Daniel "Danny" Matousek was born in Pasadena, California, on September 19, 1954, and was raised in Ventura, California. His mother claimed that when some friends dragged him to a high school dance, he began a love affair with dancing that never ended. How and when he finally burst onto the folk dance scene is not specifically known, but his Czechoslovakian descent would explain the impression that it was in his very blood, bones, and marrow.
He was introduced to Los Angeles folk dancing in 1972 by his friend Jack Kineer, founder and director of Ote'a, the Polynesian performing group. He danced with Jack's first group, Zadruga, until Jack disbanded it to form Ote'a. Danny then formed his own group, Bistrica, in 1979, while continuing to perform with Ote'a. He and his Bistrica members were familiar figures at Zorba's folk dance coffeehouse for many years.
In a special tribute to him, KPFK's Mario Cassetta credited Danny with always being among the first to offer his and Bistrica's support by doing free shows to help raise funds for the public-sponsored radio station. His enthusiasm and drive were a constant, as was his desire to promote interest in international folk dance.
In 1992, Danny joined the AVAZ International Dance Theatre and, because of his innate talent and strong leadership abilities, swiftly rose to men's dance director, then Associate Director and choral director, and costume director. A born "ham" and perfect mimic, Danny was an excellent showman with powerful, riveting stage appeal and a flair for bringing dances to life. As a director and choreographer, he was a genius. Ever mindful of preserving cultural styles, he married them perfectly to stage performability and used them as launching pads for his own creative interpretations, adding new dimensions to existing excellence.
That he was equally gifted in directing singers attests to the impressive breadth of his abilities. He never disappointed, creating one wonderful choreography after another, ascribing his own unique signature to everything he touched. His drive was intense and infectious, his vision fresh and clear.
Danny left AVAZ in 1992 to devote all his energies to developing the Zhena Folk Chorus. It was through Zhena that Danny truly found his bright star, and like a pied-piper, drew in more singers until Zhena numbered 22 women and 6 men. The chorus blossomed as Danny worked his own special magic on the vocal expression of Balkan music. The group was embraced by the ethnic community and, ultimately, were awarded the high honor of singing for a king. Performing in Sofia, Bulgaria, following a private performance by Zhena on May 20, 1994, eight months after releasing their first recording ("...And the Forest Began to Sing") and six weeks after Danny Matousek's death. King Simeon II got up from his dinner, intercepted the group as they were leaving, and paid them the ultimate compliment -- he couldn't believe the group wasn't Bulgarian. Thrilled by what he called "a stunning performance," he was impressed by the group's pronunciation, intonation, style, and feeling for music that was not innately their own. He asked, "Why do you sing our music, and so beautifully?" Two words, Danny Matousek.
Danny was the embodiment of all that this rich musical heritage offered, with a passion to match. He intimidated, inspired, nagged, and challenged the group's members, and they loved him for it. He had great dreams that became the group's own. Like a parent to his family, he loved, nurtured, and encouraged each of the group's members to be more than they thought they could be and, because of him, they were.
Danny passed away on April 12, 1994.