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Dr. Sándor Timár was active as a folk dancer in his teens; he was a member of a Scout folk dance group, then later organized a group in his high school. From 1951 to 1968 he danced professionally in the state-sponsored Budapest Ensemble, and then went on to found his own group, the legendary Bartók Ensemble of the 1970s, was an instructor at the Hungarian State Academy of Ballet, and artistic director with the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble (founded in 1950 by the late Miklós Rábai) in Budapest for fifteen years. He is the artistic director of the Timár Kamara Ensemble, which he founded in 1996.
Timár's instructional technique resembles the Suzuki violin method of teaching music like a language; beginning in early childhood. Timár compares his work to that of composers Belá Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, who collected thousands of folk melodies to preserve and teach their rich Hungarian musical heritage. He taught in Japan starting in 1981.
Timár has choreographed Hungarian dance suites for several American ensembles, including the Aratas Ensemble, Csárdás, Ethnic Dance Theatre, Radost, and the Csárdás Hungarian Dancers.
Along with Ferenc Sebő and Belá Halmos, Timár is credited with helping to organize the first Táncház (dance house) in Hungary. It was a smashing success and, as the Táncház movement grew, thousands of young people started to go from village to village collecting folk music, dances, and folk art, and learning how to play traditional folk instruments.
Besides his work with the above performing ensemble, Timár has always devoted time and energy to field research, filming, and recording, as a long-time colleague of György Martin at the Hungarian Academy. Since 1972 he has also been head of the Folklore Faculty of the Hungarian Ballet institue. (This a four-year course, with "freshmen" averaging about 15 years of age. Upon completion of the course, the students receive the equivalent of a high-school diploma as professional folk dancers.)
In addition to his folk dance research, teaching, and choreography, Timár is also a avid gymnast (his four days of really hard work with the AMAN Folk Ensemble dancers left their young bodies pretty well exhausted, and he danced along with them most of the time -- but no one recalls seeing him so much as emit one huff or puff!).
Timár's philosophy of ethnic dance views spontaneity and improvisation within a particular style as of primary importance. In his work with the State Ensemble he aims to get even closer to the original folk tradition than his predecessors did, and he is experimenting with training dancers to make the dances their own to the extent that they can improvise within a given style without "memorizing" fixed patterns or sequences. This approach, or at least the idea of such an approach, is not new; what's new is that Timár seems to be succesful at it!
Comparing folk dance learning to mastering a foreign language has been a handy mode of reference used by many folk dance theoreticians; Timár is particularly fond of it. In teaching, he stresses that learning to dance like a Transylvanian villager is like developing one's ability to speak another language -- first you learn individual words, then phrases, then whole sentences and, finally, you begin to create whole statements expressing your own thoughts and feelings (and probably never totally losing your American accent!).
In training his ensemble dancers, he is not opposed to the use of classical ballet classes and exercises ("Ballet is a useful language"), but feels that the folk material must be, as he puts it, "sovereign."
Timár is not the kind of teacher who "breaks things down." Observing him demonstrate quietly, over and over, without so much as a "1, 2, 3, 4" in either Hungarian or English, and then seeing the amazing results several hours later when the dancer performed the intricate steps with very few sequence errors, makes one ponder whether or not we who have been teaching for years and developing neat cue-phrases and dance dissection techniques, might not be seriously underestimating the capacity of the dancer to learn every bit as well visually as intellectually.
His directing and choreographic style is innovative as well, as observers of the State Ensemble have noticed. He has moved the large orchestra down into the pit, and uses a smaller folk-instrument combo, such as the Téka group that toured the East Coast of the United States, on stage as part of the choreography. He includes the chorus as part of the stage action, even dancing in some cases, and has introduced more peasant vocal technique (formerly the chorus was a large, separate body trained in a relatively sophisticated style in the Kodály tradition). He has added smaller choreographies -- something Timár is more at home with by virtue of his work with other companies -- to the old "classics" of Rábai's days, such as the Wedding in Ecser, and some of Timár's recent "big" works, such as his Szatmár finale.
The all-too-brief visit that Timár and his wife Erszébet spent in California gave a tangible hint of the answer to a question we old-timers often ask: "What will folk dancing be like in another few years?" Like the U.S. Patent Office that almost shut down over a hundred years ago because people thought there was nothing new to invent, so, too, folk dancing seems to take off in new, surprising directions just when we are beginning to think the well is about to run dry.
Members of the ensemble Csárdás, who had performed in Budapest in 1994, returned in 1996 to help Timár celebrate his 70th birthday.
Dances Timár has taught include Dél-alföldi Táncok, Dunántuli Csárdás, Dunántuli Táncok, Dunántuli Ugrós, Galgamenti Jatekok, Galgamenti Táncok, Hétlépés, Kalocsai Táncok, Küküllő-menti Táncok, Lőrincrévi Pontozo, Lőrincrévi Táncok, Mártosi Táncok, Mezőségi Táncok, Palóc Csárdás I, Rábaközi Táncok, Rimóci Táncok, Sóvidéki Táncok, Szatmári Táncok, Széki Tá:ncrend, Székelyföldi Táncok, Zempléni Táncok, and Zempléni Valtánc.