Budapest Festival Orchestra
May 04, 2017

The unbearable lightness of dancing

The Dancing on the Square project of the Budapest Festival Orchestra has been running for three years in a row. There is lots of hard – but fun – work behind the spectacular performance given at Heroes’ Square. Fidelio attended one of the regional meetings of the Dancers on the Square.

We are visiting Cserdi, one of the towns participating in the Dancing on the Square project. Rita Galambos, director of the Foundation For Democratic Youth, offers us a ride there, and we immediately become immersed in conversation. I already know that Dancing on the Square started in 2015 to provide children – disadvantaged and more privileged, Roma and non-Roma – with the opportunity to dance to classical music. What I’d like to find out is how you can teach five hundred children a choreography and make it all come together in a complete production after a single final rehearsal.

“We have twenty-four Dancing on the Square teams, each taught by dance instructors, with one teacher dividing her time among schools in neighbouring towns”, says Rita. It soon turns out that the process is far from straightforward. Dancing on the Square is more than just a choreography followed by a public performance and a tour of Budapest – which is in itself a unique experience for many kids. The sessions are designed to help teach children to be more creative, collaborative, teamwork-oriented and to have them experience how liberating movement can be. However wonderful this may sound, it is not easy.

“Isn’t it confusing for the kids to, after 6 to 8 hours of having their heads crammed full of information and being told to keep quiet, suddenly be expected to be creative, bold and open at the afternoon dance sessions?”, I ask.

Despite the many challenges, Dancing on the Square sessions produce great results, even though these, by and large, cannot be expressed in figures. There are kids whose greatest pleasure in life is to be able to participate in the project, and for many others it’s a window to the world. We are told by Rita that they organised a 4-day summer camp in Hollókő for the children.

“I’ve had teachers asking me about this miracle.

Even those who are considered to be ‘problem children’ in school were able to adjust to the simple, easy-to-remember and logical rules of the camp without a hitch. The shop presented our biggest difficulty. In many families, children are accustomed to having energy drinks and chips instead of healthy cooked meals, but in the Dancing on the Square Camp that was not an option.” Of course, enforcement of the rules was not draconian, and the gates of the camp stood wide open. “Even so, no one went out, not even to get the ball when it flew over the fence. They would come and ask me if they could run outside to collect it.”

Cserdi is located in Baranya county and despite having less than 400 inhabitants, it is known all across Hungary on account of its mayor. Over the course of a few years, László Bogdán has turned the decaying town into a functional community, as he organised trainings to revive farms and helped townspeople start growing produce on the fields owned by the town. He also gained some notoriety when he took Roma kids to visit the juvenile detention centre.

László Bogdán invites us into an office that looks more like a workshop. There are huge sheets of paper hanging from the ceiling with notes made by townspeople about community life, the Roma, work and family. Cserdi has been hosting the Festival Orchestra for years now, which has brought Cocoa Concerts and their interactive, playful Music Castle community programme to the town – all on a completely volunteer basis. In reply to my question as to why these events are needed, Bogdán answered,

“Let’s presume that people don’t have standards. Once you show them, they will feel the need for them. We’ve never had any cheap Gypsy pop bands come to play here in Cserdi. And so long as I have any say in the matter, I’d rather have the Festival Orchestra. Not because Fischer is such a big shot. I don’t care about the celebrity and renown of the Festival Orchestra. What matters is that these artists are so talented, open and spontaneous.”

 Girls are rehearsing the choreography on the local sports field, and it’s a delight to watch them. “These kids are as disciplined as the dancers of the Royal Ballet”, I remark to him. His reply is full of passion. “Because this is nothing if not royal ballet! The only difference between the two is that they have better-paid stars. There’s no such thing as a genius. There’s only work and people. And a person can get fulfilment from work.”

Students from three schools – the school in Bükkösd, as well from the Bártfa utca and Élménytár Tanoda schools in Pécs – are here to practice for the Dancing on the Square. The lead choreographer of the project is Bertalan Vári, who will coordinate the 24 dance teams for the recital at Heroes’ Square. Two movements from Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s musical West Side Story are playing and we hear the children yell “MAMBO!”.

During the lunchbreak, the students of the Bártfa school are signing a greeting card for the mayor. “It’s not every day that you have the honour of receiving us here”, writes one of the girls, tongue in cheek. I’m talking to a boy from Cserdi, who, brimming with quiet pride, tells me that he is doing very well at school and plans to become either a pastry chef or a police officer.

Meanwhile, a couple of musicians from the Festival Orchestra arrive. Bence Horváth is showing kids how to play the trumpet and Attila László is demonstrating the drum. While the kids – the girls being the most daring! – are trying to play a standard beat on the drums, three more brass musicians arrive: József Bazsinka (tuba), Zoltán Tóth (trumpet) and Zoltán Szőke (horn).

“You simply can’t get people to do anything that’s not mandatory”, said Rita during the ride, and now I can see that first-hand. The teachers – despite five musicians having made a two-hundred kilometre journey to be here with the kids – take the children and ship them home without a word, and are in such a haste that they even forget to excuse themselves. Perhaps they don’t have the time or don’t feel like it –it doesn’t even matter. Meanwhile, it’s early Friday afternoon, a bright sunny day and the Festival Orchestra is here. The brass quartet, plus drums, end up making music for the remaining kids from Cserdi. Before we start back on our way to Budapest, the musicians and the organisers are treated to some food and drinks by László Bogdán and the locals at the mayor’s office.

What a great experience these concerts and get-togethers could be! If only they were properly appreciated.

 Adél Tossenberger, the orchestra’s PR manager, shows us a photo taken at another scene in Téglás:

Smiling faces, music, joy – that’s what it’s all about. There’s no point in rushing. “A little girl in Salgótarján told me that Dancing on the Square is her life”, says Adél. “These kids, and the dedicated teachers are what makes Dancing on the Square such a unique experience, and this is reflected by the performances on Heroes’ Square each summer.”

On the journey home, the words of the mayor of Cserdi keep ringing in my ear, “But where are the children?” Well, the children will be there on 10 June on Heroes’ Square and dancing, that’s for sure. We just need to make sure not to lose them along the way. Let’s make sure they can keep dancing, singing and listening to music.

The original article can be reached in Hungarian here.