Let me tell you a story about how once upon a time, I ran away with a Moravian country dance troupe. I appreciate that my love of all things Czech and country is getting beyond a joke, as several recent articles are testament to, but this is quite possibly where it all began...
I learned Czech at university, now many a moon ago. On my third year of studies I was packed off abroad, replete with advice from all of my elders about what to do to meet real-life Czechs instead of living in an expat vacuum. I don't attend any church, so that was not an option, and I sing worse than a very tuneless cat, so joining a choir was out as well.
But then a solution presented itself on Brno's Náměstí svobody during my first week in the country's second city. That answer was Honkey Tonk – Brno's premier country dance troupe. I was taken by the spandex and cowboy hats and knew that I had to become a part of it. With the very basic smatterings of Czech that I had at the time, I could just make out the address of their website, read out by the compère at the end of their performance.
Here, I should probably add that Honkey Tonk’s show came after several hours of appreciation of, and immersion in, the seasonal burčák (or young wine) festival held annually on Brno's main square. This burčák appreciation most likely also affected my wonderment at Honkey Tonk's display.
But in the cold light of the next day my enthusiasm was undeterred, I sent them an email, asking if I could join them in their ranks. The response was one of bafflement, but acquiescence, and before I knew it, I was winging my way towards one of the outskirts of Brno on the tram for my first rehearsal. I even bought a pair of sensible, yoga-style trousers for the occasion.
My Czech was still only sporadically comprehensible at best, and indeed comprehension of the Czechs I was dancing with was flash in the pan to say the least. But the meaning of 'raz, dva, tři, čtyři' (1,2,3,4) quickly sunk in, and of course, we were dancing to the international language of Cotton Eye Joe, and indeed some lesser-known hits also by the Rednex.
My dancing was maybe slightly better than my Czech at the time, but I was still unsure of the jumps and the lifts, and eyed them with great suspicion for the first month at least. After about that amount of time came my first performance with the group – though very much in the role of the cute, new, rubbish one, who was always one step behind the rest.
This first performance took place in a little village pub about 20 minutes from Brno. The place looked a bit like a portacabin, but had one of those very grand, very beautiful, and very effective tiled Czech stoves belching out heat into the absolutely frozen November evening. I was surprised by the number of men from the dance troupe who took the opportunity to dress up as women – I didn't really see that coming in rehearsals. And there was a scandalous amount of Jeltzen or Berentzen ‘power’ vodka drunk.
I danced with the group for the three months that I stayed in Brno. I have to say that my dosey dos-ing did not improve massively, but I did finally agree to being lifted and twirled about by my partner while waving my cowboy hat madly to the audience – one big step in my line-dancing career. I learnt about (I would say ‘the joys of’, but that wouldn’t be quite right, so, I just learnt about) the afore mentioned power vodka, and my fellow dancers familiarised me with the delights of ten-pin bowling in a Czech pub. And, I spared Moravia my choral skills…
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