Each issue of Folyosó will feature an interview with a Varga student. For our first Folyosó interview, we are honored to speak with Dániel Lipcsei, a folk dancer in two ensembles, Rákóczi Néptáncetyüttes—Rákóczifalva and Tisza Táncegyüttes, and a member of Class 11.C at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium. Please scroll down for the full interview!
Let’s start with something recent: your performance of “Szászcsávási táncok” at the 11th National Solo Youth Competition. Could you say something about the particular dance that you performed? Where does it come from? It seems to go through several phases; could you explain the form and the parts?
This dance comes from Szászcsávás, a little town in Transylvania. In this village, Roma (cigány, “gypsy”) and Hungarian people live next to each other, but the Roma are separated to a place, the so-called Cigánysor part of the village (in Transylvania this is common in small villages, but now this seems to be disappearing), so their dance differs from the Hungarians’.* I performed the Roma dance. As you said, there were two parts. The first part is the so-called pontozó. (A bit of history about the pontozó: In lots of villages in that territory we can find pontozó danced by men, but in Szászcsávás only Roma people danced pontozó because the Hungarian men were taken to the army; since no one could teach pontozó to the youth, the Hungarian pontozó disappeared from this village.) The second part is the so-called csingerálás. Officially this is danced in pairs, so when men dance it alone, it is often called sűrű verbunk. This is much faster and physically demanding than pontozó. For the most part, we can find the same motifs in both dance parts, but in the pontozó, at the end of every tune, we can find a closing motif, and then the next tune picks up from there.
Do you see dance as a way to build understanding between the Roma and Hungarian peoples, as well as others?
Yes, definitely, because through learning these dances we can understand each other’s culture. When we learn a Roma dance, we should learn to think about it the way they do. Dance is a language; we learn more than the specific steps and movements. The steps carry a feeling and a way of life.
When did you begin folk dancing seriously, and how did this happen?
If we include learning folk-games, in kindergarten. But if we exclude it, I would say fourth grade. But I started to take it really seriously in seventh grade.
What is a typical practice session like for you, either alone or with one of your groups?
I would start with the group practices. In the beginning we warm up precisely, unless this may lead to injuries. Then we review the previously learned motifs or the choreography needed for the dance. After that we continue learning new motifs or repeat the choreography as many times as possible to make it perfect. A lot of times we change little things in order to get a better result. This goes on for 1.5 to 2 hours. Then we stretch our stressed muscles, stay to talk to each other, and then go home.
When I practice alone, it is a bit different. I shorten the warm-up and stretching parts, which is a bad habit of mine. Usually I learn new types of dances at home; I just rarely review those we learned with the group: for example, when we practice for a performance.
Does your dance group Rákóczi Néptáncegyüttes—Rákóczifalva focus on a particular kind of Hungarian folk dance: for instance, Transylvanian? What can you say about the group and what it does?
The group does not specialize in Transylvanian dances, or in strictly Hungarian ones. Each year we learn two dances. One from Hungary and one from Transylvania, because both are very important for us to learn. They differ stylistically, so it does not get boring, let us say, after six months.
The Hungarian folk dance that I have seen so far is a form of music in itself—with singing during the dance, and percussion created by the dance. Could you say something about the musical aspect of your dancing?
I would say that the music of Hungarian and Transylvanian folk dances are colorful. All of them are different, but we can find similar details in them: for example, the same tunes, same lyrics, and things like that. In different regions we can find really different dance styles and music because of the effects of the neighboring countries. For example, in the northern part of Hungary, dances and music are similar to Slovak ones, and so on with the other parts of the country. Some of them are slower, some of them are faster, but they all are beautiful in their own way. There were tunes during which people do not dance but instead sing while the music is going on. These are really slow and often about sad stories: for example, the death of a loved one or an unrequited love. I think that the most beautiful ones are from Kalotaszeg (a part of Transylvania); these are called hajnali.
Could you say something about a folk dancer or group whom you particularly admire?
The folk dancer I most admire is Szabolcs Kabdebon, whom I have known since fifth grade. We have become really good friends in these years. He is like a second father to me, because I can rely on him whenever I have problems in my private life. He completed the Hungarian Dance University, so he also knows a lot about dance. Also he is the one who taught me the dances of Szászcsávás, and he has already given me a lot of knowledge. To be exact, everything I know about folk dance is from him.
Of all the festivals, competitions, and other events in which you have performed, which ones stand out in your memory, and why?
Obviously the previously mentioned 11th National Solo Youth Competition. This competition had a previous qualification part, and getting into the finals has been my biggest achievement so far in folk dancing. But this is not the only reason why this is really important for me. We spent three days there and it was amazing! With me was my girlfriend, one of our friends, and my teachers (there are five of them because I take part in three folk-dance groups), who are also our friends. We had fun throughout those days.
Please say anything else that you would like about Hungarian folk dancing in general or about your own work and art.
I have only two things to add. I have said a few things about the Roma pontozó but nothing in connection with the Hungarian version. Since there is no Hungarian pontozó in Szászcsávás, I would like to present a Hungarian pontozó from the village Magyarózd (another little town close to Szászcsávás. I am doing this to point out the differences. The main difference is that Hungarians do not have the “bouncy” style that the Roma have. Their movements are more stuck to the ground. This difference applies not only to the pontozó, but to many dances across many regions of Hungary. Also, Roma dances are generally more free, whereas their Hungarian counterparts have stricter rules.
The second thing is that all folk-dance groups differ a bit from each other. They behave somewhat like families. Everyone can speak about their problems and we are always there to help. I have tried other kinds of sports, such as football and basketball, but I never experienced this kind of relationship between the members.
How are you continuing with folk dance during the coronavirus pandemic?
We are not meeting in person, but we still have plans: for instance, online choreography. The teachers send their expectations for the choreography and explain how the dance should be recorded. Then we record the dance individually, send our videos to the teachers, and they will put it all together.
How can we find out about your dance groups and future performances?
You can find and follow them on Facebook. The Rákóczi Néptáncetyüttes—Rákóczifalva and the Tisza Táncegyüttes both have their own pages, with information, announcements, photos, videos, and more.
Thank you, Dániel Lipcsei, for this interview! We wish you the best and look forward to your next performance!
*In this interview, “Roma” refers to the cultural and ethnic group also known as cigány (or in English, “gypsy”). “Hungarian” refers to the cultural and ethnic group known as magyar.