Explorations in Folklore 3:
My Albanian Journey

By Karen Bennett

[Written in January 2010. A pared-down (by 50%) version of this essay was published as part of my "Explorations in Folklore" series in the Ontario Folk Dancer magazine's March 15, 2010 issue. More photos from my Albanian workshop are available on Flickr.]

Dressed in an Albanian costume, I taught Albanian wedding dances at a workshop for international folk dancers in Toronto one evening in November 2009. I also fielded questions such as, "Is your background Albanian? Have you ever been there? Where did you learn the dances? Where did you get the costumes? How did you come to be interested in Albanian culture?" I promised to write a comprehensive answer to their queries and, for friends who'd been unable to attend, to tell the tale of the journey I'd taken to arrive at the workshop.

I've been collecting original folk costumes almost as long as I've been dancing ... so, for more than 30 years. In 1999, I joined eBay. And most of my costume purchases since that time have come from eBay, where there are pictures of what's being sold as well as a description of the size and where the seller thinks the costume is from. I have an eBay search that eliminates Hallowe'en and belly dance costumes and has turned up some wonderful stuff. And one day in 2007, it turned up a piece of Albanian costume.

My costumes were mostly from the Balkans, but there was nothing from Albania. And what was listed on eBay was really beautiful, with gold embroidery. The seller sounded like he knew his stuff. Eventually I collected an entire costume from the region of Elbasan from him. The seller's name was Dritan Seda, and he was living in Colorado. He'd emigrated to the United States from southern Albania in 2006, and he collected costumes as well as engraved distaffs, spindles and whorls. He was tickled pink that I was interested in his culture. Pretty soon, I was finding out how many costumes Albania has (hundreds). Pretty soon, I was owning a second costume, one that looked like others from the Balkans rather than one from a Turkish harem, as the Elbasan costume does.

I wore the Elbasan costume to the Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Folk Dance Association in Toronto on May 2, 2009 and attracted a lot of interest: "Where is this from?" At that meeting, I also joined the executive of the association. One of the topics at the next executive meeting was ideas for upcoming cafés. I had learned while doing research on Albanian costumes that November 28th was Albanian Independence Day (November 28, 1912 being the date that independence from the Turkish Empire was declared), and one of the café dates happened to be November 28. So I suggested that we have a café to celebrate Independence Day, taught by a local Albanian teacher I'd find or, if all else failed, by me. This idea was accepted.

What does the average folk dancer know about Albania? Not much. (This is related to the fact that Albania was closed off to the West for many decades after the Second World War while in the grip of a Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha.) Some folk dancers even confuse Albania with Armenia, I've discovered, whereas others are aware that the country is in the Balkans. Over the years, I've learned the occasional Albanian dance from teachers such as Dennis Boxell, Ciga Despotović, Elsie Ivancich Dunin, Željko Jergan, Atanas Kolarovski, Steve Kotansky, Ron Leibman, Lee Otterholt and Ron Wixman. As a culture, Albania has been served out in dribs and drabs. Just once, I've been to an all-Albanian cultural presentation: in Lachine, Quebec, organized by Yves Moreau in 1997 as part of the annual series he called "Heritage" (now, sadly, defunct). A professional group from Tirana, the capital of Albania, showed us costumes; they taught us some dances; they had a band with them to play various kinds of music. I wanted to do something along the same lines: present all-Albanian material. The culture deserved a champion, I felt.

There are several thousand Albanians in Toronto, most of them immigrants since Albania opened to the West in the 1990s. None of them are integrated into the international folk dance community the way that Macedonians, Serbs, Greeks and now Bulgarians are. Finding an Albanian teacher was going to be a challenge. I got on Google. Toronto used to have a Albanian performing group, I discovered, but it was defunct. I found a few professional dancers online who has been trained in the capital city of Tirana, but they were primarily ballet and modern dancers who taught Albanian folk material on occasion. As I prefer to see folk dancing shorn of ballet stylings, I decided to keep the names of the professional dancers in reserve. I inquired whether the Community Folk Art Council of Toronto knew of anybody. Nope.

Meanwhile, I'd been working on a dance called Valle Jarnana (VAL-eh YAR-na-na). "Valle" is the Albanian word that corresponds with "Kolo" for Croatians and Serbs, "Oro" for Macedonians and "Horo" for Bulgarians and Greeks, and it means "dance," basically. I'd learned Valle Jarnana from Steve Kotansky in 1995 as part of a weekend international workshop he did in Toronto at the International Folk Dance Club (which meets Friday nights at the University of Toronto, and where I teach occasionally). I wanted to revive the dance—it had also been a favourite of a friend, Tamar Berman—but I couldn't find the VHS video (I'd lent it to somebody and never got it back). I had the notes, but the notes didn't convey the style. I Googled "Valle Jarnana," and up came links on YouTube. One video was of teacher Roberto Bagnoli doing the dance under the name "Jarnana." (Roberto lives in Italy and frequently comes to North America to teach, and he knows many Albanian dances as well as Italian because of the large Albanian minority in Italy.) And under YouTube's "Related Videos" feature was a video consisting of a still photo from something called Elveda Rumeli; playing over it was a different version of the music. (Segue to the Internet Movie Database [imdb.com] to discover that Elveda Rumeli ["Farewell Rumeli"] was a drama about a village of Turks in Macedonia in 1896 and 1897; it aired on Turkish TV in 2007–08. It has its own site; text is in Turkish.) The new version, although with the same melody and words (it's a courtship song) as the familiar one, was absolutely irresistible when the band kicked in after the first verse by the singers. I played it over and over again. "This is great!" sez I. "Gotta go on eBay to order the CD of the Elveda Rumeli 1897 soundtrack!"

When the CD arrived, I found all sorts of great stuff on it in addition to Jarnana—mostly Turkish, but a lot of Macedonian. Many of the numbers were new to me, and I had to analyze the rhythm to figure out what dances could be done to them. (Jump ahead to the Albanian workshop on November 28th, where I played several tracks during the "request" portion of the evening that were old dances to new music.)

Then I discovered the Albanian brass band Fanfara Tirana, which had a recent CD out. I was galvanized by their music, in particular "Apocalyptic Kaba" (have a listen on MySpace). "What dances do they do to this?" sez I, bouncing in my computer chair.

Near the end of July 2009 I went to the first week of Stockton Folk Dance Camp in California, where among the dances Lee Otterholt taught were two Albanian ones, both choreographed by him. (The other Stockton teachers in 2009: Roberto Bagnoli, France Bourque-Moreau, Bruce Hamilton, Jerry Helt, Željko Jergan, Roo Lester and Yves Moreau. It's a great camp; I'm going in 2010 as well, for both weeks.) Soon after I came back from Stockton, it was time to settle the details of the November 28th Albanian café. It was going to be me teaching, as I hadn't come up with a real live Albanian in Toronto to do the job. Feeling inspired by the title of the Fanfara Tirana CD, Albanian Wedding, I settled on the theme of dances done at Albanian weddings by the guests: fun and unchoreographed dances. So I had to give myself a crash course in Albanian culture and get to work to compose a dance program, as all I had was Valle Jarnana as well as Ani More Nuse, taught by Lee at Stockton. (The other Albanian dance Lee taught didn't suit my purposes.) Although both Valle Jarnana and Ani More Nuse are choreographed dances, they have only two figures, and in Valle Jarnana in particular, the line's leader can decide how many times and when to do each figure. And I was delighted to read in Lee's notes that "Ani More Nuse" was a song done at weddings. Now I was cooking with gas!

Many years ago I reorganized all my dance notes to separate into binders the countries/ethnicities I was particularly interested in, such as France, Croatia, Armenia, Turkey and Albania (including Kosovo). Even back then I was curious about Albania because it was mysterious. The reorganization made it easier for me to design programs based on themes, and I've used this in many ways, including to teach an all-Armenian series of dances in Toronto in 1989-90 and to plan ethnic skits for Ontario Folk Dance Camp in Waterloo over the years.

In my binder on Albanian culture are not only the notes for the 20 or so Albanian dances I’ve learned (and mostly forgotten) but photographs and articles and reminders to self on where in my video collection Albanian material can be found. So my binder was the place to start planning a program with a wedding theme. But few of the dances were described as being done at weddings. Huh.

There are two Albanian dances currently in the Toronto folk dance repertoire: Leşi, introduced by Atanas Kolarovski in 1976, and Çobankat, taught a few years ago by Lee Otterholt. Leşi and Çobankat are both (a) choreographed and (b) originally for men—Leşi explicitly, according to the dance notes, and Çobankat implicitly, judging by all the high knee lifts in it. (The music that Atanas used for Leşi, "Povin Krušcit," translates as "The Wedding Party Is Coming," which was a coincidence that made me smile.)

I could see that YouTube could be an enormous resource for folklore if one had time to wade through it. I'd already called up all the Elveda Rumeli material on YouTube and discovered numbers not on the "1897" CD (they were on the "1896" soundtrack, not available to me)—one of them a Turkish song, "Ediye Klibe," by Canada's own Brenna MacCrimmon, who'd sung (with Ruth Hunter) the first version of Jarnana I'd ever heard: the one Steve Kotansky had used. (There are lots of videos of Brenna performing on YouTube.) The site also came up with other Albanian dances, some of it performance stuff that can be done with ease only by 20-year-old guys and therefore not so suitable for the current crowd in folk dancing, and some of it done at weddings—and the latter looked familiar. "Hey, that's a walking Pravo," sez I, "but with lots of bounce in the knees and arms!" With the Fanfara Tirana CD in hand, I had music that would work with some of the dances but not all of them, so over I went to Amazon to find more music.

So far so good, but I still needed the names of the dances. Surprise: Wedding videos don't name the dances they show. And in ethnic communities, people often don't even have a name for their own dances done on social occasions. They don't care what the dances are called. They only know a few. When they recognize the music being played, they get up and dance. Or they get up because they want to dance with their friends or relatives, and they just follow along as best they can. So what is someone like me, doing research from outside the culture, to do?

I do not speak Albanian. I've never been to Albania (Bosnia is the closest I've been, in 1988). I don't have any Albanians in my ethnic background (my family came to Canada from various parts of Great Britain), and I inherited no language but English. And Albanian is a language that's unique in the Indo-European family. It has no relatives. But it has a lot of loan-words from such languages as Latin and Macedonian and Turkish, and it's phonetic, so standard pronunciation can be learned without difficulty for someone like me who has an ear for languages and has done a lot of singing in South Slavic tongues, and it uses the Latin alphabet, praise be, so I can read it. All I had to do is figure out what to call the dances I was researching.

Meanwhile, I kept watching YouTube videos. As long as they were tagged "Albanian" somewhere in the title or comments, I followed to see where they led. And I'm here to tell you that stumblesome and numberless like unto stones on the shore are bad videos—in particular those lasting 30 seconds and shot on cellphones. Frequently to be heard from me as I watched were such futile pleas as, "Will you for God's sake point that thing at their feet? I can't see what they're doing!"

Remember Dritan Seda, the guy in Colorado who'd sold me two costumes on eBay? Well, he came up trumps. I told him what I was researching and he gave me contact info for a young woman in Toronto with whom he'd gone to school (to train in social work) in Albania. Her name was Klara Qato, and she very kindly came over to my place one day. I showed her what costumes her friend Dritan had sold me. She demonstrated some dances done at weddings and, hallelujah, told me what their names were: Pogonishtë (also called Progonishtë, with an extra "r") and Napoloni! We also went on YouTube and found good videos I could bookmark and refer to later! Was I cooking or was I cooking?

Alas, Klara wasn't willing or able to lead the November 28th dance café. But I could build on what she showed me. I was off and running. I had four dances for my program now: Valle Jarnana, Ani More Nuse, Pogonishtë and Napoloni. And Dritan also told me in what order the dances should be done at a wedding, information which proved indispensable when I agreed—get this for chutzpah—to be a DJ at a wedding with an Albanian groom on November 14th, of which more later.

If the name "Pogonishtë" sounds familiar to folk dancers, that's because the dance is from Pogoni, a town that's presently in Greece and has a large Albanian minority. (The tale of how regions and populations have gone back and forth from country to country is not one I'll go into here.) The Greek dance Pogonisios (I learned my favourite version of this, which is also called Sta Dyo, from Yves Moreau at one of the Heritage seminars) comes from Pogoni; it's similar to Pogonishtë. And what made this dance even more full of "win" for me is that I happen to adore the music from this region—Epirus. The music sends me.

I had four dances! Well, I had four names, but three of the dances were related to each other in belonging to the Pravo family of line dances, with the possibility of throwing in improvisational solos when the melodies switched to what I think of as "Turkish": the Čoček rhythm (2/4). And I discovered from watching YouTube that at social events, Albanians do two or three or four dances to the same piece of music. One line does one dance; a second does another; a third line does something different. And there may be a men's line too. The energy and skill levels differ, but everybody is having fun, especially those who are dancing solos in the middle. (They're never out there all by themelves; somebody always comes out to dance with them.)

Okay, the thought of dancing solo was "a moment of quail" for me. Making a spectacle of myself in the middle of the floor is something I don't find easy at the best of times, and I was going to ask other people to do this on November 28th? Huh. Well, first I had to banish the idea that I was "making a spectacle of myself." (The men in my father's family were at ease performing as recreational singers and musicians; the women were not.) This attitude had to be shed; I had to work on being morbidly self-conscious; and I had to practise the style Albanians do solos in, which turned out to be similar to the way other Balkan ethnicities, including the Rom and the Turks, do it. I began to watch YouTube videos of solo dances, in particular of an Albanian Kosovo dance called Shota (a version of which has been taught by Željko Jergan, among others), and to practise prancing around my study rotating my wrists in the air and waving a red scarf. I went on to observe that from my experience in Armenian dances, I was already good at rotating my wrists; I needed to work on manipulating a scarf Albanian-fashion.

Jump back to Stockton camp, where I'd already done a bit of inhibition-shedding. At the Wednesday evening party, the theme was French-Canadian (France Bourque-Moreau was teaching French-Canadian dances at camp). But during the live-music part of the evening, with the band Chubritza playing, up sprang a dynamite Čoček number. I spied a number of women dancing solo, including a superb dancer from the Netherlands: Sibylle Helmer. I left the line and started rotating my wrists in my best Armenian style, and Sibylle said something like, "All right, Karen." All I had to do was ignore the incongruity of twirling my hands in the air while garbed in French-Canadian costume. Well, this was great. I was expressing myself, I was getting encouragement and, by God, I was having spontaneous fun!

I shed the inhibition some more at a Toronto wedding where fellow teacher Walter Zagorski and I had been hired to be the DJs. In September, I'd told a local folk dancer, Adrienne Beecker, that I'd be doing an Albanian café on a wedding theme in November. She had subsequently turned to me and to Walter for help with music at a dinner and dance at the Old Mill after the marriage of a friend, Roberta Laking, to an Albanian-Canadian, Robert Kananaj, on November 14th. I didn’t amass hours' worth of all-different Albanian dance music, but I had a respectable amount (some of it downloaded from dunav.org.il), and after all, only recreational folk dancers know dozens of dances; at Albanian weddings, the same dances are done numerous times. (I'd also been hoping that the groom's family would bring a promised CD of their own music, but they forgot. What can you do?) However, most of the guests in the small party were Canadians, and some of them were non-dancers. An interesting challenge for a programmer and dance leader, no?

Here's what Dritan had told me before the wedding about programming. I wasn't able to follow all his advice, but with his permission I reproduce it here as it's both valuable and interesting.

"A few tips on the music you might want to play at an Albanian wedding:

"1. Always ask the groom and bride where are they from. This is very important. If they are from Northern Albania (Tropoja, Shkodra, Mati, Dibra), they might like music with daulle (drum) and çiftelia (a two-stringed instrument). If they are from Middle Albania (Elbasan, Tirana, Durres, Kavaja), they like harem music, which is very similar to Turkish music. Napoloni is one of their best dances. They like one-on-one dances. If they are from Southern Albania (Gramsh, Korca, Permeti, Vlora, Fier, Berat, Gjirokaster, Pogradec, Skrapar) they love (me included) Valle dances. I have shown you a few YouTube videos. Any kind of Epirus music, Pogonishtë (there are quite a few of these), will do just fine.

"2. It is advisable but not strict (in my opinion) that a good Albanian wedding should start with very slow music, like a Kaba.... Kaba are lament songs. Do not play more than one [of these] because it is a wedding.

"3. Start with a Valle (there are hundreds you can choose from) so everybody gets together holding hands. If they like it, play another one.

"4. Ask the father of the bride or the groom: "When is the Valle e Nuses [bride's dance] time?" It is the peak of an Albanian wedding. It starts always with a Pogonishtë. It needs to be slow at first. Give some time to the bride to catch the beat. The next song needs to be faster, the next one even faster, and so forth. The last one needs to be the fastest. You have some choices here. Vallja e Kukesit [the Albanian version of Eleno Mome] is very fast and a little hard to dance. Vallja e Tropjes is a very high-speed dance and requires a lot of stamina to dance ... [but] if the couple is from the North they are going to love it.

"5. When you see that everybody is very tired, switch to Napoloni—a very good dance, and every single Albanian loves it. Nusja (the bride) loves it too. It gives her the freedom to choose her own movements."

Four relatives of the groom had flown in from Italy (Albanians have been in Italy for 500 years, I'd recently learned). Some of them now got up to dance when I put on Albanian music. The groom's brother asked for "Progonishtë," and as I'd been told by Klara Qato that this word was a variation of Pogonishtë, I wasn’t flummoxed. I put it on. Things seemed to be going OK. I was wearing a costume from the region of Kruja, central Albania, that I bought on eBay, though not from Dritan Seda, and I'd persuaded Walter to assume the hat, vest and belt from the southern-Albania fustanella costume, this one purchased from Dritan. (Walter is such a good sport. That, plus the depth of his experience as a dancer, teacher and leader, his adaptability, and his unflappability make him one of my favourite persons to work with, especially when I'm in novel situations.) The Albanians recognized the music for Valle Jarnana and just followed what I did as the leader. And when I put on the music for Napoloni, the groom's brother said "Napoloni" with a big grin, and soon went into the middle of the floor and started doing a solo. I abandoned the lead of the line and went to join him.

I'd never seen quite that expression of joy on someone's face before. He was delighted I was there, that's all. I was doing one of his dances with him, and I had taken the trouble to put on a costume. Although his English was almost non-existent, his face and his body language were wonderfully expressive. "So," sez I to myself, "this is what we should be feeling! Here's something you can try to show to other international folk dancers!" (What if the groom's other brother, the one whom the bride had told me was the really good dancer in the family, had been able to come to the wedding?)

Walter and I had a bit of a problem when the groom asked us to play "a Canadian dance." Uh... "Well, there really aren't any, unless you play a square dance or a French-Canadian dance, all of which require rehearsing and calling and a whole lot of participants." So we couldn't oblige.

It had been a long day for the wedding party and the Canadian members of it were drooping or drifting away by 10 o’clock. But when I told the groom that I wished we could have danced more and kept the party going late, he said, "There are only five Albanians here. What can you do?" Okay. Right. What I'd seen on YouTube videos was roomsful of Albanians, some of them drunk, having a whale of a time. Although I'd been hoping to generate that mood for many hours (the sobriety of the guests being outside my control), what I'd done on this occasion was still highly worthwhile: help a minority group feel more at home amidst an alien culture whose language most of them didn't know. The groom translated a compliment from his mother, who hadn't danced but had watched: She said I'd danced like a beautiful young girl. I'm no longer remotely young, but it's still gratifying to hear something like this. I'd been able to give the bride what she'd asked for in terms of welcoming her new husband and in-laws. Although I hadn't learned any new dances, I was definitely on the right track in terms of coming up with a program for the OFDA café two weeks later. I'd had positive reinforcement from genuine Albanians! Yay!

Having taken the plunge, I stayed in the water. (I'm "off and running"; I'm "cooking with gas"; I'm diving in and swimming? What kind of Iron Woman/mixed-metaphor marathon am I in here?) At the 80th-birthday party that the Hamilton folk dancers held for Toronto teacher Olga Sandolowich on November 27th, a Čoček was played, and out I came to do a solo. This time, I was the second person out instead of sixth. I'd already learned I could do this without feeling like a deer in the headlights, and besides, I wanted to keep Olga company. And I was wearing a lush Turkish jacket, so people were already looking at me. (Party photos are available on Flickr.)

The Hamilton party was the day before my event. Uh-oh. Would people come to both things? (For readers who are not familiar with this part of southern Ontario: Hamilton is about an hour west of Toronto, and many Hamilton dancers live in places even farther west, such as Guelph and London.) Hamilton's numbers had been swelled by Toronto people on this occasion; would the reverse happen? To my delight, it did. I'd thought there was an uncatered-for curiosity about Albanian culture out there in International Folk Dance Land, and by God, there was. And, by God, Olga Sandolowich came out too on November 28th. Because it was me teaching, she said. That was what I called encouragement. And do you know who else came out? Tamar Berman, who'd so loved Valle Jarnana when Steve Kotansky introduced it back in 1995.

Right. I was up. I was on. I was in costume—one of those that Dritan Seda had sold me, worn under a heavy, gold-embroidered black sleeveless coat called a pirpiri, also known as a xhybe. I'd worn the costume at Ontario Folk Dance Camp in May 2009, minus the xhybe and with a different vest.

In preparing for this event, I'd re-watched the video from Heritage 1997 with its Albanian group. One of the dances they'd demonstrated (without teaching it to us, so it was unnamed), was, I could now recognize, Pogonishtë. When they put on costumes for us, two dancers lifted their arms so that their wide sleeves unfolded like the feathers on eagles' wings. ("Eagle" dances can be found in many "mountain" cultures besides Albanian, including Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish.)

On November 28th, someone asked to photograph the back of my costume. Without conscious thought, I extended my coat to its full width to display the embroidery. On the wall behind me, as I later observed when the photo was posted, was the Albanian flag featuring a black two-headed eagle with spread wings.

I'd had the inspiration of telling the people at the November workshop that when the music moved them, I wanted them to "release their inner Albanians" and dance solos. I also said that at least some of them could do it, as I'd seen them the night before in Hamilton when the Čoček came on. And this encouragement worked a treat. When I put on the music for Napoloni and the rhythm changed, I was amazed. So many dancers surged into the middle of the floor that almost nobody was left to carry on the line dance on the outside! A few people stood about wearing a forlorn expression: "Where did everybody go? What do I do now?" (What one does is carry on the original dance step and find new neighbours for a line.)

With only an hour for teaching, I could only hint at the richness of Albanian culture. My friend Marylyn Peringer having intimated that it was her turn to wear one of my costumes, I put her into my third Albanian costume, from the region of Kruja in central Albania. (My first costume was the white-and-gold "Turkish harem" one that I'd worn on May 2 and also took to Stockton. It looked spectacular but was impractical for anything more strenuous than walking, so I left it at home this time, even though it can be worn as a bride's costume. And besides, I'd felt indecent in the thing.) I talked a bit about how Marylyn's costume was worn by Catholics but the colour of my coat was meant to convey that I was a Muslim, as Muslims like black but Catholics red. (This information on colour-coding came courtesy of Dritan Seda.) I also put forward my theory of the origin of the dance-name "Napoloni," expounded here in much greater detail.

Although many Albanian words end in the letter "i," "Napoloni" still sounded to me like a loan-word. It reminded me of the Italian city of Naples and of the French Emperor Napoleon I (whose family came from Corsica). A search on Google yielded nothing about why Napoloni was called Napoloni. There was a military connection between Napoleon and Albania, but I didn't think it accounted for a wedding dance being called Napoloni. It was the currency connection that did, to my mind. Albanian brides wear coins around their neck; the girls from richer families wear gold coins.

A song on p. 145 in Jane Sugarman's 1997 book Engendering Song: Singing and Subjectivity at Prespa Albanian Weddings mentions coins known as napolonë, a word translated by the author as "Napoleons." (She's an ethnomusicologist, and she did some of the research for the book among the Albanian community in Toronto.) Online, I discovered that "the Napoleon" is the colloquial term for a French gold coin used as a hard currency in the 19th century. (Another hard currency was the Austro-Hungarian coin known as the Maria Theresa thaler.) The Napoleon was first issued during the reign of Napoleon I and featured his portrait on the obverse.

In Patrick Leigh Fermor's 1966 book Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece, he talks about the Sarakatsani Greek-speaking nomads, among whom he spent a lot of time in the 1950s, including at a wedding. On p. 25 of the 2006 edition, published by the New York Review of Books, Fermor writes that on Sarakatsani women's angular costumes, "The only rounded things were the chains and necklaces, the gold Napoleons, Turkish sequins and gold thalers that hung around the bride's neck." In a footnote on p. 226, he writes, "Throughout the Orient and the Levant, from patriarchal bias, [British sovereigns] were worth a fraction more if they were stamped with a king's head instead of Queen Victoria's. Conversely, in Albania and Montenegro, Maria Theresa thalers formed the backbone of the currency, as they did in Ethiopia."

Later in the evening, Olga Sandolowich told me that Macedonians call gold jewelry given to brides napoleon. There is clearly much cross-fertilization between Macedonian and Albanian culture. One of the words Albanians like to shout for encouragement to dancers is "Opa!", which is what Macedonians say. And on pp. 145–46 of Sugarman's book, she writes that during a wedding, "the groom’s party goes out into the courtyard, where they perform a dance known as the 'bride's dance' (valle e nuses). This is a custom that was evidently adopted by [the town of] Presparé in recent decades [i.e., after the Second World War] from Macedonians..., in which relatives of the groom take turns leading the bride in a six-measure line dance," which from Sugarman’s description is a walking Pravo.

During my research, I'd found many more dances than I could present in an hour. But I doubted that international folk dancers needed to re-learn Eleno Mome, Paidushko or Pushcheno, versions of which Albanians also do at weddings (as do, it's perhaps unnecessary to say, Macedonians).

My dance program consisted of:
1. Pogonishtë, using "Pogonishtë," Track 19 from Anthology of World Music: Music from Albania;
2. Napoloni 1, using "Lonte Beu Mi Hankon," Track 11 from Anthology of World Music;
3. Ani More Nuse, using Track 1 from Lee Otterholt's Stockton 2009 CD, Balkan and Beyond;
4. Valle Jarnana, using "Jarnana," Track 4 from Elveda Rumeli;
5. Napoloni 2, using "Napoloni," Track 7 from Fanfara Tirana; and
6. Napoloni 3, played instead of Napoloni 2 when redoing the dances without teaching, using "Apocalyptic Kaba," Track 3 from Fanfara Tirana. (I've put detailed info. about CDs at the end of the essay.)

For the browsing pleasure of my audience, I had brought along some of the books I used for research: Albanian Costumes through the Centuries, by Andromaqi Gjergji (published 2004); Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, by Edward Lear (2008); Women's Costume of the Near and Middle East, by Jennifer Scarce (1987); Long Life to Your Children: A Portrait of High Albania, by Stan Sherer and Marjorie Senechal (1997); and Engendering Song: Singing and Subjectivity at Prespa Albanian Weddings, by Jane C. Sugarman (1997). (Three books that didn't arrive till after the workshop may be found at the bottom of the page, after the CDs.)

I had offered to co-run (with Helen Winkler) the request portion of the evening because I wanted to insert some new music. So, when I put on Napoloni later on, I played a different selection from what I'd used to teach. "It's the same dance," was what I was trying to get across; "look at the variety of music you can use to do it!" (Yves Moreau and Pierre Gingras of Montreal communicated to me their love of finding great new music during the Heritage seminar years. What evening parties we used to have!) Later in the evening, I played another track from the Elveda Rumeli CD—I'd used "Jarnana" already—to do a well-known Macedonian dance which is a member of what I think of as the "Syrtos" family of dances. The Turkish tune I used, "Hati Kadın," was, despite its upbeat feeling, a melancholy love song, I was later told!

Lord, it was fun. And the applause I received was loud and enthusiastic and a reminder of what I'd missed since I gave up performing in a Croatian dance group in the 1980s.

I enjoy doing original folklore research for many reasons, including intellectual stimulation. (Here, I must trot out an expression that my eye and ear find esthetically unappealing, but it's accurate: I'm an auto-didact, or a self-directed learner.) I never know where I'll end up and what I'll have learned along the way. (For example, I discovered the travel journals and watercolours of Edward Lear, who did a whole lot more than write and illustrate nonsense verse for children.) And at the end of this journey, I'd passed along the joy of the music and the dances and the costumes to a whole roomful of people who, as it turned out, loved what I was doing as much as I loved doing it.

When I told Dritan Seda how everything had gone, he sent me an e-mail which I excerpt by permission:

"Bravo and thank you for everything you do to promote Albanian culture and folk art. I am very glad and deeply touched."


These are the CDs I found most helpful or interesting in choosing the music for my dance program on November 28th. The tracks I used are in bold-face.

A. Fanfara Tirana: Albanian Wedding: Brass Explosion (released 2007; bought on eBay 2009; can also be downloaded from eMusic.com)

Track listings:
 1. Mediterranè #1
 2. Te Lutem M'u Pergjigj ("Give Me an Answer")
 3. Apocalyptic Kaba (played as Napoloni 3)
 4. Merre Lehte ("Take it Easy")
 5. Çokollata ("Chocolate")
 6. Kaprollja ("The Fawn”)
 7. Napoloni (played as Napoloni 2)
 8. Çifteteli
 9. Osmon Aga
10. Janinës C'i Panë Sytë ("What Did the Eyes of Janina See?")
11. Keq Me Burrë E Keq Pa Burrë ("To Marry or Not; This Is the Question")
12. Me Gezoft Këpucet Më Takë ("Enjoy Your High-Heeled Shoes")
13. Me Ka Shku Menja Më U Fejue ("I'm Thinking of Getting Engaged")
14. Mos Ma Vish Funin E Shkurter ("Don't Wear Your Miniskirt")
15. Zot, O Zot, Të Qofshin Fal ("May God Be Thanked")
16. Zanin Mos Ta Nij ("I Want to Hear Your Voice").

B. Anthology of World Music: Music from Albania (released 1999; bought on Amazon 2009)

Track listings:
 1. Kaba Më Klarinetë
 2. Kaba Më Violinë
 3. Qerbela Kerbela
 4. Dallëndyshe E Vogël ("You Little Swallow")
 5. Ezmerkë Më Ishe ("You Appear Dark Brown to Me")
 6. Kur Dola Jashtë ("As I Went Out")
 7. Melodi Gajdexhiut ("Melody of Bagpipes")
 8. Vallja E Vajzave ("Dance of the Girls")
 9. Vallja E Osman Takës ("Dance of Osman Taka"). Osman Resul Taka (died 1887) was a well-known traditional Albanian dancer for whom "Vallja e Osman Takës" was named. During the mid-19th century Osman was jailed in Yanina and was sentenced to death. The folk tradition says that, when asked to give his final wish, he said he wanted to dance: "Let me dance once more before I have to die. Then I will be happy to leave this life." Osman danced so beautifully that the local gendarmes of the Ottoman army did not execute him. (But later, he was caught again, and was killed.) The version on this CD is instrumental; it does not include the song, one of the best versions of which I've heard is sung by Eli Fara*.
10. Çobankat ("The Shepherdesses"), a different, and slower, version from Lee Otterholt's
11. Lonte Beu Me Hankon ("The Gentleman Danced with the Lady") (played as Napoloni 1)
12. Valle E Këbduar Arumune (Aromun Dance Song)
13. Motra Dhe Vëllai ("Sister and Brother Ballad")
14. Ajkuna Qan Omerin ("Ajkuna Cries for Omer")
15. Shepherd's Song on the Flute
16. Vajtim (Death Lament)
17. To Traketi Meklino ("I Went in the Ship")
18. Malkimi (Curse)
19. Pogonishtë (Dance from Pogoni)
20. Emina.

C. Elveda Rumeli: Makedonya 1897 soundtrack (released 2008; bought on eBay 2009)

Track listings:
 1. Balkan Rüzgarı
 2. Çıkayım Gideyim
 3. Bozdoğan
 4. Jarnana (singers: Özge Metin, Ayça Damgac)
 5. İsyankar Yürek
 6. Bitola Moj Roden Kraj (singer: Hayri Demirovski; not recommended as a dance; it's sung very low and dirgelike)
 7. Mavrova
 8. Mustafa'nın Aşkı
 9. Sözüm Var
10. Hati Kadın (played during requests as a Bitola-type dance)
11. Yağmur Yapar Yer Yaş Olur
12. Beşer'in Ardından
13. Bir Fırtına Tuttu Bizi
14. Sıcak Bakışlar
15. Deryalar
16. Renkli (played during requests as a basic Pravo)
17. Bozdoğan
18. Dere Geliyor Dere
19. Damat
20. Naif (a very nice waltz; didn't get to play it); (plus 10 more numbers).

D. Lee Otterholt's Stockton 2009 CD, Balkan and Beyond (released 2009; bought at Stockton camp 2009)
1. Ani More Nuse (etc). The version of this that's downloadable at dunav.org.il is much slower; it's an easy-listening song rather than a dance.

E. Songs & Dances from Albania: Tirana Folk Ensemble (first released 2000; re-released 2009; bought on Amazon 2009). I didn't use any of this CD on November 28th, but I'd been using Track 3, "Do Mar Çiften," from Epirus, to do the Greek dance "O Iatros" (also from Epirus) on Friday nights [edited to add: at Stockton Camp 2010 Steve Kotansky taught something he choreographed to this music, and it's very enjoyable]. And I played Track 3 at the wedding on November 14th, and the attendant Albanians just followed my lead. Track 2, "Valle Me Potpuri Tirane," has an absolutely wonderful Çifteteli section before it switches to a fast dance. I highly recommend the whole album.

Track listings:
 1. Kaba Korçare ("Lament from Korça")
 2. Valle Më Potpuri Tirane ("Medley of Dances from Tirana")
 3. Do Marr Çiften, Do Dal Për Gjah ("I'll Take a Gun and Go Hunting")
 4. Vitori T'u Bëfte Nëna ("Vitori, May Your Mother Be Blessed"): a song in which a mother gives advice to her soon-to-be-married daughter. I love the song and the rhythm, but it's not a dance, Dritan Seda says: "Vitori is not a real dance but if you are able to dance to it, there is nothing wrong with it."
 5. Kaba Prespane ("Lament from Prespa")
 6. Kan Ujë Ato Burime? ("Do They Have Water from the Spring?")
 7. Moj E Bulaura More ("Hey, Beautiful More"): This is an Arberesh song (from Albanians in Italy); proper Albanian pronunciation would be "Moj e Bukura More," Dritan Seda says. "More" is a village in southern Albania that the singer is about to leave forever.
 8. Valle Gorashe Korçare (Dance from Gorash)
 9. Instrumentale Me Motive Tirane ("Medley of Melodies from Tirana")
10. Binte Shiu Pika-Pika ("It Is Raining and I Am Singing")
11. E Para Eshte Nena ("Mother Comes First")
12. S'paske Pas Një Pikë Mëshirë (Love Song: "Why Don't You Pay Me Any Attention?").


* Courtesy of Dritan Seda, here are the Albanian words, and English translation thereof, for Eli Fara's song "Osman Taka," from her 2002 CD Mė Thotė Zemra. The double slashes mean that each line is sung twice.

//Hajde more Osman Taka//    Come on, Osman Taka
//Tarinanina se plasa//         Tarinanina is dying for you

//Qenke more sevdali//         You are very like Don Juan
//S'paska more djale si ti//      There is no other guy like you

//Hajde more Osman Taka//    Come on, Osman Taka
//Eh gushen more se plasa//    Dying for your neck.


Here are the covers of three stupendous Albanian costume books I found on Abebooks.com after the workshop was over.

Gjergji, Andromaqi, Spiro Shkurti, Mark Tirta, Llambrini Mitrushi, Abaz Dojaka, Yllka Selimi, Gjergji Martini, and Afërdita Onuzi. Veshje Popullore Shqiptare / Albanian Folk Costumes. Published by the Ethnology Department, Instituti i Kultures Popullore, in Tirana. Five volumes were projected to be published; I have the first three. Tirana: Botimet Toena, 1999 (Vol. 1), 2001 (Vol. 2) and 2004 (Vol. 3). The text is in Albanian and English.






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