Duna International Folk Group, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Margaret Strickland, the founder and director of
Duna, as well as an active dancer (Living traditions,
May 2007, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA)
Celebrate the cultures of Eastern Europe at the International Folk Dance Concert, Saturday, 20 Oct, 7:00
PM, South Salt Lake Columbus Center (2700 S 400 East) - Duna, Zhivio and BYU folk groups
All I Want To Do Is Dance
The Story of Margaret Strickland
by Kalina Galabova
Born in 1934 just outside of Glasgow, Scotland, Margaret Bell Brown—now Margaret Strickland—did not walk until she was two years
old. Yet a few years later, when she was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she replied without hesitation: “Dance!”
And this is what she has been doing for over 55 years now.
Margaret left high school without a diploma to join a fine arts school, where she obtained a degree in ballet. She spent five years
learning how to be a dance teacher, and upon finishing her studies she was eager to teach any form of dance—from ballet to tap
dancing to musical comedy. And although the lack of financial resources forced her to earn her living primarily by selling buttons in a
small store, she still found time to go around little villages and teach ballet to children.
At the age of 21, Margaret married a young genetics engineer and left Scotland a year later, as her husband was offered a research
position at Stanford University. The pursuit of science by her husband quickly overshadowed Margaret’s passion for dance, and various
job opportunities kept the young family on the move. The destinations kept changing. First it was California, then Canada, then
Hanover, New Hampshire.
Life in Hanover was a mix of bliss and despair, hopes and disappointments. Margaret’s daughter Gina was born, but a painful divorce
had presented the young mother with the formidable task of raising the child alone. Life in a foreign land, with no secure job or help
from anyone, was tough, but Margaret did not despair. She took any odd job she could land and lived almost on nothing, but her
daughter was never left hungry.
In those difficult times, teaching ballet got reduced to a dream, a distant memory. The love for dancing, however, never left Margaret.
And it was there, in the White Church of Hanover, where Margaret got first introduced to Eastern European folk dancing. She danced
in the church recreationally for four years.
When she and little Gina briefly moved to Palo Alto, California, in a desperate hope to make a better living, Margaret was quick to join
a Serbian folk dance group. In 1965, when she moved to Salt Lake City to finish high school and try to find a better job, she heard of a
local folk dance group that had no name or formal leadership, yet it had attracted an impressive number of young people. Men and
women came not only to dance but also to play and sing Eastern European folk songs. Folk dancing and singing were in their prime. Yet
not for long.
The group performed in Utah and the neighboring states for several years, but then suddenly the performances stopped. Internal
disagreements caused the group to split, and many people left. The need for a better organization and enthusiastic leadership was
apparent. It was then that Margaret, who in the meantime had obtained a modern dance degree from the University of Utah, decided
to put her educational background to use and take charge. She formed a group called Narodna (meaning “motherland” in several Slavic
languages) and invited her fellow dancers to join. “We must keep folk dancing alive” was what she told them. Many of them agreed to
Narodna performed for over 20 years under the leadership of Margaret and a co-organizer. The group entertained its many audiences
with dances from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Meanwhile, Margaret made several trips to Central and
Eastern Europe to learn more about the culture and traditions of these lands. She also visited Bulgaria (Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Turnovo,
Gabrovo, Bansko, Koprivshtitsa, Melnik, and the Black Sea) and fell in love with the country’s enchanting folk music and lively dancing.
She liked the rhythm, the dynamics, the rich variety of choreographies and styles.
Margaret’s interest toward Bulgarian folk music and dancing grew over the years. She carefully studied her large collection of folk
dance videos (over 40 tapes!). She met with Bulgarian and other immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who taught her new
dances. She mastered the steps to perfection, and during her third trip to Bulgaria, she performed on stage with the Gabrovo Folk
Upon her return to the United States, Margaret decided to expand her involvement in dance education. She taught high school
students how to dance—that was one way to boost the waning popularity of folk dance and to recruit new members for Narodna. Yet
times had changed. The spirit of the 60’s was not to be experienced again.
Margaret parted with Narodna in 2002 with the intention to retire in Arcada, California. There she made new friends and enjoyed
dancing recreationally. But she missed the excitement that one gets only on stage. She returned to Utah in 2005 and formed an all-
female folk dance group, which she called Duna (“The Danube River” in Hungarian).
The river Duna (Dunaj, Dunarea, or Dunav) passes through most of the countries represented in Duna’s repertoire. Currently, the
group performs dances primarily from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria and wears traditional costumes prepared personally by Margaret.
Apart from choreographing, dancing, sewing, and embroidering, Margaret has other talents. She sings and she also plays the flute,
skillfully adapting its tunes to famous Bulgarian folk songs. She is a great entertainer not only on stage but also in private and keeps a
large mental encyclopedia of miscellaneous interesting facts. She hikes, camps, and likes to take long strolls. But most of all she likes
to show off her new dance group and looks for every opportunity to do so.
In her recruitment efforts, Margaret managed to find three young Bulgarian women, who joined Duna with no experience but with a
sincere desire to learn. Being with the group for over a year now, they often joke about having to come all the way to America to
learn Bulgarian dances. And with a talented teacher like Margaret, the learning has been both enjoyable and stimulating. Dessislava and
Kalina are often the first ones to arrive at the dance studio, and Vesselina is willing to drive all the way from Ogden even in a heavy
As for Margaret, she now dances four nights a week—recreational European folk on Mondays, flamenco on Wednesday, Duna rehearsals
on Thursdays, and African dances on Saturdays. Dancing continues to thrill and energize her, just as it did over 45 years ago. Nothing
tires her; it is only Bulgarian music that makes her heart beat a little bit faster.
Let’s thank Margaret Strickland for her immense contribution to promoting Eastern European folk music, dancing, and culture and wish
her many more years of teaching, choreographing, and performing on the stages of Utah!
A personal note by Margaret Strickland: “Our international folk dance group Duna welcomes new members without regard to previous
dance experience. Rehearsals take place every Thursday evening at 7 PM at Larry Pino Studio on 2261 Murray Holladay Rd, Salt Lake
City, UT 84117. For more information call (801) 268-4193 (Margaret).”