Dancers Without Borders is a folk dancing group founded in 2018 that brings together people in Canberra and Queanbeyan to explore and celebrate the traditional dances of the Balkan region in Europe. Its dancers have roots from all over the Balkan peninsula, and together they learn and promulgate the traditional folk dances of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia.
Ahead of their first performance at next weekend’s National Multicultural Festival in Canberra, we sat down with one of its founders, Darko Andreski, to learn about what brought the group together, what folk dancing means to him, and what his thoughts are about the importance of continuing the traditions of folk dancing in Australia.
Dunja Cvjetićanin (DC): Darko, thank you for sitting down with be:longing to discuss folk dancing. Tell us, how did Dancers Without Borders begin?
Darko Andreski (DA): Dancers Without Borders began with the passion to push the boundaries [of folk dance from the Balkans], both geographically and theatrically – hence our name. After a few idea-throwing sessions with my cousin Suzi, we thought we would trial this concept, and here we are, a year later. Dancers Without Borders will have their first ever performance at the Multicultural Festival in Canberra next weekend.
Both of us have been part of Macedonian folk dance groups throughout our lives and have a pretty good idea of what it means to be part of such a group, but also of where improvements could be made. We saw the opportunity to harness the beauty and traditions of Balkan folk dance and recreate it to really entice and impress audiences of all cultures and backgrounds.
DC: What role does folk dancing play in your life, and in the various cultures of the Balkans?
DA: Well, it’s very hard to explain the feeling when you hear the drum hit. It’s like you are awakened, and it’s an out-of-body experience where all you want to do is move to the rhythm. In Macedonia, Bulgaria and throughout the Balkans, folk dancing is mostly associated with joy and celebrations. It gives a sense of pride and belonging, and it brings people together. It also breaks down barriers in communities by allowing people to connect through the common language of dance.
DC: Why do you engage in folk dancing here in Australia?
DA: As a dancer, I’d have to say – socialising and sharing memories with friends. It also allows me to retain traditions from my cultures of origin, all while allowing me to be active – it’s a form of exercise that doesn’t feel like a chore. As a choreographer, it allows me to experiment and push boundaries through complex steps, formations, costumes and rhythms. What drives me is creating unique and original works that are not only fun to perform but leave a lasting impression on our audiences.
DC: Why do you think folk dancing is important in a multicultural setting like Australia?
DA: I think it allows like-minded people with the same values and backgrounds to bond and to connect. It gives them a sense of belonging and reminds them of their heritage. But it is also beneficial for Australians from other backgrounds because, by attending dance performances, they gain exposure to other cultures, which a neighbour or friend may be a part of.
DC: Finally, what do you think folk dancing can teach people – both the dancers themselves, and audience members (who may or may not be from the same culture(s) as the dances)?
DA: It is fun. It can be very creative and can tantalise all the senses. For dancers, it teaches the importance of team work and camaraderie, and for the audience it inspires them and challenges their pre-conceived ideas of what folk dance is.
If you would like to see Dancers Without Borders in action, make sure you catch them at the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra next Sunday, 17 February, on Stage 4 (City Walk and Akuna St), from 11:25 to 11:50am.
© Darko Andreski and Dunja Cvjetićanin, 2019