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Spirited ethnic music energizes dancing group

Web Posted: 08/24/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Amanda Reimherr
Express-News Staff Writer

With her eyes closed, Ann Marie King-Wethern hopped and shuffled her feet in perfect unison to the beat of a song playing behind her. A circle of people surrounded her while she taught them a traditional folk dance from Croatia.

King-Wethern is a member of the San Antonio Folk Dancers, a group that meets 7:30-9:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the Incarnate Word Retirement Community, 4707 Broadway.

On a recent Tuesday night, King-Wethern participated as both teacher and student during the two-hour session, which attracted 16 people.

Sherry and husband Denes Marton started the group after moving to San Antonio from Houston.

"We were part of a folk-dancing group in Houston that was huge and so wonderful to be a part of. We wanted to get the same kind of thing started here," Sherry Marton said. "This is something that is very different and not like your typical corner dance hall. We don't just do the dances, we also learn where they are from and why the people from that country did them."

Denes Marton, a native of Hungary, said many of the dances date back hundreds of years.

"A lot of these dances were done by gypsies and the music was by gypsy bands. They created dances for all kinds of festivities, like a wedding or a birth," he said.

Some members of the group said the activity helps keep them fit, while others just enjoy the company of fellow dancers or listening to the music.

"I like the way the music makes me want to dance," Betty Mitchell explained.

Dressed in moccasins and a Balkan-style skirt, Lea Senghaas agreed.

"I get hooked on the music as well — it is so wonderful that it makes it hard not to dance," she said as she did a little kick.

Many of the dances are done in a line or in a circle while participants hold hands. Although the group learns dances from all over the world, most of the participants said they enjoy the Greek and Balkan dances the most.

"I like the Greek, Bulgarian and Israeli dances because the music is so enchanting. The moves go right along with the pattern of the music and can simulate everything from riding a camel to walking across a hot desert," Sherry Marton said.

Some of the dancers have no experience with any dance form, while others have made folk dancing a way of life.

"My husband and I met at a folk-dancing class more than 30 years ago in Berkeley, Calif., and we have been together and folk dancing ever since. Even our kids are folk dancers," Marcy Rose said as she put her arm around her husband's shoulder.

The group's list of dances is neatly arranged in a 3-inch-thick binder separated with dividers labeled by country. They have more than 100 dances in their catalog and always are looking for people to teach new ones.

The dancers welcome all ages and all levels of dancing experience. No one has to wear a costume, just comfortable clothes and shoes. But Marton said there is one rule strictly enforced — you have to dance. No one is allowed to sit and watch.

"This is not a spectator sport, it is a participatory one. We want people to come and dance with us, not just come to watch," she said.

In addition to having fun, Marton said the most important reason the group does folk dancing is to keep traditions alive.

"It is groups like this in our country that are keeping these dances from dying out. It is so important for people to remember their heritage and where they came from," she said.

Croatian native Betty Ferguson agrees.

"I do this because it takes me back to my roots. I can do something that my ancestors did, and that makes me proud," she said.

The folk dancers meet in the Villa Garden Room. The cost is $3 per person for each session, which goes to support group activities during the year. For more information, call (210) 493-4629 or visit

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