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Margaret Strickland: All I Want To Do Is Dance

Date: 23.10.2007

The Story of One Great Friend of Bulgaria from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

When I heard at our first Bulgarian party in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA (November 2006)  that there is a folk group in Salt Lake with active involvement of some Bulgarians, I was shocked.  I can’t wait next Wednesday to have met the Director of the Duna group in the Rehearsal Room, Ms Margaret Strickland, and to have enjoyed the Bulgarian folk music and dance. Since November 2006, Margaret has been one of the best friends of our Bulgarian society in Utah. She takes part at almost every party – together with her group or alone. We had also a workshop together with Professor Jak Yakar on the music in our everydayness. In May 2007 thanks to Margaret the Salt Lake Bulgarian Folk won many friends at Living Traditions festival. On Oct 20th, Saturday, Duna together with Zhivio and BYU folk group represented the Eastern European Folk in Columbus Center in South Lake City (see info at http://www.iianthropology.org/dunaconcertoct2007.html).

Below is the story of Margaret Strickland written by Kalina Galabova who recently has moved from Utah to California. Kalina was one of the most active participants in our Bulgarians parties in Salt Lake, as well a dancer in the group of Margaret Strickland.
(Dr Lolita Nikolova, International Institute of Anthropology, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA).

Born in 1934 just outside of Glasgow, Scotland, Margaret Bell Brown—now Margaret Strickland—did not walk until she was two years old. Yet a few years later, when she was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she replied without hesitation: “Dance!” And this is what she has been doing for over 55 years now.

Margaret left high school without a diploma to join a fine arts school, where she obtained a degree in ballet. She spent five years learning how to be a dance teacher, and upon finishing her studies she was eager to teach any form of dance—from ballet to tap dancing to musical comedy. And although the lack of financial resources forced her to earn her living primarily by selling buttons in a small store, she still found time to go around little villages and teach ballet to children.

At the age of 21, Margaret married a young genetics engineer and left Scotland a year later, as her husband was offered a research position at Stanford University. The pursuit of science by her husband quickly overshadowed Margaret’s passion for dance, and various job opportunities kept the young family on the move. The destinations kept changing. First it was California, then Canada, then Hanover, New Hampshire.

Life in Hanover was a mix of bliss and despair, hopes and disappointments. Margaret’s daughter Gina was born, but a painful divorce had presented the young mother with the formidable task of raising the child alone. Life in a foreign land, with no secure job or help from anyone, was tough, but Margaret did not despair. She took any odd job she could land and lived almost on nothing, but her daughter was never left hungry.

In those difficult times, teaching ballet got reduced to a dream, a distant memory. The love for dancing, however, never left Margaret. And it was there, in the White Church of Hanover, where Margaret got first introduced to Eastern European folk dancing. She danced in the church recreationally for four years.

When she and little Gina briefly moved to Palo Alto, California, in a desperate hope to make a better living, Margaret was quick to join a Serbian folk dance group. In 1965, when she moved to Salt Lake City to finish high school and try to find a better job, she heard of a local folk dance group that had no name or formal leadership, yet it had attracted an impressive number of young people. Men and women came not only to dance but also to play and sing Eastern European folk songs. Folk dancing and singing were in their prime. Yet not for long.

The group performed in Utah and the neighboring states for several years, but then suddenly the performances stopped. Internal disagreements caused the group to split, and many people left. The need for a better organization and enthusiastic leadership was apparent. It was then that Margaret, who in the meantime had obtained a modern dance degree from the University of Utah, decided to put her educational background to use and take charge. She formed a group called Narodna (meaning “motherland” in several Slavic languages) and invited her fellow dancers to join. “We must keep folk dancing alive” was what she told them. Many of them agreed to help.

Narodna performed for over 20 years under the leadership of Margaret and a co-organizer. The group entertained its many audiences with dances from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Meanwhile, Margaret made several trips to Central and Eastern Europe to learn more about the culture and traditions of these lands. She also visited Bulgaria (Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Turnovo, Gabrovo, Bansko, Koprivshtitsa, Melnik, and the Black Sea) and fell in love with the country’s enchanting folk music and lively dancing. She liked the rhythm, the dynamics, the rich variety of choreographies and styles.

Margaret’s interest toward Bulgarian folk music and dancing grew over the years. She carefully studied her large collection of folk dance videos (over 40 tapes!). She met with Bulgarian and other immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who taught her new dances. She mastered the steps to perfection, and during her third trip to Bulgaria, she performed on stage with the Gabrovo Folk Ensemble.

Upon her return to the United States, Margaret decided to expand her involvement in dance education. She taught high school students how to dance—that was one way to boost the waning popularity of folk dance and to recruit new members for Narodna. Yet times had changed. The spirit of the 60’s was not to be experienced again.

Margaret parted with Narodna in 2002 with the intention to retire in Arcada, California. There she made new friends and enjoyed dancing recreationally. But she missed the excitement that one gets only on stage. She returned to Utah in 2005 and formed an all-female folk dance group, which she called Duna (The Danube River in Hungarian).

The river Duna (Dunaj, Dunarea, or Dunav) passes through most of the countries represented in Duna’s repertoire. Currently, the group performs dances primarily from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria and wears traditional costumes prepared personally by Margaret.

Apart from choreographing, dancing, sewing, and embroidering, Margaret has other talents. She sings and she also plays the flute, skillfully adapting its tunes to famous Bulgarian folk songs. She is a great entertainer not only on stage but also in private and keeps a large mental encyclopedia of miscellaneous interesting facts. She hikes, camps, and likes to take long strolls. But most of all she likes to show off her new dance group and looks for every opportunity to do so.

In her recruitment efforts, Margaret managed to find three young Bulgarian women, who joined Duna with no experience but with a sincere desire to learn. Being with the group for over a year now, they often joke aboutto come all the way to America to learn Bulgarian dances. And with a talented teacher like Margaret, the learning has been both enjoyable and stimulating. Dessislava and Kalina are often the first ones to arrive at the dance studio, and Vesselina is willing to drive all the way from Ogden even in a heavy snowstorm.

As for Margaret, she now dances four nights a week—recreational European folk on Mondays, flamenco on Wednesday, Duna rehearsals on Thursdays, and African dances on Saturdays. Dancing continues to thrill and energize her, just as it did over 45 years ago. Nothing tires her; it is only Bulgarian music that makes her heart beat a little bit faster.

Let’s thank Margaret Strickland for her immense contribution to promoting Eastern European folk music, dancing, and culture and wish her many more years of teaching, choreographing, and performing on the stages of Utah!

Kalina Galabova
California, USA

Links to new or recently updated websites of the International Institute of Anthropology:

Duna folk group at
http://www.iianthropology.org/dunaintfolkgroup.html
Eastern European Folk Concert, Oct 20th, 2007
http://www.iianthropology.org/dunaconcertoct2007.html
Nomination of Bulgarians of 2007 in the USA
http://www.iianthropology.org/nominationsbgusa2007.html
Women in the Global Society
http://www.iianthropology.org/womenglobalsociety.html
International essay-contest Happiness and Truth in the Women’s Everydayness
http://www.iianthropology.org/essaycontestwomenseverydayness.html
Bulgarians in Utah
http://www.iianthropology.org/bulgariautah.html

Note: Please submit your proposals for Bulgarians of 2007 in the USA to http://www.eurochicago.com or via e-mail to admin@iianthropology.org

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