THE STRANGE, DARK NIGHTS OF ROMANIA’S BEAR DANCERS
(P1) To OUTSIDERS, the sight of a TROUPE of dancing bears, DECKED OUT in blood-red TASSELS, STOMPING through the snowy streets of a small Romanian town might be a strange, almost SINISTER sight.
(P2) But for those who live in Romania’s eastern Moldova region, the arrival of the bears – who are actually local RESIDENTS wearing real bearskins — is a time of celebration.
(P3) The event takes place every year between Christmas and New Year’s.
(P4) It’s a TRADITION that, until recently, few beyond the TIGHT-KNIT RURAL communities of the Trotus Valley have WITNESSED.
(P5) But a series of images by New York-based photographer Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi has captured this mysterious ceremony and brought it to a wider audience.
(P6) Alhindawi, a former aid worker now PURSUING photo projects mainly in Africa, is half-Romanian and lived there until she was 8, when her family left as REFUGEES, first to Canada and then New York.
(P7) “The bear dances were always one of my favorite memories,” she tells CNN. “It’s a joyous event, although the dancers don’t look that way in the pictures — they’re trying to look FIERCE.”
(P8) Alhindawi’s beautiful images show men and women in full bear COSTUMES, PARADING through the streets in and around her old HOMETOWN, Moinesti.
(P9) The bear dancing is meant to DRIVE AWAY evil spirits.
(P10) According to Alhindawi, the tradition owes its origins to the time when local GYPSIES, also known as Roma, would come into towns from the forests in which they lived, bringing real bears with them.
(P11) Alhindawi says this took place as recently as the 1930s.
(P12) Her grandmother, now in her 80s, recalls seeing Roma leading bears on LEASHES down from the forest when she was five or six years old.
(P13) “Roma don’t write their history down,” says Alhindawi. “I’ve done research but no one can FIGURE OUT how they went from live bears to people dressed as bears.”
(P14) The costumes involved in the dance are actual bearskins.
(P15) While bear dancing was once EXCLUSIVELY a Roma activity, Alhindawi says the Roma can no longer afford it. A ban on bear hunting has ESCALATED the price of the skins up to €2,000 ($2,200).
(P16) Most Roma, she says, are poor. They have sold their old bearskins and can’t afford new ones.
(P17) Even though the bear dancing tradition is still CHERISHED by locals, Alhindawi says it’s in danger of disappearing as local cultures are DILUTED by Western influences and many people leave Romania for other countries.
(P18) “Romania has a problem because there are few jobs,” says Alhindawi. “Young people go to Italy or Spain or other places to work.
(P19) “In the rural VILLAGES, it’s mostly older people and very young kids who are left. Everyone else is gone.”
(P20) She says she hopes her photos will help PIQUE international interest in the tradition and perhaps bring visitors to an area that few tourists know about.
If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.
- Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
- Bears are not common animals, but are found in small numbers in many countries around the world. Does your country have bears?
- Are there any unusual folk traditions in the rural villages of your country?
- How do you celebrate the coming of the New Year? Do you celebrate both the Western and Chinese New Years?
- Do you take a lot of photographs when you travel? What do you like to take photographs of?
EXPRESSIONS TO PRACTICE:
What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.
- Decked out
- Drive away
- Figure out