This piece originally appeared on New York Transatlantic on 17, April 2017.
NEW YORK—Bohemia is alive and well in New York City. On April 1, the Czech and Slovak communities assembled for their annual gathering—a dance hosted by the Bohemian Benevolent & Literary Association (BBLA). Organized by Pavla Niklova, this year’s event was an evening of ballroom dancing, wine and revelry.
Well over one hundred guests filled the Bohemian National Hall, its high ceiling illuminated by candelabra on each table. Express Orchestra—a band composed largely of Czechs and Slovaks—played regional and American rock covers.
Professional dancers Vanda Polakova and her husband, Michael Choi, performed two dances, and six other professional dancers circulated throughout the night, dancing with guests.
Milo Saidl, an instructor at Dance Sport, is Czech and has long been friends with Niklova. For many years, professional dancers have performed at the Beseda Ball, he said. “But Pavla wanted the guests to be more involved.” That’s why she reached out to Saidl.
“Czech people can be quite shy and hesitant to dance, especially with professionals,” Saidl said, adding that he was grateful that the night went so well.
Guests also learned the mazurka, a popular 19th century dance from Poland continued in Bohemia with the compositions of Czech composers Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák and Bohuslav Martinů.
Founded in 1891, the Association began as an umbrella organization for around eighty Czech and Slovak community groups and clubs in New York City. Today, many have joined under the BBLA banner, which continues its mission of preserving Czech and Slovak culture in the city.
BBLA hosts regular events to honor and share Bohemian culture throughout the year. On May 7, the association will be hosting its Spring Musicale, a continuation of the Sunday afternoon musicales of the late 19th century. It will take place at 3:00 p.m. at 321 East 73rd Street.
Photos by the author. See more here.