Sestorka. Crnagorka. Rachenitsa. Cobankat. Tropanka. Gankino horo. When it comes to Balkan folk dances, the Miserlou is about the easiest one for a native English-speaking person to pronounce.
The dance steps? Not so difficult. At least with practice.
Louis Marguglio teaches an international folk dancing class every Thursday at the New Paltz Community Center from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The class is taught the traditional folk dances of the Balkan countries in southeastern Europe. Dances are done in long lines and spirals, so no partner is necessary. Holding hands at shoulder height, the line of dancers is led through the steps a few times by Marguglio, and then he puts the music on to practice what he’s just demonstrated.
The distinctive feature of Balkan folk music is the asymmetrical meter, built up around various combinations of quick and slow beats. No dance experience is necessary to take Marguglio’s classes, and in fact, about half of the people present in class on a recent Thursday afternoon were there for the first time.
Sheila Cohen and Helene Bigley are friends who both love music and dancing, and when one found out about the class, she called the other. Gail Picciati, on the other hand, has been doing Balkan folk dance for more than 20 years. There used to be places to do the dances in the area, she said, but those venues “dried up” in recent years, so when she heard about this class starting in March, she was right there. “I love Balkan music. If you like to dance, it’s hard to resist.”
And, the classes are free.
Marguglio said he offers the classes at no charge as a way of “paying it forward” to the New Paltz community. “A lot of people are retired, and everything is so expensive, no matter what you buy. I’m grateful for what I have, and I don’t want to make money on people.”
The former ballroom dancer taught a similar class in Stone Ridge for eight years, but when attendance dropped off, he stopped offering the class. It’s more fun with a lot of people, he said, and more social, so he’s looking to increase the attendance at the New Paltz class he started in March, where currently about 15 or so people come to learn folk dance every week.
All ages are welcome. Marguglio said he had several young girls who were home-schooled in Stone Ridge whose moms used to take them to his class regularly. One of them, an 11-year-old, became an excellent dancer in three years, he said.
He chooses which dances he teaches by selecting the ones with music he likes and ones with interesting steps. Balkan dance steps are usually based on a walking step, with the line or spiral slowly snaking in clockwise or counterclockwise movement.
“The steps aren’t difficult,” he says. “The hard thing is to do them gracefully.”
For more information, call (845) 255-2512 or just show up at the New Paltz Community Center on Thursdays at 1 p.m.