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Watching Tango, Flamenco and Arabic Dance Performances is Like Watching Ballet

6 Oct

After years of ballroom dance lessons, by husband and I still dance whenever we have the opportunity.  But besides dancing ourselves, we enjoy watching other, who are much better, dance as well.

My favorite dance is the tango.   We never danced a true Argentine tango, we danced more of American ballroom tango.  We did learn a few basic and important tango steps like the ochos (figure eight swivels), corte (a sort of forward lunge for the woman), and the gancho (hook a leg around your partner’s leg).

Although we never became proficient in our tango, we have enjoyed watching others dance it professionally.    I loved the tango scenes in the movies Zorro and True Lies.  But to be honest Antonio Bandaras dancing a tango is quite nice whether it is in Evita, Take the Lead or Zorro.

A favorite for me is the tango between Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in Shall We Dance.  MY husband and I both loved that movie.  It was so fun to watch an awkward man, uncomfortable with dance, become better throughout the movie. This tango is the start of his ability to actually dance.  The movie reflects my husband’s improvement.  He started out not knowing anything about dance. But now he loves to dance.

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Tango in Buenos Aires. You can see the band above the dancers.

We have been to Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, the two cities where researchers believe tango was created in the 19th century.  Of course, we had to go see a true tango, which we did while we were in Buenos Aires.  It was excellent.  The dance is so quick in Argentina, unlike the slow dance we do in American ballroom tango.

The group dances were invigorating, but I loved the performances best when it was just one couple on the stage dancing together. This is the moment that I thought I saw true tango.  This is the tango I wish I could dance!

I also love the music in tango!  At the tangos I have seen, musicians play the guitar and the bandoneon, which is a small accordion-like instrument.  But I have also seen when even more instruments are played, including violins, flutes and piano in addition to the guitar and bandoneon.

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The group we saw in Malaga, Spain.

Instruments also play a part in Flamenco.  The guitar and a drum to sound the beat are usually played. Flamenco, which is a much older dance from at least the 18th century, is another dance we enjoy watching.  No one knows exactly how it started, except that it was different groups of people who came together in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the Flamenco was born.  For me in was interesting that there might even be a Sephardi Jewish influence in the dance.

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The woman in the red scarf sang with such emotion.

But Flamenco, unlike tango, has other important part besides the dancing.  There is the singer, who sings a story with unleashed pathos. Also, unlike Tango, one person can dance Flamenco, without a partner.

We have seen Flamenco danced in Barcelona, Spain; Malaga, Spain; and at a performance in Kansas!  That surprised me as well. But the group who came to a local college was wonderful and the performance was packed.

I admit that some of the Flamenco shows I have seen were touristy.  But even in these some of the performances were extraordinary. Flamenco is not a dance you can just learn for social dancing. This takes intense emotion, training and experience. However, you can still watch and appreciate the performance.

I will admit that to me the Flamenco reminds me of a belly dance or Arabic dance performance.  This is something I do know, as in my younger days I took years of Arabic dance lessons.  Like Flamenco, the older Arabic dance is a form of folk dancing, this one originating in Egypt.  I see in this dance and the Flamenco the movements of the torso and the hips and the intense emotion of the dancing and the artist.  It is also another dance, unlike ballroom dancing, where one person dances alone intent in his or her own emotions.

As I was doing research for my blog, I saw that there is a theory that this type of Arabic dance is one of the elements that combined together to create the Flamenco.

I love dancing.  But just like when I go to a ballet, and realize I cannot do what the wonderful dancers can do.  I realize I can enjoy the performance, which is exactly what I do when I see tango, Flamenco and Arabic dance programs.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentine_tango

https://www.tejastango.com/terminology.html

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b24a_2NPleg

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamenco

https://www.britannica.com/art/flamenco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibaPTk0D5Xg

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belly_dance

 

A Fairy Tale Country, Estonia

21 Sep

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Spending a day in Tallinn, Estonia, was like being inside a fairy tale country.  I loved the old city with its quaint streets, towers and churches.  Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it deserves that status.  But more than then the look of the country was the feel of the country.

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The tower is called Tall Hermann

I love that they name their towers and weather vanes.  I love the magical feel of the old city and its cobblestone walkways.

Behind the beauty, Estonia has had its hardships.  Torn between two powers who wanted their ports on the Baltic Sea and its resources, both Germany and Russia/Soviet Union invaded Estonia many times over the years.  But in 1939 the worst happened when Hitler and Stalin signed a treaty dividing Estonia between the two and the two powers invaded Estonia from different sides of the country.

Our tour guide in Tallinn, a lovely young woman, told us that this was the worst.  People were torn between choosing between two evils.  And the Soviet Union proved to be a great evil, taking over the country and killing or deporting all the political and business leaders.

The only positive I see from this however, is this occupation saved the majority of Estonia’s Jewish population, which was about 4000 before the start of World War Two. By then end of the war, about 1000 of Estonia’s Jewish residents were murdered in the Shoah. The others had escaped into the Soviet Union and so survived. After the war, 1500 Jewish residents returned.

After World War 2, Estonia entered a 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia was terrorized.  Our guide explained how all access to the Baltic Sea were closed by the Soviets, who put military bases there. People could not get out.  Help could not get in. She explained life as lived by her parents and grandparents.  It was not a happy time.

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A statue of Ernesaks overlooks the Song Festival Grounds.

 

But in Estonia, they came up with their own way of revolution that did not included guns or violence. The Singing Revolution started with the singing of the national song, “Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love.”  For years they sang this song in rebellion against Soviet rule.  Gustav Ernesaks, the “Father of Song” for the country who helped start the song festival movement, helped in this non-violent rebellion. The singing events were held on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

The Singing Revolution lasted four years. Multiple songs and citizens singing saved Estonia!  Tallinn is also known for the large chain of people, over two million, that spanned from Tallinn to Vilinius in August 1989.  Singing songs and then slowly moving forward with small steps of rebellion and independence worked. By 1991, Estonia gained its independence.

Along with the freedom for all Estonians, came renewed freedom for its Jewish residents after 1991.  In 2007 a synagogue opened.  Today about 2000 Jewish residents live in Estonia. It is a small but secure population.  According to our tour guide and to what I have read, the Jewish population lives in comfort and without any issues thanks to a law that protects all minorities in Estonia.  There is a synagogue, a Jewish Day School, a Jewish Museum and a Jewish Community Center. I wish I could say that I visited all these Jewish sites, but I did not.  I wish I had researched Tallinn before I went. So I put links below to the Jewish sites of Tallinn.

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I loved my day in Tallinn.  Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a lovely experience.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate and joyful, to see a bride.

 

https://www.ejc.ee/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/304672/jewish/History.htm

https://muuseum.jewish.ee/

Dancing on a Cruise Ship

12 Oct

After 11 years of ballroom dance lessons, my husband and I stopped taking lessons when our instructor moved. We keep saying we need to find someone else or find another dance studio closer to home. But that has not happened.

We miss dancing once a week. But I do not have the patience right now to investigate and find another place.

In the meantime we watch “Dancing With The Stars”. We critique the dances and determine if there really was any part of the true dance in these routines. Sometimes I agree with Len that the dance they danced was not at all the cha cha or fox trot it was supposed to be. But we enjoy it.

However, once or twice a year, we take a cruise and then our dancing shoes come out. Some cruise lines do have wonderful dance floors and bands. And we enjoy evenings of exercise as we practice our dances. Each evening we get better since we remember additional moves the more we dance.

However, some cruises do not cater to the ballroom dancers. On a recent cruise around Hawaii, the dance floor was MARBLE and the only one who played any dance music was a pianist. Although he was great and accommodating to the dancers. But a marble dance floor is A horrible idea. Also there were only 4-5 couples who were there dancing each day.

Even still, after a few days, the dancing couples start to recognize each other. It is a friendly bond.

Dancers On the Serenity dance floor.

Recently we were on another cruise ship, the Serenity, which has a great wooden dance floor. A true band. And even ambassadors to dance with single women.

Each evening my husband and I joined with others on the 12th floor to dance our favorites: Fox trot, rumba, cha cha, waltz, tango and swing.

We sit out the salsa and jive. But enjoy watching those who dance to the faster beats.

Over the week we started visiting with other dancers on site-seeing tours and in other lounges. Those who hang out by the dance floor began to recognize each other. And those that do not dance, seem to enjoy watching. Or getting on the dance floor just swaying to the music.

We befriended one of the ambassadors, as he went on several tours that we were on. In the evenings between sets, he talked to us. Each of the ambassadors have other careers, but are all dancers who get free cruises for dancing in the evenings. I believe Crystal Cruises is one of only two that still offers ambassadors.

We danced every day. And it was fantastic! A great way to meet people, get some exercise, practice our dance moves, and joy the cruising experience.

Seeing Isaac Stern in Concert Touched My Heart

26 May

When I was 23 years old I was fortunate to see the violinist Isaac Stern in concert.  My husband, then my boyfriend, got us the tickets that were excellent, about six rows back from the stage.  I remember watching as he created the most beautiful music. But the moment that touched my heart was when he meandered over the stage to our side of the theater, all the while making music, and as he reached a crescendo he lifted on to his toes…. I was sure he would lift into the sky with his music, upward into heaven.  I thought, “this is what Marc Chagall was painting when he drew his musicians flying in the sky. This moment is a Chagall painting.”

I thought of Isaac Stern yesterday throughout a concert at the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern, Isaac’s son.  Although we have season tickets to the Pops Series of the Symphony, and we go to other concerts as well, we have never actually been to a concert that Michael Stern conducted.  As I watched him conducting, putting his entire body into the music, I flashed back to that moment about 40 years ago when I saw his father.

Since that time when I was in graduate school, I have been to many concerts.  I have attended concerts throughout the USA including the Aspen Music Festival, Boston Pops, Kansas City Symphony.  I have been to La Scala, in Milan, where our hosts arranged for my son, my husband, and I to go behind the scenes at the music school [Accademia d’Arti e Mestieri dello Spettacolo (Academy for the Performing Arts]and see the incredible instruments and tour the school.  I still cannot believe we got to do that!

Although I took piano lessons for many years, I was never the most talented musician.  (See link below.) Those years of lessons, however, taught me to love music.  I love to listen to the sounds of a symphony. I have sat in other venues and listened with my ears and my heart to other wonderful concerts and extremely talented musicians: including violinists Itzhak Perlman, Midori, and Pinchas Zukerman; and cellist Yo Yo Ma.  I have seen Zubin Mehta conduct.

Not one of them have ever compared to Isaac Stern for me.  Perhaps it was because it was my first time to see such an extraordinary musician.  However, I think it was because of the way he lived and breathed his music.  I will never forget him on his tiptoes, playing his violin and reaching to heaven with his music.

For me it is true, as this quote attributed to Plato says,  “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”  For me, it was Isaac Stern who first truly gave me this gift.  Seeing Isaac Stern in concert touched my heart.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

My Grandpa’s Voice Can Still Be Heard

15 May

On November 7, 1981, my cousin made a cassette tape of my grandfather singing his favorite songs in Yiddish.   It sat in my house for all these years. I could never listen to it after he passed away.  Grandpa had a wonderful singing voice and used to sing to us all the time in Yiddish.

Two months ago, I took the cassette tape to a company that turned it into a CD.  I got it back on Friday.  On Mothers’ Day, I listened to my Grandpa sing in Yiddish and listened to him speak about his life in Europe and coming to the United States in 1920.

He passed away in 1989, so it has been a long time since I heard his voice.  It was just as I remembered it.

Listening to this tape was interesting in many ways.  Most of the stories he told, I have heard before.  I had spoken to my Grandpa about his life in Europe many times.  I just never recorded him.  I am extremely grateful that my cousin made this tape.

He sang six songs.  Tumbaliaka, Hativah in Yiddish, Ofin Primpinchick,  Yiddisha Mama and two others I had not heard before.  He left out some I remember him singing. But it doesn’t matter. Hearing him sing these favorites is a gift.

Grandpa left his home in 1918.  He was the oldest of five children who lived on a 16-acre farm, that they owned, in Austria.  He said if he had stayed in Austria, he would have eventually had two acres for him and a place to build a house.  (I wrote about Grandpa leaving Europe in an earlier blog, see link below.)

When he first arrived in the USA, he lived with his uncle Morris and went to work as a butcher.  A farm boy, he knew about animals.  He worked for $4 a week.  He did not know English.  It was a job he did not like.  A month later, he switched to being a baker for $20 a week on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.  (I never knew the address in Brooklyn. ) He was lucky. He had relatives who were both a butcher and a baker.  And they provided him with jobs.

Grandpa was brought up to follow the rules of Shabbat, although they were not extremely religious. He had no beard or payos.  But when he first started working at the bakery, he had to light a fire on Shabbat.  “I sat there and cried,” he said, “because my Mother always told me that if I light a fire on Shabbat I would die.”   He did not die, so the following week he lit the fire without crying.

Grandpa excelled at baking.  But he said he was very bashful.  People would say to him, “Do you want to meet a girl,” and he would say yes.  But they did not work out.  Then, by accident, he met our Grandma in Brooklyn.  He went to deliver a gift to someone, and there she was.

“Before Thelma, I did not look for someone. But when Thelma came it was different.  Something drew me to her,” he said.  “I was 25, she was 18 or 19.  To look at, she was nothing.  But it is the person she was. Someone made for you.”  (I disagree. I think my young Grandma was lovely.)

They got married in September 1925 and lived in Brooklyn, till my uncle was born. Then Grandpa opened his own business in the Bronx, where they lived for five years. And my Mom was born. In 1929, they moved to Linden, New Jersey.  My grandparents opened a new bakery.

But they had it for only about 18 months.

My grandmother was ill.  Grandpa said she had to go back to Europe to see a Dr. Lapenski in Krakow.  He could help her.  She was sick from the fumes from the gas in WW1.  I honestly had never heard that story before.  (I wrote about her time in Europe in earlier blogs, see links below.)

When Grandma came back, they moved to West New York, New Jersey, and opened the bakery they would have for almost 30 years.

“I wanted my children to have a better life,” Grandpa said.  “My Mom did not know that I had to learn to read.  I worked on a farm.  I had no education.  My parents said, you know how to work in the field that is enough.  My Mom thought I would stay in Europe.  She did not know that I would leave.”

My cousin asked if he was afraid to come to the USA by himself.  He started to laugh.  He was not afraid.  “It could not be worse than where I was,” he said.  “It had to be better.”

He told us a bit about his younger siblings and his parents. But the main discussion was the fact that none of them survived.  “I could not convince them to come,” he said.

As for his wife’s parents, my other great grandparents, Grandpa said, “From the day I got married I had to support her family.”  Which is true. Her mother had died during WW1.  And her father, was an educated man.  He studied.  “His wife made a living for him,” my Grandpa said.  When she died, there was not much income.

The tape was made just over three months after my grandmother died.   It was strange to hear Grandpa say her name.  He never said it when she was alive, to keep the evil eye from getting her.  He was still in deep mourning.  They had always thought he would die first as he was six years older.  But instead she died.

“You struggle and you pay for those things you did,” Grandpa said.  “Maybe I did something wrong.”  This was his explanation on why she died before him.  It made me so sad to hear him say this.  I remember how desolate he was without her.  (See Autumn Leaves blog link below.)

My cousin asks questions. Some Grandpa answers.  But he made his point.  He loves his family.  “I accomplished my mission.  I would have my own home.  And I did more than that,” he said.  He got to see four of his five grandchildren marry.  He saw the arrival of six of his eight great grandchildren.

Before he ended the tape, he sang one last song.  He sang of traveling the world, always  wishing he could go home and kiss the stones where he was born.  My cousin asked if he would want to go back to Austria.

His answer, Yes and No. (Grandpa told me that he never wanted to go back there.)

Hearing my Grandpa talk about his family; his children, and his grandchildren was bittersweet.  I made CDs for my siblings and cousins.  I think they need to have this experience as well.

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/23/the-melody-of-autumn-leaves-haunts-me/

https://zicharonot.com/2017/12/04/the-us-passport-a-matter-of-life/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/08/02/a-chair-a-baby-grand-piano-and-yiddish-songs/

House Seats Started My Love of Theater

6 Nov

This weekend my husband and I attended a benefit concert at our synagogue. It was great. A four-piece band led by Neal Berg and five fantastic Broadway singers. They were focusing on the top 100 songs from Hollywood, with much overlap to Broadway musicals.   I knew every song. I was “in heaven.”

Why do I know so many Broadway melodies?   I could say it was because I was raised in New Jersey, giving me the opportunity to see shows. But I have to be more specific I think.   We have the fortunate luck of having an Uncle who was involved with the Broadway theaters. It made it much easier for us to get tickets in the time before on-line purchases.

I am sure my parents got our show tickets from him, as we went as a family to see “Fiddler,” “Man of La Mancha,” The Rothschilds,” “Pippin,” among other shows.  My Dad loved going to shows. And thanks to my Uncle, we often had house seats. In fact, it never occurred to me as a child that you did not sit in house seats. These were seats reserved in the front center. My Uncle could get us the best seats. And if we were not in the center, we were always in the Orchestra section.

I remember the awe of watching the actors and actresses on stage, listening to the live music and hearing the lovely voices. It was magic. I still get that feeling when I see a play.

My Uncle also provided all of his nieces and nephews, as well as his own children, tickets for a Broadway show each Hanukkah. That was truly wonderful. We almost always had the best seats. Except one time, when we were in the top balcony. I remember as we kept walking up and up and up, I turned to my cousin and complained, “What happened?” We found out later that our grandmother did not want us too close to the stage….It was “Hair” and the actors disrobed.   Maybe she thought we would race to the stage.

My original Playbill from Hair as well as the flyer I picked up at the theater.

This memory came back to me on Saturday night when the musicians ended their performance with a rousing rendition of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine.”   I was moved back in time. It was December 1971. I was 16, a junior in high school,  and I was in the Biltmore Theater seeing “HAIR!” “Aquarius” was my lucky song growing up.   I was born under this astrological sign. So I believed whenever this song played, something good was about to happen. And yes, something I was hoping for did occur the next day.

When I met my husband, he had never been to a Broadway show. Makes sense, he was born and raised in the Midwest. But the first time he came East, when we were engaged, I changed his world.   I called my Uncle and asked if he could get us seats for “They’re Playing Our Song,” with Lucie Arnez and Robert Klein, at the Imperial Theater. It was the hottest show. My Uncle did it. I took Jay. But for the first time, I actually paid for the house seats. Ouch!!! But it was worth every penny! My husband loved it as well.

I am glad he caught the ‘bug.’ I love shows. We have season tickets for three different production companies. I used to have four, but gave up a summer series this year after 32 years, as we travel too much in the summers.   There are many shows I have seen a number of times. But I don’t care.   Most shows I don’t mind seeing several times.   There are just a few I am done with seeing. And only two that I never want to see again. I still try to see a show on Broadway at least once a year!
Seeing a show takes you away from the world for a few hours. Just like a book, it moves you across time and location into someone else’s world. I thank my parents and my Uncle for giving me the gift of musicals and drama.   I was glad that my husband and I passed this gift on to our children. The memory of sitting in House Seats with be with me forever.

 

Making Music On St Maarten Is Magical

7 Jun

Listening to an expert on the steel drum. He was amazing.

Yesterday in St Maarten we decided to go on a different type of tourist adventure. We have been on this island several times and had no desire to tour around the island or go shopping. But we did find the perfect experience. We learned to play steel pan drums.

A tour from our cruise ship went to the school run by Dow’s Musical Foundation. There we experienced the Caribbean music of the steel pan drums and practiced with a group to actually play a song on the drums.

Who knew there were several types of drums?  Well there are: tenor, bass and one in between. Some are for the melody, others to hold the beat. Most of the drums comes in sets of two. There are two octaves, but the notes are devided between the two drums. Except for the base.  Those playing the base had to play on five different and much bigger drums.

A magical moment playing the steel pan drums!

At first I was a little slow. But eventually I got into the beat with the help of one of the teachers (who is from Kentucky!).

Going back and forth between the two drums was a bit confusing at first, but soon my brain caught up and my hands used the drum sticks. It was sort of like playing the hammered dulcimer. A gentle snap of the hand to get the best sound!

But the highlights was a short performance by one of the school’s founders. His passion for the music, his sense of rhythm and his joy were contagious and amazing. We then had the opportunity to listen to a group of school children as they preformed a song. These were students from one of the schools who take music lessons there.


Over 1100 students have the opportunity to learn music. To support the foundation, we purchased a cd adding a liitle extra.

It was worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces as they focused on their playing, on their instructors and us.

I am so glad we took the opportunity to do something different and put a little musical magic in our lives!