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When You Want to Know How, Go to the Folks


This weekend's 26th annual Laguna Folkdance Festival will offer a free introductory folk-dance class for beginners, who may attend the event's ensuing dance concert gratis, too.

The three-day fest, starting Friday, is put on by Laguna Folkdancers, a group of die-hards who want to see their ranks expand like the good old '60s and '70s, when folk dance was booming.

"The public schools used to include folk dancing in their curricula," said festival director Richard Duree, a Costa Mesa folklorist and dance ethnologist. But educational budget cuts have done away with such classes, which means the folk form isn't as popular now.

Still, some 350 enthusiasts are expected to attend the festival and six Southern California troupes will perform during Sunday's 1:30 p.m. concert: Polskie Iskry (Polish), Skandia Dancers (Scandanavian), Dunaj International Dance Ensemble (directed by Duree), Karpatok (Hungarian), Ciuleandra (Romanian children) and the Orange Coast College Middle Eastern dance group.

Those with previous folk-dance training can take lessons in Bulgarian folk dance from master teachers and, for the first time (due to teachers' previous lack of availability), in Slovakian folk dance. Vonnie Brown of Baton Rouge, La., and Vladimir Urban of Slovakia will instruct.

Because Slovakia was part of Hungary until World War I, the two regions' folk dances are similar, Duree said. Men perform militaristic steps in the manner of dances used by the Austro-Hungarian empire as military "recruiting devises," he said.

Recruiters would visit villages in search of "Hungarian men, who were primarily sought out because they were excellent horsemen," he said. In the dance, called verbunk, "the guys wear boots and spurs and do sharp heel clicks, slap their thighs and boots, and the body is very upright."

Slovakian women mostly performed fairly simple circle dances, Duree said, while singing their own accompaniment and following a leader's improvisation.

"You can't get too complex when you're singing and following the improvisation."

There won't be any other improvising at the festival, but attendees will get the chance to dance folk dances from around the world to live music during parties planned throughout.

* What: 26th Annual Laguna Folkdance Festival.

* When: Friday-Sunday. Friday: dance workshop, 7:30-10 p.m.; dance party, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday: advanced workshop, 9:30-11:30 a.m.; various workshops, 1:30-4:30 p.m.; Valentine dance and party, 7:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday: free introduction to folk dancing, 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. in school cafeteria; Kolo (Yugoslavian dances) party, same time; dance concert with six folk troupes, 1:30-3 p.m.; dance party, 3-5 p.m.

* Where: Ensign Intermediate School gymnasium, 2000 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach.

* Whereabouts: Exit the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway at Irvine Avenue. Go south on Irvine Avenue, then turn left on Cliff Drive.

* Wherewithal: Admission to the entire three-day festival is $33 at the door; admission to Sunday's performance only is $8. Separate tickets to individual events, such as workshops and dance parties, are $6 to $9.

* Where to call: (714) 533-8667; 545-1957; 494-7683.

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