Keeping tradition alive since 1973
Beginnings: How do we keep the teenagers busy?
In 1973, the scout troops of Cleveland had a large population of teenage leaders. They were responsible, hard-working kids giving back to the troops… but two adult leaders, Magdi and András Temesváry, realized that something more was needed to keep them engaged. The Hungarian Scout Folk Ensemble was born!
And it’s been thriving for half a century, keeping generations of Cleveland Hungarian teens involved and active in the community. Their goal is to preserve the folk traditions of the Hungarians living in the Carpathian basin; to search out the arts, make them their own, present them to audiences – and have fun doing it. The group dances, performs ballads, makes its own folk costumes, sings as a choir, carves and paints wood crafts, and celebrates the holidays in Hungarian tradition.
More recently, they expanded their focus to include the traditions of the Hungarian community in Cleveland.
Who we are
In the past 50 years, nearly 400 young people have joined the group, and almost 30 have served as leaders.
To be a member, you must be an active leader in the Hungarian scout troops, at least 14 years old, and fluent in Hungarian. The Ensemble meets weekly on Tuesday evenings for two and a half hours.
Once a year, members attend intensive “folk camp” weekends, where guest teachers and artists teach new dances, crafts, cooking and songs.
The Hungarian Scout Folk Ensemble has performed in Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Toronto, Washington DC, Hungary, and Transylvania, as well as locally at Cleveland State University, Kent State, Canton Civic Center, E.J. Thomas Hall, the Palace and Allen Theatres, and on stage at the Blossom Music Center. Their audience has included mayors, governors, ambassadors, President Ronald Reagan, and Hungarian leaders, including Viktor Orbán, Katalin Novák, and Géza Jeszenszky.
In the past year alone, the Folk Ensemble was featured at Hungarian events in the Cleveland area: harvest festivals, commemorations, events at the Cleveland Hungarian Museum, international festivals, Scout Day, and the Scout Ball. A special highlight was their April performance in New Brunswick, NJ, at the Pontozó Folk Dance Festival – North America’s premier Hungarian folk dance competition. The members of the Folk Ensemble did themselves proud: their Rábaköz choreography and the Tardona girls’ dance were awarded the gold medal, and Julián Balássy’s solo “Széki” dance also earned a gold medal.
Those fabulous costumes
For each dance performance, dancers use the group’s own costumes, most of which are handmade. Though they have been stitched over generations by the dancers, their parents, and grandparents, the costumes remain the property of the group. Since 1990, some of the costume sets have also been handmade in Hungary, Vojvodina (Serbia), and Transylvania. In addition, generous donors and other dance groups have bequeathed beautiful costumes to the Ensemble. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the volunteer costume crew, the group now owns and maintains 30 different costume sets, representing nearly every region of Hungary.
Back to the old country: Study tours in Central Europe
In 2001, 2011, and 2016, the Ensemble organized three-week tours to villages in Hungarian-inhabited areas of the Carpathian Basin, including the Palóc region (northern Hungary); Transylvania; Subcarpathia (Western Ukraine); Vojvodina (Serbia); and Slovakia. Each tour represented the culmination of years of work by Ensemble participants. For some, the Ensemble tour was their first visit to the land of their ancestors.
An Ensemble trip is no ordinary vacation. Though each tour is a bit different, they all begin with an extended stay in Kazár (northern Hungary), a village with a well-preserved „Palóc” folk tradition. Participants stay with local families, collect folk songs, engage elderly villagers in storytelling, and meet local historians and ethnographers. They learn local dances and songs, make pickles and sausage, bake bread, and walk together to Sunday mass dressed in Kazár costume.
They also explore the more recent history of the region, visiting an old mine, a local glass factory, and the memorial park at nearby Recsk – Hungary’s most infamous forced-labor camp, where the Communist regime interned about 1,500 “political enemies” in the early 1950s. One visiting scout recognized the name of his uncle on the memorial plaque.
Coming soon: Tour 2023!
In June of 2023, the Ensemble is off again, on its first post-pandemic tour. After the initial week in Kazár, they will penetrate deep into ethnic Hungarian regions of Udvarhelyszék and Csíkszék in Transylvania. The tour concludes with three days in the Moldova region of Romania. Planning and fundraising have been underway for months, and the young participants – who also help with the fundraising – are completing research assignments on different topics, which they will present to their peers.
Every five years, the Hungarian Scout Folk Ensemble produces a large-scale gala performance to celebrate the anniversary. The spectacular program features not only current members of the Ensemble, but also past (alumni) and future members (younger children from the scout troops).
Each gala program follows a theme, such as Treasure Chest; Memory Book (highlights of the Ensemble’s history); In the Footsteps of Zoltán Kodály; Cradle to the Grave (customs to mark each of life’s turning points); and Just Once a Year (special traditions throughout the year).
Gala productions have included a wide repertoire of folk dances, ranging from Somogy pair dances and the ribbon-waving “pántlikázó” to the Kapuvár Csárdás, the Hortobágy shepherds’ dances, and dances from Kazár and Méra.
Save the date: Golden Gala on November 18
This year’s gala will be the tenth such event, to be held November 18 in Cleveland. Given the 50th anniversary, the theme is “Golden Wedding.”
Program highlights include the St. Ivan’s Day “fire jumping” custom; the children’s “wedding game;” and a series of dances from the regions of Transylvania, Rábaköz, Palóc and Moldova. Finally, the “Széki” and Szatmár dances will showcase the interweaving of generations and traditions from the Ensemble’s proud half-century history.
Into the future
The Folk Ensemble creates a space and an opportunity for all who are interested in the rich traditions of Hungarian folk art and dance. For a few years during their high school years, participants experience these traditions as part of a community of peers, connecting with a living heritage both in Cleveland and their ancestral homeland.
Some of them continue to practice folk dance into adulthood. For example, former Ensemble member Keve Pigniczky, 26, was awarded the Golden Spur at Hungary’s prestigious Solo Dance Competition in April 2023 – the first dancer from the West receive this distinction.
Many members have stories to tell about what they have gained from Ensemble during their formative years – a powerful reinforcement of their knowledge, skills, and identity. The Hungarian Scout Folk Ensemble is a continuing source of value not only for participants, but for the greater community, both Hungarians and non-Hungarians, locally and around the world.