When I was growing up, folk dancing was for losers. During puberty, no person from my circle would dare to be associated with folk dancing, which seemed like a nationalist pastime for people wearing 19th century clothes, living in remote places like Kazachstan. It was as uncool as scouting, ballroom dancing, choir singing or musicals. As an adult I remember hiring a co-worker, just for his guts to admit that he ran a folk-dance group as his hobby. I figured, you must have character, if you can confess to a dark secret like that. So you can understand how I felt quite uncomfortable participating in a couple of Chacarera and Zamba workshops recently.
Adding to my discomfort was the fact that folk dancers in the Netherlands dress up in traditional farmer’s or fishermen’s clothes and stamp their feet in wooden shoes. It is a picture that is hard to remove from one’ s mind. Folklore music seems quite medieval to a person who came of age with Cream, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. We, the enlightened ones, danced to music that couldn’t be farther removed from what these costumed people were dancing to. We hopped, snaked and wriggled our bodies to rock, soul or disco music, positioned well out in front of each other. We waved our arms and juggled our feet erratically, like scarecrows in the wind, from a safe distance apart. It could get lonely dancing that way.
Ten years ago, I saw Dutch tango dancers perform Chacarera for the first time, confirming all my prejudices. The dance seemed more like morning gym class and the only thing missing seemed to be the wooden shoes. I sometimes joined in but I was as equally bad at it as the rest. I didn’t know what I was doing and the whole thing felt embarrassingly inauthentic. However, something must have changed since then because, in the last few months people want to finish our milonga with a chacarera. Customer orientation is my middle name so I have been going along with it though inwardly slightly conflicted. Quite a number of dancers participate in the chacarera finale and they have started looking like the real thing.
Julia Ozols is from Ukraine. She is hard to say no to and has been coaxing Amsterdam milongas to adopt folklore. She invited me one night to dance a Chacarera. My steps were all wrong, but Julia held my eyes all the time. All of us were circling around each other, laughing, connecting through dance without touching. Although several meters apart I felt no loneliness. ‘You know you are the last barrier’, she told me, ‘the last milonga in Amsterdam to resist’. All this time I thought we were actually being cool. But who knows where this goes? You may see me waving a handkerchief yet! Not to worry though, wooden shoes are absolutely out of the question, although I suspect that Julia would probably even look good in those. I’m dancing where the market takes me. Adentro.