Hedy Fromings - part 2

Hedy Fromings was born Hedvika Honigenova in 1926. In the late 1940s she left Czechoslovakia, moving to the UK - where she had spent the war years - with her English husband. To maintain ties with her home country she became an active member of the British Czech Friendship League and a spin-off organisation, the Beskydy Dancers music and dance group; she eventually became the leader of the latter almost three decades ago.

In this, the second part of our interview, Mrs Fromings tells us all about her experiences with the Beskydy Dancers.

"From '77 I ran the group and I really tried to broaden it in one sense, and that was having a bit more close ties - which was not easy in those days - with folk groups in Czechoslovakia itself.

"First I took the group to folk festivals just to watch, to absorb the atmosphere and to listen and to learn, and to dance. We did that twice, in '82 and '84.

"The only way we could do it - because we obviously couldn't do it by our own private means - was with some kind of sponsorship. In those days the co-operative movement as it is here was very keen to sponsor us.

"We had a reciprocal arrangement. A Czech or Slovak group - in those days it was alternating - would come over and the co-op would, to a very large degree, sponsor us to go out there. We did three of such tours."

How was it for you going back to Czechoslovakia, with a dance troupe? Was it a strange experience?

"Not really, because I had been back fairly regularly to see my parents, in the north [of Bohemia]. Now the north was not a place that was particularly good on folklore, because it had been a mixed [Czech and German] community and didn't go back quite as far as things in Moravia or Slovakia.

"Moravia and Slovakia was for me new - it was just a fantastic atmosphere at these folk festivals. I had been to a couple during my student days, but those were the very beginnings, there wasn't really much going on. But the organisation...and the money available...it was really colourful and really impressive.

"I think all the people I took were very impressed, and there was a spin-off for them, joining the British Czech Friendship League...All that went on until 1968, when the British Czech Friendship League fizzled out or was totally rejected. And the British Czech and Slovak Association was founded."

If we can jump to the present, who are the members today of the Beskydy Dancers? I know you play music from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.

"It is an interesting pattern. When the changeover came, the Velvet Revolution, we thought we'd have a lot of Czechs, an influx of young people who might come and join.

"Now that has not been the pattern, because those young Czechs who come over here want to do two things - they want to either study or work. And as for culture, they would like to experience everything that's going on here. Not so much harping back to what they were doing - maybe were doing - before.

"There was a very small percentage. But we had two groups within the dance group. They are what we call the oldies, the people who joined say 20 years ago, when they were very young. And they sometimes have one parent who was Czech and married an English person.

"But sometimes they are just people who went out there for whatever reason and loved the folklore...idea - sitting in a wine cellar in Moravia and experiencing all this singing, and that enthused them.

"When the changeover came we did have some au pair girls who really missed their dancing, but usually the problem was they didn't stay very long, because their jobs were usually six months to a year, maximum.

"Round about 2000 things started to change. Young people were not always so rooted in the place where they had always been. They travelled around...so it is much less stable now and we are down to quite a small group.

"Also the Slovak element, I just have to say, there were - and still are - a lot of young Slovaks coming over here. But they were so strong in their numbers and in their talent and in their dedication to folklore that they formed their own group, and they are very strong in their own right.

"We must admit that we do predominantly Czech and Moravian dances, and we couldn't really do that...energetic type of Slovak dancing which is required for the best of their folklore. You really have to be young, energetic and talented.

"We are a sort of real amateur group. We have a very good band, but they have found that since we have a fairly stable repertoire - because people are not so gifted that they can learn a new dance every other month...which means it's a bit boring for them. They keep on playing the same thing.

"So they've formed their own group which has a larger repertoire which also includes other central European music, Balkan music, klezmer music...but they come together with us if we have a big performance."

And do you still dance?

"I don't, no. I announce, in costume. I did occasionally sing - I really haven't got the voice to sing any more. I shall be 80 in three weeks time."