History of the Magyar Gála
After World War II, a wave of Hungarians immigrated to Canada to start a new life. In Calgary, a group of former soldiers, guided by Fülöpp József, established the Calgary Chapter of the Hungarian Veterans' Association. They organized their first veterans' dinner in 1956.
The annual dinners and dances were popular, which ultimately necessitated a move from the Hungarian Cultural Centre to larger venues. The event officially became a ball in 1965 when ten couples performed the Palotás dance in front of more than 300 guests. 1967, Canada’s centennial year, marked the first year of the presentation of the debutantes and the inclusion of dignitaries representing Canada and Hungary. The ball was moved to the Calgary Inn (Westin Hotel) in 1971 to accommodate over 400 guests, and in 1972 the first Attila jackets (the gentlemen's Palotás costume) were introduced. By 1975, 65 dancers were performing in front of an audience of 500, and the Hungarian folk dance had also become a popular element of the evening.
Over the years the Magyar Gála has evolved into the spectacular showcase of Hungarian culture it is today, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Hungarian Veterans' Association. The event adds to the multicultural fabric of the Canadian community, and it has become one of the most elegant social events in Canada.
The Debutante Waltz
Made popular in the nineteenth century, debutante balls began as an opportunity for young women, usually aged 17 or 18, to be introduced into formal society. The event marked a girl’s transition from child to adult, and also advertised her availability for marriage. Those in society with contacts with the royal family would formally introduce her to the king or queen at a specially appointed time at the palace, an occasion that was much anticipated and prepared for. Over time the roles of women and aristocratic society has evolved dramatically, but the traditions of the debutante ball still appeal and evoke a more romantic era.
At the Magyar Gála, between 10 and 16 young ladies are presented each year to Hungarian society and society at large. Traditionally their fathers escorted the young women into the ballroom, a ritual we carry on at the Magyar Gál today. The debutantes, dressed in the customary white gowns, and their escorts perform the Debutante Waltz, which they have been practicing for several months. The presentation of these lovely young women continues to be one of the highlights of the Magyar Gála.
The Palotás (Palace Dance) is a gallant, dignified dance, which marks the opening to formal balls in Hungary. The origin of the Palotás dates back to the fifteenth century.
Due to their desire to accentuate class differences, the Hungarian nobility created a dance specifically for noblemen, which they called Palotás. It was favoured in the houses of nobility and the princely courts of, Erdély (Transylvania) and reached peak popularity during the 17th and 18th century, especially in reign of Rákoczi Ferenc II. In fact, the Palotás dancers continue to dress in the traditional court attire of that time. The nineteenth century brought forth a resurgence of the Hungarian dances, and the Palotás became the lead dance at every Hungarian ball.
The Palotás dance performed at the Magyar Gála today brings the time of royal courts and aristocracy back to life, with the ladies' colourful dresses and the gentlemen's Hungarian hussar tunics. The dancers perform the Palotás with great feeling and dignity appropriate to such a noble dance. The dance is even performed at school graduations in Hungary to this day.
The Hungarian Folkdance
The Hungarian passion for dance is especially evident in the rich history of the Hungarian folkdance. Nearly each village has a folkdance motif of its own, but they each share splendidly decorated costumes, energetic music, and intricate steps.
Historians know little about the dances of the ancient Magyars (Hungarians). We do know that the dances were focused on ancestral worship, and performed for centuries after the imposition of Christianity. When the Magyar tribes moved into the Carpathian Basin, it is said that they brought the drum, the pipe, and the fiddle, which provided the music for Hungarian dances.
By the nineteenth century the folkdance had been introduced into the balls of the upper classes. In 1848, army captains performed men's folkdance solo dances throughout Hungary to enlist soldiers for the war. Young army recruits learned not only to fight but also to dance. This is why Hungarian soldiers have always been exceptional dancers, and this period produced some of the finest Hungarian folk dance music.
Vadrózsa Hungarian Folk Dancers
The Vadrózsa (Wild Rose) Hungarian Folk Dance Group was established in 1974 when a group of Palotás dancers decided they wanted to take their passion for dance beyond the ball. The Hungarian Veterans' Association supported their efforts to represent the Hungarian community in Calgary with the leadership of Tibor Rada. They began to provide entertainment at various events, especially the Magyar Gála.
Over the years, the dancers have learned the various historical dialects of the Hungarian folkdance. They perform in authentic costumes matching the dances of the various regions of Hungary. The group has become well known in Western Canada and performs in the Annual Western Canadian Hungarian Folk Dance Festivals, as well as in many cities across North America. Although it became an independent organization in 1978, it maintains close ties with the Hungarian Veterans' Association.
The group’s dancers dedicate hundreds of hours to practices, and contribute their talent, time, and energy to dance and sing in the Hungarian style. To date, the group has performed for audiences on more than 1,000 occasions. By promoting Hungarian culture through song and dance, the Vadrózsa Hungarian Folk Dancers have provided a wonderful experience both to dancers and audience members.
What is the Hungarian Veterans' Association?
The Hungarian Veterans' Association was founded in Germany after the onset of the Communist regime in Eastern Europe following World War II. Brigadier-General András Zako formed a battalion of former military, police and gendarmes in hopes of launching a force to end Hungary’s occupation. Other Hungarian communities joined to create the Hungarian Veterans' Association. Over time, the Association transformed into a more nurturing entity, retaining and fostering Hungarian traditions and values. The Association also became the guardian of archiving historical events for future generations.
There are currently about twenty chapters of the Association worldwide. While each group is independent, they act cooperatively in supporting Hungarian veterans throughout the world. The Association is also involved in local charities, and fosters the Hungarian military mentality and spirit through annual events.
The Calgary Association is an important part of the Calgary cultural landscape, and has been a proud host of the annual Magyar Gála for over 60 years.