May we have this dance?

South Slavic Club shares its Balkan hospitality

by Tammy Newsom

Photo: Bulgarika performs at the South Slavic Club; photo: Jim Rohal

Eastern Europe built a wall to keep out dissidents. When the wall came down, popular entertainment let us back in.

Dayton’s South Slavic Club (SSC) is made up of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, plus Bulgaria. The SSC was started in 1973 by Father Rus, a Slovenian priest from the University of Dayton, who laid the groundwork for A World A’Fair at the Dayton Convention Center.

The purpose of the club is to maintain and to enjoy the cultures of the area historically associated with the South Slavs. “The South Slavic Club is a social, non-political and non-profit organization,” said SSC President John Pappas. “One of the goals is to provide opportunities for the Dayton community to experience the music, dances and cultures of the region.”

There are seven countries represented in the SSC: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many of the club’s 100 or so members have personal or family ties to the region, but a significant part of the membership does not.

“We have several different cultures within our group,” said Jim Rohal, first vice president of the SSC. “We feature a different country each year and this year it’s Bulgaria,” Rohal explained. “There are flocks of remnants of Romanian culture, which have their own language and customs from the Romas or the gypsies.”

The music from Bulgaria is known for its haunting and melodic string instruments and irregular beat. Recently, the SSC invited an authentic Bulgarian group, Bulgarika, to perform at the Michael Solomon Pavilion in Kettering. Bulgarika, interpreted, means “things Bulgarian.” Immediately following the music group’s performance, the SSC hosted a Kolo, or line dance, where SSC guests and members were invited to dance with the performers.

The music associated with Kolo dancing and other traditional Slav performances produces the signature Bulgarian sound. All the instruments are played in dances from Croatia to Serbia and to Macedonia and Bulgaria. One such example is the zurla, a reed instrument, which may be unpleasant to western ears. “This produces a whiny sound,” Pappas said.

Also the tapan, a stationary drum, is played. Another instrument, called the gaida, is a bagpipe, which emerged in Southeastern Europe before arriving in Scotland. Gaidas, which were repeatedly used in Bulgarika’s performance, are made of the whole skin of a goat turned inside out.

In Bulgarika’s closing number, singer Donka Koleva performed a signature ballad in native Bulgarian. The lyric tells the story of a lady field hand gathering harvest alone, until she is noticed by a handsome passerby.

“Have you no mother or father to help you?” the man calls to her. She answers, “Well, yes I do, but I have no sweetheart.”

The club sponsors many such dances, dinners and music groups throughout the year. Zivio! is the SSC’s in-house adult Kolo dance group that performs at A World A’Fair and other venues, from January to May. The Junior Zivio is the kids’ group, for boys and girls starting at age 5.

To encourage non-members to learn Kolo, The SSC and the American Czechoslovakian Club co-sponsor a beginner class every Thursday from 7-8 p.m. at the American Czechoslovakian Club.

“None of the Kolo dances require partners,” Rohal said. “These are open circle dances. You don’t have to be a South Slav to be welcome at our events or dances. Probably half of our dancers, including me, aren’t Slav. We’re there for our love of the dancing and an interest in the culture. Many others are second- or third-generation South Slavs. We just wanted to assure you that you won’t feel like an outsider if you come.”

The SSC’s next scheduled event is the feted Serbian Folk Dance ensemble, Talija. This 25-member group is from Belgrade.

Joanne Dombrowski, Zivio! choreographer, and SSC third vice president said, “People can expect to enjoy the intricate foot movements of the dancers at Talija’s concert. You should also expect to see dynamic choreography and authentic costumes.”

Later in the year, guests will be invited to enjoy Bulgarian cuisine at the Christmas dinner. Lamb is very popular. Many of the authentic dishes served at last year’s Christmas dinner will become available again during this year’s holiday dinner, including the lamb and roasted pork. Side dishes served are an organic tomato and cucumber dish called shopska salad, and kapama, a baked combination of rice, pickled beets and sauerkraut. Tutmanik, layered bread with feta will also be served. For dessert, there is tikvenik – a pumpkin, sugar, walnut and cinnamon confection, rolled in filo dough. Also available will be the tseluvki – meringue cookies.

“No politics, no religion.” Pappas said. “The only thing that we ask is that guests enjoy the culture.”

Talija will perform at Bellbrook High School, 3737 Upper Bellbrook Rd., Sunday, Oct. 19 at 2 p.m. Adult tickets cost $20, 18-and-under are $10. For tickets to Talija, or for the SSC’s calendar of events, please call 937.824.0742 or visit For more information on the Miami Valley Folk Dance class, please contact the American Czechoslovakian Club at 922 Valley St. in Dayton or by calling 937.222.9771.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tammy Newsom at

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