Volunteer with Your Dance Group

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By Sara Willcutt

Volunteering is not only great to do; it helps others, helps our world and is important for experience and resumes. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in activities and team bonding with a group.

One way to find volunteer opportunities in your area is to go to www.volunteermatch.org. The site gives you many options so you can search for and find an opportunity that is right for your group.

Organizations that I recommended:
•   Women for Women International
•   Hope Chest
•   Feed My Starving Children

Find more ideas at:
•   Network for Good
•   Network for Good – Volunteer

I took the Augsburg College Dance Team and the Ascending Star Dance Team to Feed My Starving Children. We had a great time, got to know each other, and packaged food that was sent to children all over the world.

From the Feed My Starving Children website:

Feed My Starving Children is committed to feeding God's starving children that are hungry in body and spirit.

Our approach is simple: Volunteers pack nutritious meals made up of rice, soy, vitamins, and dehydrated vegetables. We partner with relief organizations worldwide to distribute these meals to starving children. 

As a Christian non-profit, we hope to reduce the number of starving children throughout the world by working to instill compassion in a generation that hears and responds to the cries of those in need. We invite you to join us in this important work.

Click here to learn more about Feed My Starving Children

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The Ensemble Espanol

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By Rebecca Nieves
Edited by Angie Rentmeester

The fingers dance on the strings of the guitar in a dizzying manner. The modern guitar is said to be a descendent of the Spanish “viola de mano” or a lute like instrument. The instrument was given another two strings to make six and the neck was narrowed. The way the guitarists hands move over his strings, he could have been the one to forge the acoustic into being. Enter the dancers-the most appropriate response to the guitars cries of pride and beauty and of love.

In Chicago, the dancers call themselves Ensemble Espanol. The highly decorated Libby Komaiko is the director and originator of the Northeastern Illinois University based company. Komaiko, a professional dancer and instructor, has received numerous awards and recognition. Don Juan Carlos, King of Spain awarded Komaiko with the Lazo de Dama (Ribbon of the Dame) in 1982. Through her continued efforts to promote and increase awareness of the traditions and culture of Spain, Dame Libby Komaiko has created not only a successful dance company but also an altogether excellent dance program at NEIU.

Elaborate dresses on stunning women; crisp shirts and pleated pants on refined men. Precision footwork accents the music along with claps and castanets. There is nothing sloppy or amiss in the ensemble’s performance. Every wave and step is deliberate and solid. The dresses flow and hands twirl. There are flowers in her hair and he spins her capably. The guitar and song resonate and the audience is under a spell from minute one. The performers have a story to tell. They are in love with each other; they are in love with mother Spain. Their movements and sound echo inside of your own being. In the dim lighting your eyes lock on the elegance onstage.

This dance isn’t rowdy or cute it is polished. It is an accented ballet-a ballet with a little spice if you will. It is he difference between a five star restaurant and an all out gala. The Ensemble Espanol works fervently rehearsing and studying to make sure every turn of the head or stretch of the arm is streamline. There is no feel of improvisation or abstract in their performances. And that is the goal. The Ensemble captures the tradition of excellence and the intense appreciation of culture and art of Spain. Pablo Picasso, Miguel de Cervantes, Paco Ibanez are all examples of the rich art that was brought to us by Spain.

From the royal to the gypsies the country has an extraordinary appreciation for the discipline and allure of art. Ensemble Espanol and Dame Libby Komaiko have brought that passion to us here in the United States. Komaiko also founded the All City Junior Ensemble Espanol for middle and high school students in Chicago and relative suburbs. For doing so she has been recognized by the City of Chicago. Libby and The Ensemble have been seen in dance festivals, on TV, concerts, and several other venues and for their continued works and benefit to the city of Chicago and its residents they should be a household name.

A passionate celebration of culture, a divine collection of works and an extremely talented assemblage of dancers is not what makes Ensemble Espanol the force that it is. These things are only a portion of the reason that the company enjoys the success and acclaim it has achieved. What I myself see are the hearts of toreros (toreadors) and the drive of the toro (bull.) Libby Komaiko had a vision and that vision grew because of her fever and passion to share the grace and magic of a culture. The Ensemble’s belief in their founder/director’s goal and their own determination created a triumph.

Flawless. The tap of heels, the snap of castanets, the clap of hands are all part of something bigger. A performance like this is best experienced live. Whether it is Flamenco or a folkloric ballet the Ensemble Espanol, musicians and dancers alike, has captivated millions. The solid strum of the guitar calls out for company and the dancers call back with a heartbeat. A breathtaking scene of precision and passion enraptures audiences of all ages, races and classes. Maintaining and presenting the culture, art and grace of Spain in the Midwest and having it not only be accepted but applauded is all that need be said for Libby Komaiko and her dancers. They are the sound of the castanets that echo and carry the tradition into the future.

Learn more at: ensembleespanol.org

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Russian Folk Dance: A Cultural History

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Russia. What can be said about dance in Russia? Aside from the granddaddy of them all in this significantly spacious area of the globe, ballet, what else does Russia have to offer from their culture in the means of dance? Stemming from the depths of the many cultures that inhabit Russia, folk dancing seems to be a huge part as well. With costumes that are designed with intricacy and are quite beautiful, three types of folk dance have sprung up.

A fast dance consisting of expeditious music and Russian squat work or knee bending, called the Barynya is among one of the folk dances that are prominent in Russia. This dance is not choreographed, but consolidates a lot of stomping. This kind of dance was notably used in the musical Fiddler on The Roof. The term Barynya which means “landlady” in Russian is used to address a woman of higher class. Often compared to chastushkas and frenzied dancing, the refrain is often vulgar and humorous, however, more refined versions of the dance exist.

Another dance, originally a Slavic art form called the Khorovod, is a combination of circle dance and chorus singing, similar to the Chorea of Ancient Greece. This dance is mostly performed by women, to adorn the ritual forthcoming or the dying of the seasons as well as celebrating the rotation of life. Khorovod also offers a girls-only dance in which couples would dance in the center of the circle of girls. The dances that took place within the circle were improvisations, men showing off their strength and women displaying their vocal capabilities. Calendar songs which are sung by the dancers while incorporating the words with a variety of actions carried a ceremoniously role for family events like weddings and funerals. In the wedding dances, the girls will run their hands up and down their arms to embellish the beauty and embroidery of their costumes, for pulling the sleeves up during movement is key. The bride who dances with a handkerchief presents it to her husband, who then ties it over her head symbolically.

The final folk dance, which is thought to have been originated in Paris in the time when the Russian tsar army, called the Cossacks were stationed there, is called the Troika. Troika, which means “three-horse team” or “threesome” consists of one man and two women whom prance around like horses pulling a sleigh. Often they would dance in circle together or the man would dance with one female at a time while the other female dances alone. Included in all repetitions of Russian dance ensembles, Troika is similar to other Slavic dances as well as the Polish Trojak. A Cajun dance bearing the same name is also very similar to the Russian Troika.

Russia offers many other alternatives to ballet with folk dancing being very prominent in their culture. Although it doesn’t get as much attention, since ballet dominates the cultural arena with its beauty, folk dance is stepping out from the shadows and making itself known by spreading across the continents. Grace and tutus have become overcast by rambunctious dancing and elaborate costuming as Russian dance troupes form on the American east coast and onward across the nation.

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