International Festival of Ancestral Traditions, Straseni

The opening act of the festival- all other photos are of the dance ensemble from my village

On the last day of school, the founders and teachers at the music and dance school in our village casually mentioned they had a couple of spots left on the bus for that weekend if anyone was interested in going with the group to an international festival. Knowing that it was likely the last time I’d be able to watch many of my students, who are part of the dance ensemble, perform, I jumped at the chance!

I’ve written about my village’s dance and music ensemble, Ansamblul Vatra Satului, before. There are actually three levels of students at the school: the “little” group, the “middle” group, and the “big” group. For this festival, the “little” and “big” group performed. The students are in 2nd grade through 10th grade, and one of my favorite things in Moldova has been getting to see them perform!

The festival was held in a small park under the shade of trees. There were many groups that performed, mostly from Moldova but a few groups came from other countries as well. There was dancing, singing, instrument performances, and even some skits. We didn’t stay until the end, but I got to watch several groups before my students went on stage. They performed for about 15 to 20 minutes and did a really great job!

After our group performed, the kids had about an hour to play, walk around the park, and get some food and ice cream to eat at the various vendors. I joined the founders of the school (colleagues of mine at school- she is a primary school teacher, he teaches music), a married couple in their 40s and two of their music accompanists for some barbecued meat and beverages. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to relax outside!

I will miss Moldovan dance when I return to the USA. I’m not sure if I’ll get to dance the “hora” (Moldova’s traditional dance) again before I leave, but maybe I’ll have to attempt to teach some Americans back home how to do my village’s version! The video below is the only video I got- this is the dance the group ends every performance with. The conductor of the ensemble yells out “like us in Festelita!” and then they do this quick dance.

Constelatia Talentelor (Constellation of Talents)

Last Friday I was at school and heading to a class when Doamna Angela, a 3rd grade teacher, approached me and asked if I was busy that afternoon and evening.  Doamna Angela and her husband, Alexandru, run the traditional music and dance school in our village.  I told her I didn’t have plans and she asked me if I had my camera with me (I did).  “Perfect!” she said, “Will you come with the dance ensemble to a competition in Chisinau and film it?”  I absolutely love the rare opportunities to watch the dance ensemble, made up of about 20 8th through 9th grade students I teach at school, so I immediately said yes.

I’ll be honest- I really didn’t know any details when I said yes except that we would be leaving right after my class and that it was in Chisinau.  On the bus on the way to Chisinau, Angela and Alexandru said that we were going to a festival and competition called Constellation of Talents and that it was an international talent competition.  My students didn’t end up performing until almost 10 in the evening (the video above), but I got to hang out with the group until then and watch the rest of the concert and competition.  There were at least 13 countries represented, mostly from Eastern Europe but also from Vietnam and a group from an African country.

There were various categories including modern dance, traditional dance, singing, verbal art (poetry), and modelling.  Our group was competing in the traditional dance category.  Groups that the judges felt did a good job on the first and second days of the competition were called back to compete in the final round on Sunday.  My students did a fantastic job on Friday, and though I didn’t accompany them, were called back on Sunday, and won grand prize!!  They also received invitations to two other international competitions, one in Romania, and one in Bulgaria.  My students were so excited to tell me that they had won when I saw them in class on Monday!  They work incredibly hard and are so incredibly talented!  I am so proud of them!

Celebrating the Holidays at School

This past week was our last week of school before our Christmas vacation.  As in the United States, this meant end-of-semester grades, tests, and holiday celebrations.  Although the date on which Christmas and New Year are celebrated varies throughout Moldova, in my town Christmas is celebrated on the traditional Orthodox date of January 7th, while New Year is celebrated on the 14th.  In some towns, the main celebration or perhaps a smaller celebration will take place on December 25th, but January 7th is the primary celebration in most areas.

Festelita

On Thursday, one of my fourth grade classes surprised me with balloons, singing “Happy Birthday” in English, and a card.  We had mentioned a few weeks ago that my birthday was on the same day as Christmas is celebrated in the United States, and they had remembered and planned the surprise all on their own.  It was so sweet of them and I really appreciated it!

Learning "Jingle Bells"
Learning “Jingle Bells”

I was excited that we were able to do a couple of lessons this week in which we were able to talk about Christmas and winter holidays in the United States.  In our third and fourth grade classes, I taught the students “Jingle Bells”.  I was surprised and amused when we got to the refrain and all the students seemed to know it quite well.  In one fourth grade class, we finished teaching the song, and they all broke out simultaneously into the Romanian version of the song, which I wasn’t aware existed.  In our ninth grade classes, we had a lesson on Christmas.  It was primarily focused on Christmas carols and songs, which was a lot of fun.  I shared some of my favorite Christmas songs with the students.  They particularly seemed to like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”.  In one class, one of the boys stood up and started dancing, and in both, they asked me for the names of the songs.  I could hear several of them humming or singing along to the songs later in the day.  In one of my ninth grade classes, two of my students sang one of their traditional Christmas carols in perfect harmony.  It was truly beautiful, and I think the students really enjoyed the lesson.

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On Thursday, after classes, the older students had a concert and performance.  The fifth through seventh graders had their celebration first.  There were hours of songs, dances, and games, all organized and put on by the students.  I swear that children in Moldova know how to dance before they can even walk or talk.  Practically all Moldovans dance well, particularly the traditional dances.  I’m always so impressed by my students when they dance or sing.

One of my favorite performances was done by my seventh graders.  Two of them sang, while a few others danced.  The song is also super catchy, you can find it here if you want a song stuck in your head!  After the more formal concert, and scattered throughout, there were different activities.

One was that two students from each class (a boy and a girl) had to do a traditional partner dance.  As far as I could tell, the students were not pre-selected and hadn’t specifically prepared, but they all danced so well!  There was also a game where four students were selected and they had to blow a balloon until it popped and then there was a paper inside the balloon with an activity they had to complete: select a partner and do a dance, what is a talent you have and share it with the audience (dance, sing, etc.), give a few compliments to each teacher in the room, and another activity I don’t remember.  The M.C. insisted that they had to give my compliments in English (in case you’re wondering, I’m beautiful, smart, and friendly).  At the end of the celebration, there was some dancing with Moș Crăciun.

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After the 5th-7th grade celebrations, there was a break so people could go home and eat and such.  At 4:00, I returned to the school for the 8th and 9th grade celebration.  This was much the same, though with a bit more variety of performances: dancing, singing, and instrument-playing, as well as skits.

See more photos and videos here: https://goo.gl/photos/kS3BSueZrfdT57cs8

Once again, I was amazed at their ability to dance.  There was also one performance that I have to admit I still have no idea what it was (song? skit? dance? comedy?).  One of the 9th grade boys dressed up as a girl, including wig and makeup.  Two other 9th grade boys accompanied him and there was a very interesting performance that followed.  Beyond that, I really don’t know how to describe it.  Sorry.  It was truly interesting, confusing, and everyone was laughing very hard.  They had the same activities after, and this time the student who had to give compliments had a bit of a harder time because he just recently started at the school and hadn’t had many of the teachers in the room.  They tried to tell him that he needed to give mine (he does have me as a teacher) in English, but he didn’t know any of the words (if you’re curious, this time around I was “beautiful, a good teacher, and American”).   This time around the celebration ended with a typical “high school dance”, complete with a disco ball, dimmed lights, and loud music.

I was really glad I went to both of the celebrations.  I usually only get to see and interact with my students during class, and it was nice to see them have fun, use their numerous talents, and interact with one another.  It was also a nice reminder that teens and pre-teens are similar in many ways, regardless of where in the world they live.  Sometimes it feels like the school system here doesn’t really allow kids to be kids, but during these celebrations, everything felt a lot more relaxed.