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A Song, a Dance, a Smile for Balboa Park Audience

There is a special place in Balboa Park, San Diego. It is so special that it has no equivalent in the world: a village that is shared peacefully by 33 nationalities tucked into the south-west corner of the Park.

It was founded in 1935 when a world expo in San Diego was planned, and its executive secretary, Frank Drugan, had an idea of an international village shared by all 21 nationalities living in San Diego at that time.

A space for the project was found and a name, The House of Pacific (Peaceful) Relations, was decided on. All of 21 nations were invited to share the newly built village consisting of fifteen hacienda style cottages that are there till today. When first opened in May 1935, each hacienda was staffed with a consular official of the respective country, so the cottage could serve for the duration of the exhibit (May 1935-September 1936) as an embassy. What a wonderful idea!

It has been 84 years since its beginning yet the Village lost nothing from its charm and mission: To give each nation living in San Diego a place to gather and to share with public its culture. And thus, every week on Sunday afternoon one nation has an opportunity to perform on the village stage. And a third week in October belongs to the Czech and Slovak Republics, the founding members of the International Village. And my group "Sluničko" and a our Czech-Slovak-American band the Poe Street Band was granted a segment in the festivities..

After a Youth Symphony that opened the program with several Dvořák's famous pieces, there came a blue grass song played by Pavel Chvistek and Vladislav Hanc, and it seems to lift everyone's spirit! That rapid banjo rhythm did not leave anyone still. "Sluničko" then stormed to the stage with a big smile and a rascal like attitude in their several Czech folksongs. A dynamic folk dance was next, boys prompting the girls to whirl, then the couples were moving from figure to figure, formation to formation and at the end when their hands lift up in the last move, the children became one big smile! Our grand finale was Beethoven Ode to Joy. First, children played it on ocarinas, the ancient ceramic instruments, then they sang it in Czech and finally they prompted the audience to sing along. And that was a beautiful moment so fit into the international village: Let us embrace brotherhood, kindness, love and compassion!

And who are the children? They come from my Czech school and this is how it looks like at our international small school: Every Monday a group of American children who have at least one parent Czech, storm to my house for a Czech School to explore the intricacies of the language of their parents, their songs, dances, history, and such. And those are my "happy Monday hours"!

We start with a cursive writing, their penmanship is admirable! Then we listen to a piece of classical music and analyze it, trying to use the right musical vocabulary and pin-point our observations and feelings. Then comes that excruciating grammar! Czech language is extremely difficult, following the grammar pattern of Latin. Just to give you one examples: each noun, adjective, pronoun and numeral have fourteen different declension (a form of a word) depending on syntactic function! Just take my name and its seven versions: I am Marketa, you leave without Markéty, you go to Markétě, you see Markétu, you call Markéto!, you speak about Markétě a you leave with Markétou. And if your name is Jan, the declination for male is different as well as that of an inanimate objects, and the list goes on and on! So now you understand that only highly intelligent people can speak Czech! (Ha ha!) The grammar lesson is followed by a bit of history and geography.

Break time with munchies (and lots of kefir!!) is the most popular, and takes place in the romantic alley, girls mostly on a rope swing while boys build from everything they find in the backyard ingenious vehicles and off they ride the slope of the alley!

An then comes art: we do lots of crafts, we conjure up dances, and the favorite of all, the children choose a story and they dramatize it. I let their imagination go, I suggest and they finish, other times they suggest and I finish, sometimes they devise the entire thing! And it is the goal: To tease children's imagination, to allow their fantasy grow, to allow them to be creative, silly, unique while reminding them of certain border lines, manners and especially the duty to always be good, kind and honest with others!

One of the most important aspects is to inspire the children " to give to others", and they have their own idea how: We plant colorful flowers in front of places that we like, we clean beaches and parks often, and we love to perform for others. And it requires much from the children! Diligence, hard work, perseverance, responsibility to others, all of these become handy features when they grow up.

I value their time and effort and I applaud my students' parents for bringing me the best children there are, and preparing me so much joy while working with them.

It was a beautiful day in the Park on Sunday, I am glad we could share the stage with other groups, Karicka and Podkovicka, to offer a glimpse of our rich Czech and Slovak heritage with the best audience there is!

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