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Down Under: Bulgarian folklore as a passion and inspiration for ‎Bulgarians in Australia

Photo: Facebook/BulgariInMelbourne

‎"I think that Bulgarian folklore is in our blood, it is genetically embedded in us" ‎‎- this is the start of our conversation with a patriotic Bulgarian woman living ‎‎“down under” who manages to introduce generations of Bulgarians to Bulgarian ‎folk dances and traditions. Sonya Arabadzhieva has been living and working in ‎the Australian city of Melbourne for ten years. She is the founder and leader of ‎‎Bulgari - the largest Bulgarian folk ensemble in the Pacific region, numbering ‎over 30 people. Before settling in Australia, Sonya lived for many years in New ‎Zealand, where she founded the folk group Bulgarian Roses. ‎

Sonya Arabadzhieva
It seems that folklore is the thread that connects the Bulgarian communities in ‎this part of the world with their distant homeland. It is no coincidence that in ‎every major Australian city there is a Bulgarian folk group. "In Melbourne we ‎have another folk group - Horo, in Brisbane there is the folk group Zdravets, in ‎Adelaide there is Kitka, in Perth there is Vito Horo, and in Sydney they have the ‎Bulgarian Rhythms ensemble." Separately, we have the Bulgarian roses group in New Zealand", ‎Sonya states with undisguised pride. She says that every rehearsal with her folk ‎group fills her with incredible energy. ‎And more:‎ 

‎"I think that all people who come to this group have big hearts that love ‎Bulgaria. I think that we, in this group, have found our soulmates. The people in ‎the folk group Bulgari are my second family. The climate and friendly relations that ‎connect us are unique. Together with the love for our homeland and for ‎Bulgarian folklore, we really do miracles! And yes, we spend time and money, ‎and a lot of it, to live with Bulgarian folklore at the end of the world!"‎

Sonya has been dancing since she was 5 years old. She went through all the ‎children's and youth ensembles in her hometown Kyustendil. For more than 23 ‎years, she worked as a primary school teacher in Bulgaria, but in 2005, together ‎with her family, Sonya Arabadzhieva emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand. She later moved to ‎live and work in Melbourne. The folk group Bulgari, which she founded and leads, ‎regularly represents Bulgaria at local folklore festivals in Australia.‎

Together with several other compatriots overseas, in 2019 Sonya organized the ‎First All-Bulgarian Festival of Bulgarian associations, schools and groups ‎for Bulgarian folklore, which was held in Melbourne. 

The festival gathered ‎dozens of Bulgarian dancers from all over Australia and New Zealand on ‎one stage. In 2022, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment ‎of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Australia, the 2nd edition of the ‎All-Bulgarian Festival took place in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Sonya and her like-‎minded members from Bulgari do not stop travelling around the continent and ‎promoting their distant homeland.‎

‎‎"We are so busy, you can't imagine! There are months where literally every ‎weekend we have a performance. That's four Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes ‎Fridays if we're outside Melbourne. We fly, pay for hotels or travel for 8-10 ‎hours by car, just to go on stage and show the Australian multicultural society ‎our wonderful, beautiful Bulgarian dances, costumes, rituals, customs... 

In ‎addition, the folk group Bulgari participates every year in the National ‎Multicultural Festival which takes place in the capital Canberra. And this is our ‎highest reward! At this year's edition, we presented Bulgaria again, and it was on ‎Friday evening in the most watched time, with a 40-minute program, without ‎stopping, nearly 30 people on stage, 10 of whom children", Sonya Arabadzhieva ‎said in conclusion. ‎

Photos: Facebook/BulgariInMelbourne, private archive

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