Wednesday, April 24, 2019

More Than Words - Dancing in Hungary

At first glance, Hungary is not the most obvious place to run a training week around minority ethnic groups and linguistic diversity.  Even Budapest is an astonishingly homogenous city by the standards of contemporary Europe.  During our day in the city, waiting to catch the plane home, we saw only two darker skinned women.  One of them was selling sunglasses on the street, and the other was emptying the waste bins.  We speculated that they were probably Roma.  In the remote spa town of Cserkeszőlő, where the training took place, there was even less diversity.  Unsmiling and overweight middle-aged couples in white towelling robes prowled the hotel corridors, occasionally dipping themselves in the indoor pool or the outdoor jacuzzi, taking buffet meals and rarely venturing beyond the front door.  On the last day, when I had time to enjoy the outdoor pool with some of the other participants, it was very clear that the people sharing it did not like the fact that there were foreigners in their water.  And when we tried to relax in the evening with an Italian friend’s guitar, the disapproval of noise after 9pm was matched only by the exasperation that these barbaric souls could not even speak Magyar.

So, actually, Cserkeszőlő was the perfect place for this MORE THAN WORDS week.  It was a place where a group of cosmopolitan Europeans, used to intercultural and multilingual spaces, to acceptance and diversity, could experience what it actually feels like to be in a cultural mi-nority.  It was a place where the Magyar tribalism advocated by Viktor Orbán was openly on display, and the famous fences made total, terrifying sense.  It was a place where we tried hard to integrate, and were not made to feel welcome.

And so the training room became at once a sacred space and a refuge - a place where, thanks to the careful leadership of IKTE, we were able to operate as an uninhibited and creative group, and to build a sense of security through the processes of moving together.  It offered a very clear lesson in the potential value of such experiences for people from minority cultures: in the dance workshop, there is a chance to escape from the social stigma of the outsider and to acquire a renewed confidence in the self as a physical presence, and to enjoy being part of an integrated and non-judgemental group.

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