Hello and welcome to the living in Bosnia and Herzegovina podcast. A podcast that tells stories from this much misunderstood country. In today's episode, we'll be finding out more about folklore, and in particular, traditional dancing. Back in 2019, I became aware of a young lady from South Holland, who had been dancing with a folklore ensemble in the nearby city of Banja Luka. She was at that time starting to make a film about Bosnian folk dancing, because she felt that these traditions might be starting to disappear, and she wanted to preserve that experience for future generations. So in the COVID world of early 2021, I have caught up with Efie Derksen to find out more.

David:

Efie, you're in the Netherlands, I'm here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I bumped into you quite randomly on the internet, and I thought, "What an amazing story." So we've never really met in real life. So if we did, my first question to you would be, "Who is Efie?"

Efie:

Yeah, that's a good question. I am very jealous because you are there. I miss it so much to be in Bosnia. But, I'm Efie, I'm a Dutch woman and there is no genetical link with the former of Yugoslavia, but for me it's something I grew up with. So it was in our home. We always listened Balkan music. And first, your question, who is Efie? I'm a lot of things. I'm a nurse, and I'm making a from my heart. I'm not a filmmaker. So it's just something that I wanted to do, to preserve what we can find now.

David:

I read a little bit about you, and you said that your parents are both from the Netherlands, were into folklore themselves. But they met not in the Netherlands, I understand, but somewhere close to here as well.

Efie:

Yeah, it's true. They met in Hungary. My dad is a musician, he always was, and he loved music from the Balkans. It was just that feeling, and the new music, and the songs. So he would travel to the Balkans to learn from the musicians there. And my mother was a folk dancer, and in that years, I'm talking about '70s early '80s, I don't know. It was very popular in Holland to do folk dancing. So there were courses, and she went to a course in Hungary. There was just like a folk festival, and my dad also was travelling there, and he came to play, and she came to dance, and then they met like two Dutch people and the one folk festival in Hungary, so it's funny. Yeah.

David:

What made you want to come to the Balkans, and in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today for example, we're talking about the wonders of the country, and yet I was just before talking to you, dropping in on a seminar to try and encourage tourism, and to try and encourage visitors to come here, and it's been an uphill struggle, always is, and always has been an uphill struggle. What made you want to come to this country? This very misunderstood country in Southeast Europe.

Efie:

Well, in the first place, I had the culture in my heart. The songs, and I never was interested in... Well, I was interested, but I never cared about the war stories, because I think that's a big problem. People still think like, "Is it safe going to Bosnia, or Serbia because of the war?" But I think for me, it's the people that I come for. They are so open, and loving and in particular Bosnian people. Because I think in history, they were always the ones in the middle. They were always the ones that people came to attack, or how do you say it? And I think they are more vulnerable, I guess, they are more open. They are more warm. You feel at home when you come there, it's just the second home, and they embrace you.

Efie:

And even after all those crazy things that happened in that country with all those ethnic groups, they are just still open. And beside that, when people come, maybe the first thing they need to know, it's a beautiful country. It's beautiful nature. It's beautiful. The food is really... I see you are very lucky. You can eat a lot of that. But when they are really in Bosnia, they can feel the love for each other, and for their nature, and for their country, and their traditions. Is that a good answer?

David:

Yeah I couldn't have said it better myself. So when did you first come to the country? How long did you stay, and where did you stay? Because I don't think that you were staying in a hotel, right?

Efie:

Well the first time I did, I went like my mother on dance courses that were organised from the Netherlands, to learn dances from... Well, my first dance week was in Serbia. And it was not so long ago, it was 2013. It was my first time I went to Serbia. And then years later, every year I went to a dance course, because I felt in love. I just wanted to go back, and it was only 2016 I went to Bosnia for dance course, and because my teacher in the Netherlands, he went to Bosnia like 30 years ago to dance with the folk dance group in Banja Luka, because they visited the Netherlands on the folk festival in the Netherlands. And he just stepped in with them on the bus, and drive to Bosnia, and there danced on the summers.

Efie:

So he knew the group, and we went with him to the group to learn Bosnian dances. But what I just said, the Bosnian people are even more warming, even more... It even felt more home. Like my first time in Serbia, this was just more my home, and I asked at the folk ensemble, "Can I join for a couple months? It's my dream to dance on stage with the people where the dances come from." Not only with Dutch people, and we try to make the costumes, and look like we are from Bosnia, or whatever. But just with the people being on stage, and dancing with them. So they say, "Okay they didn't think I was seriously, because in 2017, I planned to be there for three months, and to dance with them." And they still thought like, "That's a weird question. Why would a Dutch girl want to dance with us in an ensemble?" But I did.

Efie:

I just came, and I had a little flat something I rent, and I was dancing three times a week. And after those three months of beautiful adventures, I stood on stage with them on the, how you say, last concert of the year in December, it's like a big concert. So that was my main experience. After that I couldn't stop going there. Like the Maslesa family, that's the ensemble in Banja Luca. It's just my second family. I miss them, and I miss Banja Luka, and the environment, and the people I met in the villages. It became more, and more, and more.

David:

For those that don't know, the Maslesa dance group is named after the party's own war hero. I believe Veselin Maslesa. I've seen a lot of folklore in the time that I've been here, and to be honest with you, I am fascinated about it, and I'm going to have one particular technical question to ask you. Well, maybe not a technical question, but we'll do that a little later on. Going up to a dance group as a foreigner and saying, "Can I join, and can I take part?" I know things are changing in the country rapidly at the moment, and they've certainly changed in Banja Luka since I arrived. You can get around now using English. When I first came here, the waiters deliberately gave me a Cyrillic menu. I mean, come on. I like their sense of humour. How was the language problem for you? English is your second language, and now you want to try and do something that requires technical ability, coordination, and all the other things. And you're trying to do this in another language. How difficult was it to communicate with the dance group?

Efie:

Well I love the language, so I was very open to learn it, but it's a very hard language. I think you experienced that too. It's just a hard language. Well for the dance classes, it was okay because I could count to 10, and I learned with time what kind of steps, or dances meant in their language. But a lot of people cannot speak English, or are too shy to speak English. So in the dance group, it was sometimes hard, because they just we're talking Bosnian with each other. But when I look back, I'm happy that it was like that, because I could learn it faster. I had to. Sometimes it was funny, because it was like a dance class. You had two groups, one group has to dance the choreography, and the other group has to wait.

Efie:

And then this choreographer, he was just pointing out people, like you have to stay and you have leave. And a lot of times, I was just standing there like, "Oh I have to stay." And then it was, "No Efie, you have to leave now." Or just the other way around, I was already gone, and then the choreographer came, "Efie I need you." So sometimes it was funny, but I think it's good to be able to learn with people. And as you say in a restaurant, it's still sometimes very difficult.

David:

You know when you arrived in Banja Luka, or even Serbia when you started, had you ever done any Balkan dances before you arrived? Or was it that much of a culture shock that it was, "Well here I go."

Efie:

No, no. I grew up with it, because in the Netherlands, it maybe sounds a little weird, but in the Netherlands, we really have this folk dance culture, where people dance dances from other countries. And a lot of the dances are from the Balkan. I don't know why that happens, but it was very popular, and maybe it's because it's very typical for our Dutch people, that we don't like our traditional dances, so we want to dance other dances from other countries. Yeah. And my dad was a teacher, or was a musician who played in folk dance classes on a dance academy in the Netherlands. Now they don't have international dancing anymore, but in that time you had on a dance Academy, you had also the international dances like the folk dances. And the woman who was teaching that, was Yvonne Despotović, and she was married. Of course, she got Despotović And I don't know, I grew up with that. She was just someone we met a lot in our house.

David:

I'm going to talk about clothing and everything a little later on, because we'll be talking quite a bit about your film, which I think is going to be an amazing thing. You were based in Banja Luka, you must have travelled quite a bit while you were here, and the reason I'm asking this now, is because Tamara my wife used to dance with another Banja Luka group, and she talks fondly about those times, and in fact it took me a long time to get over the embarrassment of walking through a street, and people would be dancing [colu 00:15:09], and the next minute I'd look around, and where had she gone? And there she is doing it. So did you travel a lot? Did you see... I mean, because Bosnia and Herzegovina has got all these different little areas in it, and they have different costumes for every village, it seems to me. Maybe that's a little bit too strong. And they all have variations on a theme. Did you experience that while you were here?

Efie:

Yeah, yeah a lot. Well I know it from the... Did she dance in Čajavec, or you don't know?

David:

Yeah, yeah Čajavec, yeah.

Efie:

Well, I know it from the stage. How do you say, like the arts way to dance, because you have Glamoć, so this is the costume of Glamoć. And the art styled way to dance folk dances, you see that the difference is very clear. But I also meet people in the mountain villages. They had some costumes from their great, great grand mother who made them, and I had the opportunity to visit them, and to see the clothing. It was really special because it was like the original state. And you have a lot of different patterns, and a lot of different embroidery, colours. Some have a [inaudible 00:16:40], some don't. Some have coins. Everything is our own identity, but not only in costumes, also in styled how they dance, or which steps, and everything was different. Well it's obviously... You had all those mountain villages. They couldn't reach each other. Like a hundred years ago it was difficult to have this big connection like we have now. So it was really an own identi...

David:

Identity.

Efie:

Identity, yeah thank you.

David:

When you were talking about different costumes, I'm not an expert in this, but I'm always quite amazed. There's a dance group in the nearest town to us of Laktaši where the guys have white fur hats, and-

Efie:

I think they dance ....

David:

Anyway they have big white hats, furry hats which I think look amazing, but it has that identity, and yet there's others that just have a very flat cap. Like in Herzegovina, and I'm going to talk about flat caps, and I'm going to talk about dancing without music, because you did mention Glamoć. That must be quite amazing. Are they the only people that dance without music?

Efie:

No, no, no. There are a lot of regions that have that, because you have to imagine this whole state, not only Bosnia, but this whole Yugoslavia was part of the Ottoman Empire. Yeah it was the right word. I'm sorry it was too long that I spoke in English. But they bring a lot of things with them. Not only clothes like the scarves. Sometimes you can say it's from the Ottomans, or some musical instruments. But also I think it was forbidden to play music, or to play instruments, something like that, and that's why people started to make their own noise, and their own singing

Efie:

So Glamoć is not the only one. If you talk about those Bosnia, you also have the Manjača region. Maybe you know it from the costumes with the blue vase.

David:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I find it amazing. Zmijanja from the Manjača.

Efie:

Yeah. There they also have these dances without music

David:

I never knew that. Thank you for that, because I'm going to go down and see that. When you see them dancing without music, would you say that's the purest form of dance? If you can express yourself just with your feet, and with your voice, and dance at the same time.

Efie:

That's a beautiful question. You feel it like that David, that it's the purist?

David:

Yeah. I mean, it's like it's from... I mean, to me as somebody that has no knowledge of this, people dance to the music. I find the music quite evocative. But they're dancing their steps. But a lot of the time when I first came here, I thought, "I wonder what it be like if there was never any music." And I just shook my head and said, "But that's never going to happen." And then one day I bumped into the Glamoc kolo, and I just thought, "This is so entertaining." And it's just voice and feet isn't it basically.

Efie:

Yeah, it is. And they have the belts, right. It's a funny fact that it's when you step, the bells are one second later, or something like that. So it's very hard to feel the same rhythm, but that's something else. Well, I don't know if it's the basic, because you also have instruments that exist for years. You have the flutes, like a hundred years ago, they had shepherds who needed the flute to communicate, or just to waste time. But it was like the kaval, it's the long flute. I think it exists for a long time, and also the guzle, it was an instrument that used by poets, so they could tell stories. So there are a lot of things that are very pure, I think. And mostly what you see on stage with those folk ensembles, is like art. Because it has to be interesting for people, like people who don't deal with it. So it's based on the authentic patterns, but it's made more interesting.

David:

Your experience here, I feel like being in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I want to tell the story about the country. You've gone a massive step further by saying, "Well I'm going to tell my story, I'm going to make a film." Efie, I mean, making a film is a major undertaking. Why did you decide to go that huge step, and make a film. I mean, making a podcast takes me what, I don't know, two days at the most. To make a weekly vlog about life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I don't know, would take me about six hours of editing. Your film has been a major undertaking. A lot longer than a few minutes and a few hours. Why did you decide to jump into this?

Efie:

Before I answer that David, it's very hard job I think to be able to show the world the beautiful way of living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because you are doing a great job. Why? Because a lot of people were sharing their worries about the future. Like in Holland, we don't have a lot of cultural heritage anymore, because we didn't care enough I think. And this folklore is so alive and from Yugoslavia, but also because of the world that is changing, and young people are moving from the country, a lot of people think that in the future, it will not exist anymore. And also in the villages, young people don't anymore, and the people who are living there, they have like old costumes, but they want to carry it with them in their grave. So it disappears. Also on that side, and a lot of people had thought that young people are not interested in the old crafts, like making the instruments, or playing the instruments, or even dancing because a lot of other activities are popular like football, or whatever.

Efie:

So I was like, "My God, this is something so beautiful." And for me it's so meaningful. And maybe I just make a film about it to preserve it. Like then we have something that puts it, that the film is the product to preserve it. Like maybe things will vanish, like costumes will be in graves, but now I can make a movie about it, so they are on film so we can see it, and the rest of the world can see it.

Efie:

Because there are two things. One, that things can be preserved. Like the things that I found now, and maybe are not there in 10 years, and to show it to the world. To show the world how beautiful this part of Europe is, and not only of the war stories, but just this part is so beautiful, and people don't know about. And it was particularly because I was in the mountain village. of It was high up in the mountains. I was with a friend there who was a doctor for animals. So we went there, up in the mountains, and there was a couple, a woman and the man, and they had a very old costume from her great grandmother, or something. And we were there and we get foods.

David:

They always feed you here. I mean, it's death by food, isn't it?

Efie:

Yeah, and it was fresh cheese, and bread, and the man was so happy to see someone. So I was making pictures of him with his sheep, and I got that costume. The woman puts it on me, oh it was so special. And then she told me that she would wanted to put it in a grave. And it was one of the rare, rare costumes that was complete. You have original parts, but this one was complete. And then I was sure, now I need to make a film about it, because this one everyone has to see it before it's too late, so I just started... I don't know, I'm not the filmmaker, I just put in a message on some side for filmmakers, and for producers, and I just asked, "I don't have the budget, but who wants to make a film with me?"

Efie:

And I had like 20, or 25 reactions between people. It was crazy,