My Borrowed Heritage’ and folklore from former Yugoslavia.

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Introduce yourself

'My name is Efie, I live in Uden, and I am 33 years old. I work part-time as a community nurse at Buurtzorg, run a practice for Meaning and Purpose, and also teach world dance. Oh, and I've made a documentary about the folklore from former Yugoslavia.'

You have grown up with music and dance from the Balkans since a young age. What is your connection as a Dutch person to the Balkans?

‘My father is a musician with a deep love for Balkan music. My mother is involved in folk dancing. Folk dancing was very popular in the Netherlands in the 1970s as a recreational activity, and my mother has continued to do it ever since. My parents met at a folklore festival in Hungary, even though both are Dutch. They were captivated by the music and dances from the Balkans. When we were little, Balkan music was always playing at home and in the car. We were also taken to events where my mother danced and my father played music. My father also accompanied dance classes taught by Ivon Despotović at dance academies in the Netherlands when folkloric dance was still a discipline. I only started dancing myself later in life, but you can imagine that it was already ingrained in me. As soon as I hear the music, my body knows what to do.’

You have created a documentary, ‘My Borrowed Heritage,’ about folklore. You spent three months in Bosnia and Serbia for this project. How was that experience?

‘The idea for the documentary actually emerged when I lived in Banja Luka for three months. I had danced with various demonstration groups in the Netherlands, performing dances in traditional costumes on stage. I particularly enjoyed dances from former Yugoslavia. My dream was to dance with a local ensemble there, to be on stage with the local people in authentic costumes. So, I joined the Veselin Masleša ensemble in Banja Luka and spent three months rehearsing and performing with them. During those months, I spoke with many people involved in folklore and its preservation. There were many concerns about the future. When a fellow dancer took me to the mountain villages around Banja Luka, I realized that I wanted to document the cultural heritage. This fellow dancer was a veterinarian working with the local farmers, and he also wanted to show me some preserved traditional costume pieces found there. I ended up in poor farming families’ homes, was warmly welcomed, and saw small, but also significant treasures of traditional costumes. I was moved by the stories.’

There was a woman who shared that the traditional costume was so dear to her because it had belonged to her mother, and she wanted to take it with her to her grave.

‘I understood this so well, and at the same time, I realized that it was a dead-end path for the existing heritage. Before it was too late, I wanted to document it. I am not a filmmaker, but everyone involved felt my passion and love, and it just happened organically. It has become a professional documentary, and sometimes I still can’t believe it. At the same time, I am showing the rest of the world the beautiful, rich culture of an area that is primarily known for its war stories.’

What has stuck with you the most?

‘Oh, I think what I described above, that woman on the mountain. Overall, life in the mountain villages, where there are no street names or house numbers. Where I was so warmly welcomed. It was so sad to see and hear that they feel lonely and sad about the villages emptying, and soon, no one will live in the mountain farms there.’

Is there one dance or tradition that stands out to you as special or noteworthy to share?

‘What I feel most connected to are the authentic dances from North Bosnia. Because I danced with the Veselin Masleša ensemble, I learned a lot of authentic steps from those areas. Due to the Dinaric Alps location, the villages have remained very isolated, preserving the old folklore. The style is very earthy and pure, and apart from a few tamburicas (traditional string instruments), few instruments are used. There is a lot of singing, and I had the privilege of learning how to sing those songs from the best ethnomusicologists. Also, the style, the earthy heavy flat-footed work, is something I feel very connected to. I am currently creating a choreography for our ensemble in Nijmegen, Kansemble. We dance dances from the Zmijanje, Grmeč, and Potkozarje regions. We also make our own costumes, with the ‘Zmijanski vez’ playing a significant role, the embroidery that has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2014.

What can we learn from the rich cultural heritage of this part of Europe?

‘I think, despite the decline, it is still very much alive there. It’s not just about music, dance, or costumes; it’s also about rituals. Rituals are much more a part of daily life there, and music and dance are significant parts of that. I feel that in Western Europe, we like to share our feelings through words and connect with each other through words.’

They may not talk much about their deepest feelings, but they share them through their music and dance, creating a connection with each other on a completely different level.

How does the future look for this folklore heritage, and what can we do to preserve it for future generations?

‘That is a difficult question, one that I have also pondered for a long time. I think it’s beautiful to cherish old traditions while also accepting that things inevitably change. Life is constantly evolving, that is the only certainty we have. It remains a challenging question, a kind of dilemma between holding on to the beauty and being open to something new/unknown, with the risk that this beauty may take on new forms.’

You recently screened the documentary in Amsterdam. Afterward, you got everyone dancing and singing. What is the strength of Balkan music & dance?

‘For me, it’s a way to connect with each other. I sometimes think, because there is so much pain there, a traumatic history as we know, they have experienced more. Therefore, they want to celebrate life! In sharing music and dance, that celebration comes forward, and at the same time, you feel the pain through that music. That’s why, I think, that music is so touching; the beauty often lies in the darkness of life.’

Finally, where can we watch your documentary? Or take a dance workshop?

‘My film is not publicly available, as it doesn’t feel right to me. I find the strength in sharing my film with others and exchanging thoughts afterward; a lot often comes to the surface. Many screenings are organized, so I would say keep an eye on my  Facebook en Instagram, where I often share the next dates for My Borrowed Heritage. I also conduct dance workshops throughout the country, and I share those details on those pages as well.’