Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.
Interview with Yves Moreau
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This year, 2013, was Yves Moreau's last Stockton Folk Dance Camp. On such an auspicious occasion, I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Yves, and I asked him about what lead to his life-long pursuit of teaching the art of Bulgarian folk dancing.
Stephen Turner, the official videographer at Stockton Camp, taped the interview. Now, the twenty-five minute interview is archived in the Stockton Camp Library for future generations of Folk Dancers to enjoy. It will act as a testimony to the evolution of Bulgarian folk dancing throughout North America.
We spoke about how Yves' French Canadian background helped influence Yves both as a folk dancer and a teacher. Yves grew up in Québec, Canada. At the early age of twelve years old, Yves joined a French Canadian folk dance group. There he was exposed to some very good quality teaching under his first mentor, Michel Cartier. Michel was an excellent teacher, and he was one of the first North Americans to travel to Bulgaria in the 1950s.
Yves: "First, let me explain that there is a long tradition of folk dancing in Québec. It is unique; it still is the case today that young French Canadians living in cities like Québec and Montréal can still enroll in youth folk dance groups starting at the age of six. It is considered a popular activity in community centers, city recreation centers, and church groups. Young people join these groups, and they can make friends while learning folk dances from Québec and other cultures. Some of these young dancers go on to join a performing group, and this is still going on. That's how I started with folk dancing. I think I was lucky to be there, because Québec has produced a number of well-known and active dance experts, some of whom have taught at Stockton. I am thinking of Michel Cartier back in the 1950s, Germain Hebert who taught French dances at Stockton for many years, Richard Schmidt who teaches Polish dances, and Cristian Florescu and Sonia Dion who have been teaching Romanian Dances; all stemming from Montréal. So there is a long tradition of dance there."
Through the Folk Dance group that Yves participated in as a child, and through his first teacher and mentor, Michel Cartier, Yves fell in love with Bulgarian music. He began reading anything he could find about Bulgaria. Yves' father gave him a short wave radio, where he was able to discover on a regular basis, the depth and richness of Bulgarian folk music simply by tuning in to a station from Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city.
Yves: "I tuned in to Radio Sofia, Bulgaria. I couldn't believe this was happening! They were broadcasting in English to North America, and they were playing some folk music on the radio. Later they sent me some folk music records through the mail, since I had made a few very nice contacts with them. One of the other significant things they did for me was to give me the opportunity to correspond with a pen pal. This pen pal exchange of letters was a big thing in the 1960s. You could get the address of a student in another country, who spoke your language, and you would exchange letters. I was only fifteen, and I received one of these letters from a Bulgarian student, who probably never thought that this fifteen year-old French Canadian student would ever come to Bulgaria."
Yves' Bulgarian pen pal indicated in her letters that if he were ever to visit Bulgaria, her parents would be happy to have him stay at their house. Yves took this as a formal invitation. His goal was to save enough money for airfare. Once he had saved the money, he found the cheapest flight to Paris and took it. After arriving in Paris, he took the real Orient Express train for two and a half days until he finally reached his pen pal's home in Bulgaria. Yves was only seventeen when he made his first venture there in 1966. It was the beginning of what would become Yves' lifelong affair with Bulgaria and its dancing.
Yves: "When I returned to North America, I taught the few dances I had learned the way they were taught to me by choreographers in Bulgaria. Later when I returned in 1969 with a scholarship from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, I was fortunate enough to work with the Bulgarian Government to produce a tailor-made album to accompany the dances I learned there. The Bulgarian government probably thought of me as part of their propaganda approach. They said, "Would you like us to provide you with a free album? We'll take you to the studios. The musicians will play for you exactly what you need." They were clever. They knew that I was probably doing more good publicity for Bulgaria than their own Ambassador in Washington or Ottawa could do. They knew that I was playing this role for them, since as a result, there were many people, because of me, who were going over there, discovering Bulgaria, and spending money there. So I was very well treated. I must admit, I was given the red carpet treatment. I was doing a good job for them, and I was happy to do it."
What came out of the studio recording, provided at no cost to Yves by the government of Bulgaria, was the "Red Album" or as some call it BHA-734 (the catalogue number).
Yves: "This is the record that I put together in those magic years, the early seventies, where I was really just returning from spending two years in Bulgaria. That was the material I brought back, and it was the basis of my teaching for those few years after that. It caught on. It became sort of a "cult album." Everyone had it and I taught everything on it. In fact, there are still people today who hang on to it and like to keep those dances alive. This is because the dances on this record bring back fond memories of when they started folk dancing. It was a very special album with mostly complex dances, which I do less of today. Occasionally will people ask me if I would mind reviving a few of them. There are even a few groups who schedule these ‘Yves Red Album nights', and why not? It's nostalgia, but it's also part of my evolution, and I am happy to have done that."
During his first visits to Bulgaria, Yves lived with families. He spoke about his experiences, and about how he learned to speak Bulgarian. It became his second life and his second culture. It formed his entire career as a Bulgarian Folk Dance teacher. We spoke about what drew Yves to become so interested in Bulgarian folk music.
Yves: "I think it's the thing that also fascinates a lot of other people. I was touched by the power of that music, the beautiful harmonies, the powerful singing and, of course, the rhythm patterns that are so incredible. The music has so much energy and so much drive. It's that kind of mix of East and West, and that is the result of what the history of Bulgaria is. It's not just Slavic; rather there is something Eastern about it. That's what the history of Bulgaria is. It's that connection point of East and West and North and South. This music developed as a result of sometimes a very tragic past of wars and history. Bulgaria's unique history produced this incredible final product of dances and music that are so rich in form and pattern and style and that's what drew me to Bulgaria. I fell in love with the country, because I realized that this music and dance that I loved were connected to the people, and the people were connected to the past and their history. You have to be interested in everything, I think. Certainly, if you want to teach Folk Dancing, you should know what's behind it. You really have to be interested in the history and the geography to understand what is behind the music. That is what I had the chance to do, because I ended up going back to Bulgaria many times after my first visit in 1966."
We spoke about what Yves' interests were after visiting so many different regions of Bulgaria, and after studying each region's style of dance. I asked if Yves had any particular region in Bulgaria that he favored over others in terms of music or dance style.
Yves: "I like them all, but I am a little partial to the dances coming out of the Eastern Bulgaria, because they are a little earthier and heavier in their style. The music is maybe not as wild as these Šop (Western Bulgaria) dances, but I do relate to this nice, strong and earthy quality. I also love the mountains, and dances in the mountains tend to be on the slow side and more connected to nature in many ways. That is my own particular taste, but I cannot honestly say that I have a real preference. They are all beautiful in their own way."
I asked Yves if he ever had a sense, in those early days of his teaching that Bulgarian Dancing was like a mission for him. This lead to a discussion about how his love for Bulgaria placed him in "the right place at the right time" to spread in North America the culture he had just experienced.
Yves: "I was in those magic years of International Folk Dancing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where there was a big Folk Dance group on every college campus in the U.S. and in Canada. There was really a lot of energy going on, and I just happened to arrive there at the right time. The response was overwhelming! At the time, there was really very little known about Bulgaria. Teachers from Bulgaria were not allowed to come out, since Bulgaria was still very closed. So the only way to really know about Bulgaria was to go over there and bring it back. So that's what I did. I was one of the first ones to go over there and bring dances out."
We spoke about the evolution of Yves' teaching from the early days of complex, choreographed dances to the simpler, more basic village dance styling that he teaches today. The dancing itself, as Yves saw it, had its own evolution in North America beginning at first with Folk Dance groups wanting to do high-energy dances rather than the more basic dance styling that more closely reflected the typical kind of dancing that was done in villages.
Yves: "Obviously things have changed over the years. The first exposure I had in Bulgaria was from performing groups. We were young, and of course, we were looking for very high energy, complex dances. As years went by, we were able to find out more subtle things about these dances and some of the more basic forms. I think there was this evolution across the board in Folk Dancing in general. People wanted to do these high energy, hotshot kind of dances, where everyone wanted to be in costume and perform on stage. Later on, we wanted to get back to basics. The big change that occurred, which affected the whole emphasis of Balkan Folk Dance, was the introduction of live music into many groups. Before, we were dancing only to tapes and records. Now you'll find people who can play that music. We now have those opportunities to hear live music and create that atmosphere. This is especially true for many folk dance camps such as the Mendocino Balkan Music and Dance Camp and similar camps back on the east coast. The live music can create almost a village atmosphere, where people enjoy doing a simple Pravo for twenty minutes, because the music provides a very special energy behind it. So my personal love right now is to do simpler dances, and I find that these dances are what people remember most. In the past, many of my friends went to Bulgaria and showed the people there what they knew. The Bulgarians said, "We don't know these dances." The Westerners were shocked that those dances were not being done over there!. So I think it's better to go back to the basics."
I asked Yves about how his teaching evolved from covering North America to being invited to teach all over the World. Yves also shared with me what he thought about changing trends in Bulgarian Folk Dance in North America.
Yves: "Yes, I've been blessed. I started in North America, and then I started teaching overseas. Japan opened up in 1975, and I've gone there about sixteen times since then. So that was a big opportunity, and now it's Worldwide. I regularly go teaching in Western Europe, I have also gone to Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia. South America is opening up to Balkan dancing in countries like Brazil and Argentina. So, even though the movement might be dwindling a little in North America compared to what it used to be, there are still other doors around the world that are opening, and I am still able to partake in that."
Yves: "In North America, things are changing. The recreational groups are aging. What is great is that now there are many young Bulgarians, who are living abroad. In the last five years, I have really noticed that many of them enjoy folk dancing. What is happening is that they are reconnecting with their home culture or roots, with dances that parents didn't teach them, and it's happening. There is so much enthusiasm in young Bulgarian groups becoming interested in their own culture. This movement will likely grow, not so much through foreigners like me, but through Bulgarians here who will do it for themselves. They are doing this to new music. So it's not dying, it is just moving into new forms."
Finally, we discussed what lasting impact Yves felt he was able to make over his many years as a teacher of Bulgarian Folk Dance. Yves feels strongly that his primary contribution was to open the door for Bulgarian culture. We also talked about Yves' plans for the future.
Yves: "I would say that my main contribution is that I opened the door. I was not a Folklorist or a PhD or a Professor, but I still was interested in doing some serious research and work in Bulgarian dancing. I did not want to just learn a bunch of dance steps. I think I learned enough to be able to explain it, and because I myself was a Folk Dancer, I could explain in better terms to people of my culture what Bulgarian culture was all about. I was sort of an in between and a translator. So I was able to open the door to this culture, and in fact, many of my former students became teachers and specialists even more so than I with PhDs in Folklore and Ethnomusicology, but their first contact was through me."
Yves: "I think there is still a future for Bulgarian Dance. I opened the door, and I still continue teaching, but there are other teachers who will continue to teach various styles. I think it's good that people will be exposed to other styles and various teachers with their own material and their own technique. I certainly don't feel I own the exclusive rights to represent Bulgaria, but I am aware that I brought a certain quality to my teaching and good music that people could use in the recreational dance context."
Yves: "In the future I want to continue doing as many things as I can to further Balkan culture. I enjoy traveling with my wife, and we try to see as much of the world as we can and connect with folk culture. The more we see things, the more we see that it all connects. I am going to continue to teach dance and share that passion with others. I want to encourage other teachers, and I want to contribute my knowledge as a consultant. I do this often. In fact, Stockton Folk Dance Camp has often asked me my opinions as to who should be invited, because as I travel I meet a lot of people and I discover a lot of really talented teachers, and I would like to continue to encourage them to come and teach over here."
Yves and France have their own website which has some background on both Folk Dance teachers, and provides a schedule of both French Canadian and Bulgarian folk dance workshops held throughout the World. Yves hopes to extend this website into an archive of dance notes, music scores, and songs from his vast private collection amassed over his many visits to Bulgaria. He also hopes to write at least one book in the future that would be a compendium of Bulgarian dances. He envisions that this book would also tell about his experiences in Bulgaria. He wants to include stories about his visits, and his photos would depict the incredible diversity of Bulgaria. This book would share the beauty and the richness that Bulgarian music and dancing has provided him over these many years.
We will all miss Yves and France Moreau at Stockton Folk Dance Camp, but Yves assures us that there is much more that we can expect from them in the future!
Contributing writer Kathy Molga is a past President of Veselo Selo Folk Dancers in Anaheim, California and has followed Yves' teaching career for over 40 years.
This article is reprinted from Let's Dance magazine, October, 2013, Volume 70, Number 8, with the permission of Yves Moreau, Kathy Molga, and Gary Anderson (Let's Dance editor).