Again, I am breaking a little with my normal tradition. Usually, I try to find a waltz, a mazurka, and perhaps a polka or march that represents the outgoing or incoming year. Having reached 80 in the year that passed, I am working on my legacy and many people ask about my life. There were a few confusing stories from childhood, but it is certain that my mother was Swedish on both sides of her family. I did a DNA test and the region was traced to Dalarna. Growing up, I was told Västmanland, close enough. Both my parents were folk dancers; and, as a child, I attended many festivals, always dressed in a Swedish costume. The national dance is a hambo, quite difficult to dance, wonderful to experience on the dance floor, but not nearly as exciting to watch. So, I chose a short piece. What feels good is when the woman flies through the air:
On my father’s side, it is a little less clear. I was told Polish. Naiman is a corruption of Niedźwiedź, the Polish word for bear. I don’t quite know how or why it got changed, but the story was that the immigration officer on Ellis Island couldn’t understand what my grandparents were saying. Late in life, my uncle was writing a family history and showed me some chapters. He said the family was Russian. The DNA test said something to the equivalent of far north in Eastern Europe with a 1% chance of some genes from Lake Baikal region. Recently, I found pictures of my paternal grandfather and a birth record. My father’s story seems to have been more accurate than that of his brother, and the certificate definitely says Niedźwiedź.
After my parents were divorced, my father gave me the complete collection of Chopin’s Mazurkas. This is the Polish national dance and is in three-quarter time, but unlike a waltz, the emphasis is on the second beat. There were a lot of choices on YouTube, but this one starts out in a formal way and then the blood warms:
I grew up dancing. Parents, I believe, often project their interests on their children. I had to negotiate with my mother that she would allow me to escape ballet if after one performance on stage I refused to pursue this. I might have been about five at the time and no longer remember the ballet, but I was one of three sunflowers and seriously doubt the flower actually danced. However, she honored her promise, and I was no longer dragged to the ballet studio kicking and screaming. However, I love various cultures and costumes and music so I am going to add one more video of Polish dancing simply because, being fiery, it is my favorite of the options:
It would not be fair to say I danced my way through childhood, rather, perhaps, that thanks to music and dancing, I survived my childhood. We could add pets because I had birds and dogs. In high school, I appeared on television a few times, once dancing a Schuhplattler. It’s a traditional Tyrolean dance in which the women do not really have many challenges. Perhaps I brought this through from my previous incarnation?
Another performance was of the Filipino bamboo dance. I was introduced to music from the Philippines while still quite young and instantly loved the songs and dance. Obviously, the ankles will never forget if there is a mistake!
The saga of my dancing is almost complete. In 1959, my mother moved to Hawaii. At the first school dance at the University of Hawaii, I met the original Barack Obama . . . and my mother adopted him. He called her mom. He was a fabulous dancer, and we danced our way through our undergraduate studies. For the record, he was one of the nicest people I ever met so don’t believe what you have heard. He was dignified, super intelligent, world class in every way. He had the unique quality of a total lack of arrogance despite his countless gifts. He had a sweet disposition and was amazing in every way one could imagine.
At the East-West Center, students from all countries in Asia gathered, and a request was made to share their cultural traditions. Hardly anyone knew their national dances, but most had brought costumes. I helped out with the choreography for a lovely performance at the Shell in Waikiki. To be honest, I don’t remember if I danced or only choreographed.
My dancing days were almost over, not because I lost interest, but I spent the next twenty years or so heavily involved in Asian Studies and culture. There were only a few more hugely memorable dancing moments, one at the Christmas dinner for the company I worked for in New York. Only two of us knew the Viennese waltz so we were alone on the dance floor. and there was a lot of clapping afterwards. Later, in Santa Fe, I had the great pleasure of dancing with a member of the New York City Ballet. The funny thing is, we reconnected years later, and his recollection was that we did a jitterbug, but I know it was waltz or polka, probably the latter.
When born with as much fire as I have, it was the Hungarian dances with red boots and ribbons that grabbed my attention when young. I also loved the sword dances and did some demonstrations with my father a few times during my high school years. He was a fencing champion and obviously handled the swords very well, but I was the one who had to dodge them.
As time goes on, fire has to focus. Taming fire is a painful process because patience is not an inborn trait. Honing, refining, and making good decisions are the challenges.
Still, this is the season that I used to share with my best friend, Gail Barber. She would come to Santa Fe after countless Nutcracker performances with as many as six different ballet companies. She was fried by the time Christmas came, but we both loved music . . . and it goes without saying that of the scenes in the Nutcracker, it was the Spanish dance that I like the most. So much for the sugar plum fairies! This is obviously more Russian than Spanish.
As those know me or who follow my writings realize, music has always played a very important part in my life. I am sure this goes back to the beginning of Time, but I am mostly a listener, not a composer or performer. Now that my focus is on my legacy, it is my intention to share more and more of my favorite pieces and to make a few comments about each because after decades of observation of my students and subscribers, I have had the joy of seeing some of my love and enthusiasm rub off on others.
Copyright by Dr. Ingrid Naiman 2023
First Posted on 1 January 2023
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