Czech them out: Beseda Dancers, Tabor prepare for celebration
TABOR--For back-to-back evenings in June, a group of nearly 240 dancers can be seen performing a roughly 20-minute choreographed dance honoring the immigrants who hail from what is now the Czech Republic.
TABOR-For back-to-back evenings in June, a group of nearly 240 dancers can be seen performing a roughly 20-minute choreographed dance honoring the immigrants who hail from what is now the Czech Republic.
They are the Beseda Dancers and they are a regular attraction for Tabor's annual Czech Days celebration.
Behind the scenes of this grandiose performance, Loretta Kortan organizes the dancers and schedules the practices. For two weeks every year, dancing is her life, and she makes sure everything is ready for the celebration.
Kortan is the fourth person to take on the responsibility of organizing the dance, which started in 1935 by James Schuch. In 1961, James' wife, Anna, took over, followed by her daughter Mildred Cimpl, until 2013 when Kortan assumed the role.
"It is a commitment. My husband and I started dancing in '66 until 1999," Kortan said. "In '79 I started helping the ladies, Mildred and her mom. So when Mildred passed away it seemed like, 'OK, Mildred isn't here anymore. I will do it.'
"I am getting older, so hopefully I can start training some younger ones to do it," she added.
The dance, which started with just one group of eight, has become a big tradition as families like to pass on their heritage to their kids.
"I always wanted to do it," said 20-year-old Elyssa Walloch of Scotland, who's been dancing since first grade.
"All my siblings have done it growing up. Besides being expected to do it, I wanted to do it. Getting to take part in my culture," said Walloch, who was a Czech Days Princess in 2007 and Czech Days Queen in 2017.
The young and first-time dancers report two weeks prior to the dance at Tabor Elementary School, where they take part in the practices that range from 45 minutes to an hour long in the school gym.
There the eight-step dance is broken down into two parts per day for them to learn with the help of more experienced dancers.
"We have big with little and we did that on purpose," Kortan said. "Because the big ones know the dance and the little ones don't. We're not going to do that on Czech Days. They're going to be with kids kind of the same size."
Then on the Sunday prior to Czech Days, the rest of the dancers join the beginning dancers for practice, with the dancers going through it, starting first in pieces with prompts.
"Two hundred forty people can't come for practice, but whoever can come, comes to practice on Sunday morning," Kortan said. "Then we go through it again, and we learn to march on and off (from the dance floor). Then on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday-the next four days-we dance to the tape. It's music done by the Czech band that plays for us on Czech Days."
For many, taking part in the dance is an opportunity to take pride in their community while sharing a part of their heritage with family.
"I grew up doing it and now I have three children who are doing it as well, so it's just kind of a fun tradition to share with them. They want to do it," said Jean Goeden of Tabor, who's been dancing for the past 30 years.
"(My husband) was willing to do it once we started dating. He was like 'Hey, why not try it. It looks fun,'" Goeden said with a laugh. "Then I didn't have to find a partner."
Walloch said she circles Czech Days as family time each year. She knows about the quality of the event, too, as she's traveled the nation to other Czech-themed events as the current National Miss Czech runner-up.
"Czech Days is always one of the bigger ones," she said. "Obviously, others have their own little things, but there is no place like Tabor."
When they perform, the dancers wear traditional Czech outfits, which relatives in the Czech Republic and Slovakia might dress in, that they provide for themselves.
"Most of them, their grandmother sewed them, their mom sewed them," Kortan said. "They get somebody to sew them. We don't give (outfits) to them. They have to furnish them."
The 71st Czech Days kicks off in Tabor on Thursday evening, with midway shows beginning at 6 p.m. and running through Saturday. The dance performances will take place at 8:45 p.m. on Friday and 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at Sokol Park in Tabor.