The 12 members of Tchaika, a folk dance group, sounded like a swarm of angry bees as performed a dance called the floricica olteanesca on a recent evening at the Loma Vista School auditorium.
The group whipped through the Romanian line dance, hopping, stomping and executing quick little scissor kicks to the buzzing of a jew's harp.
"We're celebrating," said Edith Sewell, the amateur folk dancing group's perky, fiftysomething instructor.
In recognition of recent reforms in Eastern Europe, Tchaika--it means sea gull in Russian--is focusing on the dances of Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia through April.
The group hopes that those caught up in the political excitement will be attracted to the two-hour sessions on Thursday evenings at Loma Vista School in Ventura.
"You can tell so much about a people by the way they dance," Sewell said. These dances "have so much energy and so much sadness."
The sessions are open to the public with a $2 admission. They begin with a half hour or so of instruction by Sewell. Performances from the group's repertoire, which includes more than 100 dances, take up the rest of the evening, with either Sewell or seasoned folk dancers leading line dances.
During such spirited numbers such as the floricica olteanesca, the group splinters into several lines according to ability. Less-advanced participants dance behind veterans so they can follow each step. Tchaika is one of five Ventura County groups that meet regularly to learn and practice interpretations of centuries-old folk dances from Eastern Europe, Israel, Greece, South Africa, South America and Canada (see box).
"You can't trace every dance to a specific time and place," said Tchaika regular Jackson Wheeler, 37. "But they have authentic elements, and the music is authentic."
The instructors of these groups scour folk dancing festivals and clubs for recordings. Some take folk dancing tours and cruises to learn new dances and to record music. The search for new steps and tunes has taken Sewell, who formerly performed modern dance, to Romania, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union.
On a recent evening, musical accompaniment ranged from the angelic voices of a Bulgarian children's choir to the tinny tones of the tamburitza, a relative of the balalaika.
Participants ranged in age from early 30s to mid-70s and included a grocery store clerk, a civil engineer and a social worker. Some wore embroidered peasant blouses and opanci , or leather-soled Macedonian slippers with pointed toes; others, sweat pants and high tops. Few brought partners.
While the group occasionally broke into what Sewell called "Romanian aerobics," the pace wasn't always breakneck. At the evening's close, dancers threaded through lesnoto, a Macedonian line dance so lazy, Sewell said, that "you can gossip."
Olga Voltava, a 75-year-old immigrant from Poland, couldn't have been more at home.
"Our parents taught us to do these sort of dances," she said. "Long before this was recreation, it was part of our ethnic lore."
WHERE TO PRACTICE
There are enough folk-dancing groups in Ventura County that an enthusiast can polish his Floricica Olteanesca or Lesnoto practically every night of the week. Here's a list of the classes, which are open to the public for a small fee:
* SUNDAY--Haverim, a Ventura group specializing in Israeli folk dancing, meets at 7 p.m. at the Temple Beth Torah at 7620 Foothill Road. Cost is $1 for members, $2 for non-members. Contact: Barbara Rosenberg, 643-0897.
* MONDAY--The Conejo Valley Folk Dancers, a Thousand Oaks group of about 30 people, meets at 7 p.m. at Conejo School, 280 Conejo School Road, for a wide range of international fare, including French-Canadian dances. The cost is $1 for members, $2 for non-members. Contact: Eugene Lovejoy, 498-2491.
* WEDNESDAY--The Ojai Valley Folk Dancers, a group of about 10 people, meets at 8 p.m. at the Ojai Center for the Arts, 113 S. Montgomery St., for a wide range of international folk dances. Contact: Sarah Harkins-Beard, 646-2195.
* THURSDAY--Tchaika Folk Dance Club, which attracts about a dozen people for Balkan dancing, meets at 8 p.m. at the Loma Vista School at 300 Lynn Dr. in Ventura. Cost is $2. Contact: Edith Sewell, 985-7316.
* FRIDAY--The Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District in Camarillo holds an ongoing international folk dancing course at 8 p.m. in the Camarillo Community Center, 1605 E. Burnley St. The cost is $20 for a three-month session with the next one beginning April 6. Contact: Virginia Calihan, 484-0936.