The sisters and I decided to go to Ceske Budejovice yesterday. The main purpose of the visit was to look for presents for my nieces, brother-in-law and parents, and as I have said in a previous post I prefer Ceske Budejovice for shopping to its more touristy neighbour Cesky Krumlov. Another purpose was to share with my sisters some of the architectural discoveries I have made in Budejovice. This is a town that bears exploration, it can offer everything from medieval to art deco and nearly everything in between - more perhaps of that in another blog.
Towards the end of our visit I took my guests to the Church of the Sacrifice of Our Lady. Outside on the square all was activity - market stalls were being erected, people scurried around with boxes of craft goods for sale. In front of the church a large stage was in the process of rising, whilst in front of it men were setting up trestle tables and benches. Interested to see what was going on, we sat down at a table of the pizzeria on the Square and watched, whilst very slowly eating our lunch and drinking several drinks. After a short while the square started to fill with children dressed in traditional dress, doting mothers taking snapshots and dance teachers also in costume. It was becoming apparent that we had stumbled into a folk dance festival.
More and more dancers arrived. Some were adult teams, and as would be the case with any British morris side they set about buying beers from the Budwar tent. There were men in black, with black boots and ornately worked leather belts and older women in their thick gathered skirts. Musicians arrived with a range of traditional instruments, some beautifully carved. Eventually after much faffing around with the sound system and the children becoming bored and disappearing off, the dance teachers gathered their teams and processed in to the square. A master of ceremonies announced the first troupe from his clipboard - a group of small children sidled on to the stage - and the festival began in earnest.
I was interested to see the different dance forms - most of which seemed pretty tame to me after my interest in the pagan roots of English morris (for more on this do visit the Independent's excellent article on the subject ) But equally this was not the rather embarrassing folkdance that I learnt at school - the guy with the Mohican haircut showed no self consciousness - there was a degree of national pride in it. There seemed to be several influences at play in the dance and music. One I assumed to be a more lyrical Czech one, and another more in the German Austrian oompah style, (it even had calf slapping.) But then what was this? Here was something I recognised - a hobby horse was working its way through the crowds. This was part of the English tradition or is it that Celtic tradition that both the Czechs and Brits lay claim to?
We spent most of the afternoon watching the dance and browsing the craft stalls for unusual presents. We seemed to be the only foreigners there - this festival was for the locals and not sited where tourists would find it. The benches were full of beer-drinking Czechs clapping enthusiastically, children ran around in the sunshine and proud grandparents beamed.