Dancing in the Streets

25 May

The ear-splitting honking of noisemakers could be heard from a mile away. I was leaving class in the Bežigrad section of Ljubljana, Slovenia, just before noon on Friday, May 20, and heading toward the center of the city for a graduation ceremony with my Slovenian language class. I walked out of Pionirski Dom, my school building, to the right, and down to Slovenska Cesta, the main street that cuts through the downtown area.

On the way, I could hardly hear myself think. Why? Nearly 9,000 17 and 18-year-old students were tooting their own horns, to use a terrible pun, as they got ready to graduate from high school.

But it wasn’t just the horns that were important.

All the male students were wearing black t-shirts, while the girls were dressed in orange, clearly organized together. They each held a white umbrella in case of rain, but instead used them to shade their faces from the heat of the noon-time sun.

Vendors lined the streets handing out tiny Coca Cola cans to students and passers-by, and giant speakers near the center blared out traditional polka music.

At exactly noon, the music changed: a Quadrille harmony from Fledermaus by Johan Strauss began, and the pairs of students faced each other and began to move their feet in the rhythm of the longest simultaneous dance in the world.

Over the course of the next 15 minutes, the dances changed forms from a quadrille—resembling a square dance—to waltzes, to traditional Slovenian dances.

The students had gathered for the annual dance parade to commemorate high school graduation in Ljubljana, called the Maturantska Parada. It is a tradition in its eleventh year.

Back on May 21, 2001, the first dance parade was held in Ljubljana. Students traditionally take dance lessons in school, and this put the lessons to good use. Just more than 3,000 students danced that year.

This year, it wasn’t just the nearly 9,000 in Ljubljana who were dancing. Early numbers reported that more than 161,000 boys and girls in 22 cities across Slovenia—and its neighbors Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Albania, and Romania—participated in the festivities.

Slovenia (along with the other countries that have joined in the dance in the past years) holds the record for the longest simultaneous dance and longest quadrille dance in the Guinness Book of World Records.

I stood with my classmates watching, we couldn’t help but think: It was a graduation of sorts for us as well. We were done with our year-long Slovenian language course, and my 10-month stay to Ljubljana was nearing its end.

As we stood as spectators, I thought: When in Rome…

All of a sudden, we had an urge to join in. One of my friends grabbed my hand, and we spun around each other on the side of the street, laughing.

When I stopped, she grabbed another classmate’s hand, and wandered into the middle of Slovenska Cesta. As a professional dancer, she was able to catch the moves with a single glance, and for the last minute or so, she and our other classmate swayed and moved to the rhythm of the final dance: a traditional Slovenian number.

Promptly 15 minutes after it began, the music stopped, and the students all reached for their noise makers again, blowing their horns so that it was impossible to hear. Orange and black clad teenagers scattered down the side streets, running to cafes nearby and along the Ljubljanica River for tea or ice cream.

Well, I thought again: When in Rome…

And off we went to a café by the river in the midday sun, where we split a confection of green tea ice cream, fruits, and whipped cream, in a half cantaloupe of a bowl.

Published by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press and Villager Newspapers this week.

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