Charlotte grabbed me and off we went. As we danced we encountered Leen Devyver, who had given Anita and me our first dance lesson at Ballenstraat. She generously said I had made progress. Well, yes.

Tine Vercruysse attracted a crowd.
Later Tine and I were sitting around playing tunes. A small crowd gathered and I soloed my three best mazurkas. People actually started dancing.  I played, they danced, and at the end they applauded. It was a warm feeling to realize that during this summer I have learned to play a recognizable mazurka and dance one too.

I wish to thank the many new friends who have pitched in to help make my diatonic cruise so delightful.

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