BYU folk dancers learn from Hungarians



BUDAPEST, Hungary — Clad in sea green and royal blue, leaning forward with rapt attention to the performance on the stage in front of them, BYU student folk dancers took mental notes on the style and technique of a Hungarian folk ensemble last week.

Photo by Stephanie Rhodes. The International Folk Dance Ensemble performs in a Hungarian cultural arts center that was a former Soviet Union Military Base. BYU's International Folk Dance Ensemble is touring across Central Europe and performing with groups from around the world.

The performance at the Danube Palace in central Budapest was part of the BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble’s month-long European tour. Although the BYU students did not perform that evening, they met one of the objectives of the trip by observing the professional Hungarian dance troupe.


Edwin G. Austin Jr., artistic director for the BYU ensemble, said the opportunity to be in Europe is ideal because the teams with whom the BYU students associate are among the best folk dancers in the world.

“Every time we go to these festivals, it’s a huge opportunity for us because it’s almost like a living laboratory,” Austin said.
Part of that laboratory includes the opportunity for the team to learn from and perform with some of Hungary’s premier folk groups.

Besides observing a performance at the Danube Palace, just steps from the picturesque Danube River in this historic European capital, the BYU group rehearsed several times with the Hungarian State Folk Dance Ensemble.

While BYU dancers and musicians expressed awe at just rehearsing with the nation’s top folk dancers, the experience got even better Saturday night when the BYU group performed on stage with the Hungarian State Ensemble at a 3,500-seat amphitheater on Budapest’s Margaret Island. The show was viewed by an appreciative crowd and filmed for broadcast on television in Hungary and Germany.

“The best part is that I can recognize the dances they do,” BYU dancer Emily Park said, after the performance. “We are legit. We could get up and dance with them.”

The BYU students practiced and attended workshops with several groups of Hungarian bands and dancers, as well as dancers from China and Germany, both learning from and teaching members of these groups. Because of their love for their craft, members of the ensemble from Provo used these performances and workshops as springboards for further improvement.

“In order to expand your own skills you have to use other people,” said Drew Sorber, 24, vocalist and guitarist for Mountain Strings. “There is a lot to be gained by it and I’m just fascinated with it.”

The BYU band added new rhythms and styles to its already vast repertoire and the dancers saw pieces they’ve performed throughout the year in their original context. This added both depth and meaning to its performances, an outcome Austin intended.

“It’s like learning a foreign language in the classroom and now they’re in the country speaking it,” he said. “Of course they do it with a much different heart when they have friends in these countries.”

Two of these friends include fans Barb Kovacsis, 29, and Réka Simon, 19, of Budapest, Hungary. Kovacsis and Simon met members of the ensemble at a Young Single Adult activity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hungary, and they have attended several performances since then. They watched Saturday’s show from backstage.

“They have so much energy. They just give that energy away,” Kovacsis said. “They explode on stage.”

BYU attracted attention from a Hungarian news crews soon after the students arrived on June 10 by putting on a dance clinic at the stake center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Budapest. The group also shared testimonies and music at a fireside in the same building Friday.

Last week, the group toured a Holocaust museum in Budapest and performed in a cultural arts center on a former Soviet military base (The Daily Universe will report more on those stories on Tuesday).

The BYU group is made up of 27 dancers, seven band members and one student technician. Also with the group from BYU are a tour director, technical director, artistic director and trainer. The team efficiently carts around a large box of costumes for each performer plus sound equipment.

In addition to performing and rehearsing, the group reserves some time to see the sights, which in Budapest have included several cathedrals, monuments, parks and museums.

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