International House to host 52nd Annual Spring Festival of Eastern European Dance and Music

By Rena Slavin
Global Voices Metcalf Fellow

From March 24 to 26, International House 1414 E. 59th St., will host the 52nd annual Spring Festival, a weekend of concerts and workshops celebrating Balkan and Eastern European culture. One of the largest events of its kind, the Spring Festival attracts artists and culture enthusiasts from all over the United States.

Balkanske Igre—a Chicago-based performance ensemble and a Spring Festival co-sponsor—annually invites master artists, teachers, and world-recognized specialists from across the United States and Europe to the Spring Festival. These experts give workshops, seminars, and culture sessions on a diverse range of topics. This year’s program includes the traditional songs and dances of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, and Turkey. John Kuo, the director of Balkanske Igre, explained that attendees come “not just from Chicagoland, but from all over the United States, so it is truly a national-level festival where people come to learn and to enjoy the very best of these cultures in music and dance.”

The motto for this year’s Spring Festival is folklore nema granica, or folklore has no boundaries. Kuo explained that because Chicago is home to many people of Balkan and Eastern European descent, there are many cultural organizations that hold events to celebrate their respective traditions. The Spring Festival, however, is one of the few multicultural events; Kuo explained that the goal is to “bring together [the various ethnic] communities in a neutral space of respect, appreciation for each other, and also to expose the best aspects of those cultures to the broadest possible audience.”

Balkan folk music is unlike anything in the Western canon, with unique rhythms and melodic structures. Dissonances, or combinations of notes that are disharmonious, are common in the diaphonic singing tradition of Western Bulgaria. Kuo explained that although dissonances have been enjoyed by the Eastern European folk musicians for centuries, “it was not until the 20th century that [Western] composers began to explore the idea that dissonance may be an aesthetically interesting phenomenon.” The variety of meters, or rhythmic structures, is also an essential attribute of Balkan folk music. Whereas Western music, whether it is classical, folk, or pop, relies nearly exclusively on beats of equal duration, Balkan folk music is structured upon unequal beats. These patterns and combinations of long and short beats, sometimes referred to as “limping” rhythms, are characteristic of Balkan and Eastern European folk music.

Geographically, Eastern Europe and the Balkans encompass many ethnicities, each with their own unique folk tradition. The presence of so many cultures gave rise to a tremendous diversity of music. Kuo explained that the Western Balkans, which are predominantly Catholic, have historically been influenced by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hence, the folk music of this region can often be nearly indistinguishable from Germanic music. Centuries-long geographical proximity to the Venetians has given Croatian folk music a distinctly Italian flare. Kuo explained that in the Central Balkans—home to Orthodox and Muslim populations—one can “differentiate between the village tradition, which reflects either Hellenic, Slavic, or Albanian roots, and the urban tradition, which has great commonality with Turkish music.” Members of the community will have an exceptional opportunity to learn about these various traditions and experience them through live performances at the Spring Festival.

The Spring Festival will take place from Friday, March 24 to Sunday, March 26, at International House. All parts of the event are free for University of Chicago students with valid Student IDs. Friday’s opening festivities, which include a mini-workshop and live performances followed by a party, start at 8 p.m.; tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Hour-long workshops and culture sessions will run on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; tickets are $12 per hour for general admission and $10 per hour at the reduced cost for students and seniors. Saturday evening’s activities will start at 7 p.m. and feature music performances and a dance party; tickets are $30 for general admission and $25 at the reduced cost.

Tickets may be purchased through the registration form on or at the door. A weekend pass which includes activities from Friday evening to Sunday is also available for purchase for $180 for general admission and $160 at the reduced price. For more information about the Spring Festival and for advance reservations, please contact or 847-331-7842.The Spring Festival is co-sponsored by the International House Global Voices Program, the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CEERES), WHPK, and the Ensemble Balkanske Igre. For more information about other Global Voices Events and co-sponsorship opportunities, or for persons with disabilities who may require assistance, please contact Mary Beth DeStefano at (773)753-2274 or


This article was originally published in the Hyde Park Herald.