Duquesne's Tammies preserve traditions
The Tamburitzans personify tradition. Since 1937, the Duquesne University troupe has preserved and promoted the culture and dance of Eastern Europe.
The group's sense of tradition goes beyond choreography and costumes; it encompasses leadership as well.
Paul Stafura has been with the Tamburitzans for 39 years, ever since he entered Duquesne University as a freshman. A former performer with the group, Stafura was hired as the tour manager after graduation and worked his way up to his current position as managing director.
"I really enjoy learning about the culture and the music," Stafura says. "There's a social aspect as well. You get to meet people from across the United States."
The "Tammies" attract college students from around the world. Many of the 30 members are from Western Pennsylvania, but some come from as far away as Bulgaria and Slovakia.
"They come to us from three different areas," Stafura says. "There are ethnic groups that are specific folk art groups. That's one group of people we get. The second group is trained in the classical of dance and music. They may or may not have folk art experience, but they have the talent to learn anything. The third group comes from Europe."
Stafura, like many of his students, was raised to appreciate the folk arts of the old country. He understands what an honor it is for a student to be accepted to the Tammies.
"This is an incredible experience for a student," Stafura says. "I think it's one of the finest ethnic performing groups in the country."
Stafura is able to use his experience as a performer to help counsel the students as they struggle to juggle full course-loads at Duquesne University while performing 80 shows a season, mostly performong weekend. Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring breaks are dedicated to extended tours that often take the troupe to Florida. After commencement in May, the troupe begins a cross-country tour that ends on the West Coast.
Stafura keeps the troupe on a rigorous schedule that begins with rehearsals in July and performances in August. No two seasons are exactly alike.
"Every season the program changes completely," says Stafura. "One of our secrets is that at least 25 percent of our students leave and we have to bring new students in. It keeps us fresh."
The Tamburitzans have a large repertoire from which to choose. The group performs traditional music dances from a variety of countries such as Slovakia, Croatia, Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Siberia, Ukraine and Georgia among others.
"The Tamburitzans' mission is to represent and perpetuate cultures of Eastern Europe," Stafura says.
To that end, every costume seen onstage is authentic. The costumes, of which there can be a many as 300 in a show, are either originals or accurate reproductions.
"Everything on the stage is absolutely correct," Stafura says.
To maintain the performance's authenticity, the troupe hires professional choreographers to teach students the traditional dances, including this season's show-stopping finale.
"Our finale of the show is a wonderful, new piece for us," says Stafura. "It's a gypsy dance. It's not from any country, but the gypsies of Eastern Europe."
America's longest running, multicultural song and dance company will delight audiences at the Palace Theatre this weekend.
Duquesne University TamburitzansWhen: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg
Details: 724-836-8000 or www.thepalacetheatre.org