UMD Tribute to Atanas Kolarovski – Macedonian Cultural Folkloric Institution

The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) mourns the passing of UMD member and 2013 UMD Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Atanas Kolarovski – a Macedonian cultural folkloric institution and national treasure of Macedonia, who died this morning in his birthplace of Skopje, Macedonia surrounded by his loved ones, at age 95. Бог да го прости!

Atanas Kolarovski can be seen proudly leading the Macedonian oro (at a wedding in the village of Drachevo, in 1966) on the cover of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings CD Album “Playing ’Til Your Soul Comes Out! Music of Macedonia” by music and dance ethnographer Martin Koenig, which UMD and its partner the International Music and Art Foundation provided one-third of the funding for, back in 2015.

“Во цел свет каде и да одиш, не се плаши, не се срами, Македонец да си (Wherever you may go in the whole world, don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed, to be a Macedonian),” said Atanas Kolarovski upon receiving UMD’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the UMD Global Conference Gala in Skopje in 2013.

“A person who devoted his entire life in the preservation of the Macedonian identity, culture, and traditions – Atanas Kolarovski’s love for Macedonian folklore began during WWII and lasted six strong decades; Tanec and Atanas Kolarovski are a synonym,” said UMD Co-Founder and Board Member Aleksandar Mitreski during his remarks when presenting the UMD Lifetime Achievement Award to Kolarovski.

“I have always called Atanas Kolarovski Macedonia’s cultural ambassador. As he traveled throughout the world teaching folk dancing, people who might never have learned about Macedonia came to love and appreciate its history and culture. I celebrated two of Atanas’s birthdays in Japan with hundreds of Japanese dancers – many with Macedonian costumes. I loved him; the folk dancing community loved him. He will be missed but will live on in the dances and in our hearts,” said UMD Macedonian Companion Olga Sandolowich who joined in presenting the UMD Lifetime Achievement Award to Kolarovski.

“As Olga said when we honored our dear friend Atanas in Macedonia – without music and dance we are not a nation – Atanas was a trendsetter before his times and bestowed the love of Macedonian music and dance upon scores of talented individuals from Skopje to Seattle, to Tokyo, and beyond, Atanas is not only a legend but a Macedonian cultural folkloric institution and national treasure of Macedonia,” said UMD President Meto Koloski.

UMD extends our deepest condolences to his wife Ljupka Kolarova, who danced in Tanec with Atanas for 25 years, and his entire family.

A video of Kolarovski’s acceoptance speech is below:

Biography of 2013 UMD Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Atanas Kolarovski, as published in UMD’s Global Conference Journal

Atanas was born in the village of Drachevo, the Republic of Macedonia on August 9, 1926. The Kolarovi family was exceptional for its many talented musicians in a village known for its music. Atanas describes how their large extended family frequently gathered of an evening, in the absence of modern sources of entertainment, to play music, sing songs, and dance for their own entertainment. He was dancing and singing and playing the kaval and the accordion along with the other family members from a very early age. A number of family members went on to have professional careers in music.

His uncle, Mile, who was one of Atanas’s early teachers and influences in his musical education, was a popular performer on Macedonian radio for many years on the flute known as the kaval and the Macedonian bagpipe or gajda. He was also one of the organizers of the world-traveling Macedonian folk troupe Tanec, which his nephew Atanas would play such a major role in as a dancer, teacher, and choreographer.

At the age of sixteen in November of 1944 Atanas joined the Partisan Army of Yugoslavia that was at that time engaged in a fierce struggle to drive the fascist occupiers from their land. (The Yugoslavian Sremski Front had a quarter of a million troops locked in a protracted struggle that would last into the spring of 1945, and in which tens of thousands would perish.)

During the war years, 1944 and 1945 Atanas trained with the army choir and learned and performed songs and dances from all over the Balkans, including songs and dances from Slovenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian, and, of course, his native Macedonian tradition. These were important training and performing years for him as part of the partisan army music troupe that performed for the soldiers as part of morale-building during the last days of World War Two and the first days of the Federated Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. He further refined his skills as a musician, dancer, teacher, and choreographer as a member of the Macedonian national folk ensemble Tanec through the 1950s and 60s. He was also involved during that period in the folk ensembles Kocho Racin and Karposh as well as the troupes of Blagoj Sosolcev and Vlado Tasevski and the Ethnic and Dance Theatre, among others.

In the early 1970s, after serving for a period as artistic director of Tanec, Atanas and his family moved to Seattle, Washington, where he has based his career as the premier world-traveling teacher of the art of Macedonian folk dance. 2 That career has spanned some four decades and exposed thousands of people worldwide to the pleasures of the traditional Macedonian folk dance in its hundreds of variations.

For over 60 years Atanas Kolarovski has been teaching his chosen art and craft, the Macedonian folk dance. Several years ago, the Seattle Folk Life Festival recognized Atanas for his lifetime achievement as a major contributor to the rich cultural life of his home community of Seattle. (Seattle is actually his second home. His first home will always be in his family’s home village of Drachevo in the Republic of Macedonia.)

Atanas launched his teaching career in North America in 1964 with a tour that may be the first-ever by a Macedonian folk dance teacher on this continent. In addition to venues in many of the major cities of the United States, including instruction at a number of folk-dance camps, Atanas continued to teach in European countries such as Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, and in more recent years his tours have included visits to the Far East, where he is a popular teacher of Macedonian folk dance in Japan. He has also nurtured the performance of folk troupes such as the Duquesne Tamburitzans of Indiana, for whom he has served as a consultant and choreographer.

Atanas has bestowed the gift of Macedonian folk songs, music, and dance on thousands of people all over the world as a teacher and as an artist/performer. 3 He has been a major goodwill ambassador for Macedonian culture for over half a century now. He has expressed the importance of dance and music to resist the hatred and hostility that feeds so much of the ethnic conflict that is so common today in the Balkans and in so many other places around the world. He repeats for those who learn songs and dances the Macedonian saying: “Koj igra i pee, zlo ne misli.” “He who sings, and dances doesn’t think bad thoughts.”

Atanas, through his art, has inspired and delighted folk dance enthusiasts the world over. John Kuo, artistic director of the ensemble, Balkanske Igre of Chicago, quite eloquently sums up the sentiments of those who have experienced Atanas as folk dancer and teacher: “He is not only the finest exponent of Macedonian dance, but his insight, creativity, and surpassing artistry has informed and raised this form to a new level. Dancers, whether native Macedonians or members of the international folk-dance community, have been fortunate witness to a surpassing talent which has given the culminating expression to the pre-industrial Macedonian folk culture. Appreciate him, study all you can from him, thank him! We will not see the likes of him again in our lifetime.”

A slideshow of photos:

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