Through the eyes of a teacher - The Juka Sister in Laws

Both of us have grown up with Croatian folklore playing a huge part in our lives. As time passed, life and other adventures took over, marriage and children took a priority, and folklore was put on hold, but the love and appreciation for our culture and arts always remained.

Once you have experienced Croatian folkloric dancing, it never quite leaves you. We found ourselves back in the folklore community as mothers of young children after Sandra was contacted by Mladi Hrvati founder, Mrs Gizela Kechenovich to help her re-establish the group after it had broken down several years earlier. Mrs Kechenovich was determined to see the group restored to its former glory when her and husband, Aleks were teaching.

We wear several different hats within our group, as many of our other committee members do. In addition to our committee responsibilities, we make up part of the teaching and choreography team here at Mladi Hrvati. We took this responsibility on with full gusto, with a new direction and ideas ready to go.

One of the most important things to us as teachers and choreographers is to make sure that we are continually challenging and stimulating our members, as well as our audiences. When we create our choreographies, we look at it from both a dancer and audience perspective, making sure that it is both aurally and visually interesting and dynamic, whilst at the same time, making sure that we are paying respect to the style, music and footwork of each region. This process is challenging, exciting and rewarding, and we have established some great relationships when seeking out advice from other groups, choreographers and composers along the way.

Over the last five years, we have introduced four new regions of dance to the group, which includes new music, choreographies and new complete nosnja sets. The nosnje, oh my! That is another blog post in itself - shout out to our nosnja team! We often ask ourselves if we are crazy to be taking on so much new repertoire in such a short space of time, but we believe this is the only way forward for our group. Our members love to learn, and they love to be challenged, and Croatia’s folkloric culture is so diverse, we have only just scratched the surface! How can we not continue to bring new dances and music to our community here in Australia? It’s especially nice to see that look of excitement on an audience member’s face when they realise that the group will be performing songs and dances from their region that they may not have seen before.

It can be challenging as teachers to have your own children as part of a group that you are teaching, because you need to completely remove your ‘mother’ hat and have them look at and listen to you strictly as their teacher; but these kids are our greatest motivator in doing all of this. Through their connection to folklore, they have found their place within our Croatian community, and they feel a sense of belonging. We are fortunate enough to be able to witness the beginnings of some long lasting friendships, and we can only hope that these children too learn to love and appreciate their culture and community enough to keep our traditions going for the generation to follow. After all, na mladima svijet ostaje!