Saul and Suzy Frommer
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Saul Isaac Frommer arrived in Riverside, California, on 17 July, 1961, and reported to work at the University of California's Riverside campus. His work would entail being part of a team of entomologists studying control measures for flies which, in their immature stages, inhabit the water. As adults their presence can annoy humans although they pose no threat since they neither bite man or in any way other than by acting as allergens cause him any concern.
It so happened that two people in the Department of Entomology were folk dance enthusiasts. One was a young woman who worked in the main office and the other was one of the professors and a researcher. Early on the young woman asked him whether he would care to join a group of people at the home of the professor for an evening of dance. He explained that he had never done such dancing and she responded by explaining that if he could laugh at himself, presumably while attempting to perform a dance, he would be assured of a good time. He felt he would have no problem laughing at himself and so he attended the dance. He still recalls the first dance he learned: the Greco-American dance Misirlou. He had for years been familiar with the melody, but had never seen anyone dance to it.
The flies he studied didn't bite, but the dancing bug really did. Almost from the beginning entomology seemed to take a back seat to dancing. He couldn't learn the dances fast enough. He joined the Riverside Folk Dance Club and looked forward to every Friday night meeting. Before he knew it he was teaching dances at the club's meetings having learned them at workshops in Los Angeles. At the same time he learned of a folk song society and joined it as well. Most members sang songs in English whereas he began singing songs from other lands.
Saul had been dancing for about a year when he met his bride to be, Susan "Suzy" Larisch. She was a student at UCR and lived in an apartment with two other students across the lawn from his apartment. One day she heard some unfamiliar music in the air. She knocked at his door and asked him what its provenance was and Saul explained that it was Serbian. Then she said, "Why are you sweating so?" Saul explained that he was practicing the steps to a dance from Serbia. She asked, "Would you be willing to teach me those steps?" "Yes," was his reply and in about five minutes he had taught her several steps. He realized then and there that this neighbor would make an ideal dancing partner and so he proposed that she come dancing with him on Friday night. If she had a boyfriend (she did) she need not change anything; Saul's intentions were limited to the dance floor. Here was an attractive young woman who was studying biology who could dance and as he soon learned could sing as well. Thus began a friendship that would mature into a love affair and ultimately marriage. It was simply perfect.
Suzy joined him at meetings of the Riverside Folk Song Club and as it turned out began working professionally with another member of the club before Saul did. When her partner decided that he would return to school for graduate work Saul became her singing partner and they worked professionally for three years. Later, Saul and Suzy joined a group that performed benefits for various organizations. The couple were married on Ground Hog's Day, February 2, 1964, and have been together ever since.
For some time he became the president of the Riverside Folk Dance Club and did teaching as well as the preparation of a club newsletter that announced events and provided dance instruction as well as lyrics to songs associated with folk dances. With the help of other experienced members, he put on a Riverside Folk Dance Festival one year. As far as he knows this represents the only time Riverside hosted such a festival. It certainly helped that he had made many friends in Los Angeles who were old hands at putting on such festivals and similar events.
Somehow the Department of Physical Sciences at UCR learned of his dancing and singing activities and asked him whether he would be willing to teach dance as part of the evening recreation program. There would be no fee for this work, however, he would have access to a fine dance floor and would also have access to a variable speed phonograph. Saul accepted and that was the beginning of Rikud v'Zemer, the UCR Folk Dance and Song Club. Saul asked for and received permission to invite other Riversiders to the club. Suzy joined him in this endeavor and they soon learned that people seemed happy to listen to them sing instead of joining them in song. Since this was not their intention, they dropped the singing aspect and retained the dance aspect. Saul and Suzy carried this program on for approximately thirteen years.
Often Saul, in the dance room during the lunch break where he would practice alone, would meet with coeds and got to know some of the real enthusiasts for dance in this way. One woman, Eurydice "Diki" Shields, worked in the insect collection of which he had become the director. After teasing her about being of Greek heritage and not dancing any Greek dances he coaxed her onto the dance floor. Diki really put a lot of effort into learning dances, especially Greek dances, and ultimately became a judge of Greek dances. Dance has occupied her mind for a good number of years.
Among his special memories is winning a dance scholarship one year at the Santa Barbara Folk Dance Conference and having the honor to teach as a novice teacher. Still another was being a member along with Suzy of the Hungarian dance ensemble Betyárok which was directed by Elsie Ivancich Dunin. "Our guidance and material came to us thanks to Andor Czompo, a master of Hungarian dance and folklore."
Yet another very special memory relates to an incident in a Romanian post office in Bucharest in 1968 when the postmaster insisted that they could not send more than one parcel a day. Suzy was fuming and Saul was concerned that they not get themselves into any trouble in the country which at the time was under the leadership of Nikolae Ceauscescu. It suddenly dawned upon Saul to get to the heart of the director through song and so he began singing Alunelul. When the director heard the strains of that melody his ears pricked up. How did Saul know it? Not only did he know it but what's more he knew a dance associated with it and he began dancing it. To make the story short, Saul and Suzy managed to mail eight parcels that day in lieu of one! "You never know when folk music and dance will help you through the day," Saul says.
They had a truly remarkable dance-related experience in Mersin, Turkey, when they danced with members of a world renowned Turkish dance ensemble who had dressed in native garb for the occasion and brought gypsy musicians along to dance in their honor. Townspeople were invited to see with their own eyes a couple of Americans who they understood had been taught one of their regional dances. They were there to see this for themselves. Saul and Suzy never expected that they would be asked to join the ensemble in dance yet that was exactly what was their request. Saul sang the melody of the dance music in half the speed normally played to the lead dancer so that he would instruct the musicians to play it a wee bit slower than normal for them. They had previously been taught this dance by one of the lead dancers and earlier in the evening they had seen the ensemble perform the dance and felt that their level of proficiency wasn't enough to tackle the dance at the proper speed. They survived the experience, especially since they didn't dance while clicking spoons at the same time. When it all was over they brought the house down. They were then told by the people of this area who had attended the affair that they would be happy to teach them all their dances any time they cared to learn. All that they had to do is pay for the Gypsy musicians! Saul says, "The memories of such experiences sure can get you through tough days."
Saul did a workshop for the members of Saint Elias Prophet Church teaching Greek dances he had learned at workshops. Later that day he and Suzy joined two members of Athan Karras' dance ensemble, Chris Tasulis and his wife Helen, and danced Pentozali on the church's stage. Saul and Suzy then sang Gerakina to the members of the church. It was a special honor when Chris made a contribution to the church "In honor of these two Hellenes who aren't Greek." Those were his words. We were sitting on the top of the world.
One evening, Betyárok was performing on the stage of the Wilshire Ebel theater. All of the male dancers were to come on stage clicking their heels because they were wearing spurs. Saul had been practicing heel clicks in place and was getting really tense because his spurs kept hanging up. Saul says, "For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this was happening and I feared it would mess me up on stage and would possibly throw the others off time. I mentioned this to Dick Oakes and Dick began inspecting my spurs. Then Dick suddenly knew the cause of the problem! He noted that the leathers of the spurs had somehow gotten laced on incorrectly. We corrected the lacing and voilà!, no more problem. I was still all shook up, but everything worked out all right. I never forgot that and always feel indebted to Dick for saving my day."
Susan "Suzy" Frommer has added running a bimonthly newsletter, The Santa Rosa Plateau Perspective, to the full-time job of running a landscape design business. She has a beaded jewelry business and sings with the Temecularks. She also dabbles in ceramics, basketry, and water color painting.
Saul and Suzy haven't danced ethnic dances for many years although Suzy does attend a tap dancing class. Saul keeps hoping that someone nearby, even a dance studio, will decide to offer classes in folk dance. It would be grand to be able to do some of those dances again. Saul can speak for himself when he says that he's mighty rusty. But then folk dancers have always been very tolerant of beginners and the like. All that matters is a good effort and enjoying the moments where you try to share the abundant culture that is stored in the songs and dances of the world's peoples.
Among the many joys Saul and Suzy experienced during those halcyon days of their youth were the many friendships they made all over the world. These friendships and the cherished memories endure and continue to bring them pleasure.
Dances Saul has taught include Arvanitiko Kofto, Banot Alena, Čačak, Debka Daluna, Debka Druz, Dodi Li, Ecseri Csárdás, Kalamatianos, Karagouna, Kún Verbunk, Kritikos Syrtos, Kol Dodi, Kuma Echa, Leor Chiuchech, Lesnoto (Bitola Moj Roden Kraj), Nigun Attic, Pentozali, Ravno Oro, Syrtos, and Zajko Kokorajko.