When given the choice, just dance

Some may choose to drink, dine or drive their way through Budapest.

I chose to dance my way through both sides of the Danube.

I’ve always been a firm believer in the Psalm 30 kind of dancing — full of joy. Maybe we don’t use a timbrel and harp anymore, but believers can still keep their feet loose to praise the Lord.

Sticking out like a sore thumb from the reserved, soft-spoken Hungarians, my smile shines bright and my feet swivel constantly. So far during my nine days (and counting) in Europe, I sought out a few different ways to get my groove on.

At a spontaneous classical flash concert outside the Hungarian Parliament Building, two of my study abroad friends and I ballet-danced on the cobblestone walkway to the violin, viola and cello players’ symphony.

When my group danced in Prague, a newfound Norwegian friend named Jon (at least I think his name was Jon – the music was loud) offered me his hand and we swing-danced to several songs including, to my surprise, a song from “Grease.” In the midst of a quiet Saturday night in the Czech Republic, four Baylor Bears were immersed in the roar of a ‘90s-themed party with a giant projection screen at the Lucerna Music Bar.

I learned two things: my dancing experience from the states carried over and I should always wear closed-toed shoes (Birkenstocks are not meant to tread over broken beer bottles).

But I’m not content with a night in doing the shopping cart in our apartment. The second stop in our European adventures landed us in Budapest, where I wanted to experience what tourist don’t.

We perused a flyer with various events happening the weekend of June 2-3. My eye was immediately drawn to “folk dancing.”

Sometimes it’s about the Journey

As my group’s ringleader, I navigated and made the mistake of using Google Maps instead of the written directions provided by our study abroad coordinator. Word to the wise – never just use Google Maps, unless you’re willing to end up at the Gellért cave church three times in a row.

God bless the feet of my two companions, they definitely got their steps in. Instead of taking tram number four, we took tram number six – the cars are usually interchangeable, except on the Buda side of town (the Danube river divides Buda and Pest).

We took a two-hour journey that should’ve taken us 15 minutes by tram to the Buda Folk Music House in Fonó hall. This Hungarian dance house, which looks more like a café, hosted a non-air-conditioned room full of dancers.

The scene could’ve been mistaken for a cult gathering – about 60 rosy-cheeked Europeans ranging from young 20s to late 70s –– the latter the most flamboyant –– held hands in a snail-shaped circle snaking through the room. Our voices and feet pounding the floor barely trumped the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.

The flyer saying we would be “taught” dances from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania stretched the truth. In reality, we learned Hungarian dances resembling an Eastern version of western-style line dances with a slight swinging of arms and simple foot movements.

Grab a Sweaty Hand

All we had to do was grab a sweaty hand and stare at the feet of the line leader –– a Hungarian woman in her 50s dressed head-to-toe in a bright red embroidered gown and red tights with soft-soled flats.

Literally, a hop, skip and a jump got visitors through the night. And if at first you didn’t succeed … wipe your palms on your jeans, get a sip of water and hang on. Once we all started dancing, there were no barriers and no language required.

We met two natives from the country’s western coast. But you’d never think “Hungarian” if you heard the names Benson and Albert. And yet, they not only became our dance partners, but soon became our friends and even followed us on the tram to help us get home.

Benson leaned forward on the tram when we asked him how long he has been dancing. “Three months,” he said. And yet, he described it as “life-changing.” He told us he knows about 20 different kinds of folk dances, but admitted he is only proficient in three.

We’ll see them Thursday when we join hands with them once again at Kobuci garden for an even better folk-dancing night, at least in Albert’s opinion.