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The Slovak Ball 2024

In 2024, Global Slovakia will feature special guest authors who will share their experiences of Slovakia. Today, we are bringing you a story by Josh Datko.

It had been a while since I had worn my tuxedo. Fortunately, it still fit because I had the opportunity to wear it at the 2024 Slovak Ball hosted by the Slovak-American Cultural Center. I had very few expectations going to the event. I knew there was going to be a fashion show, lots of dancing, and a midnight buffet. All of this happened of course, but I also felt I participated in a gathering of a very special community of Slovaks living in the United States.

During the event I was suddenly surprised to hear the Slovak band shift from playing traditional folk songs to playing music from the group Abba. As the entire room started shouting “Mamma Mia, here I go again,” I realized I had witnessed this same energy in this Slovak celebration as I’ve seen in my wife’s Iraqi immigrant family. There's something about Abba that resonates with many 1st generation immigrants that unlocks a kind of nostalgic euphoria.

It’s at this point I realized how special this night must be for the mostly Slovak-born Americans. A majority of the conversations were in Slovak, peppered with translations into English for the younger generations. I could see people reconnecting with life-long friends and family. While I didn't recognize all the music, for most of the crowd, it was hit after hit of Slovak folk music. In addition to the music, they served halušky in small martini glasses which to the uninitiated could be mistaken as “mac-and-cheese” with goat cheese and bacon. It was a very New York twist on the Slovak national dish. At midnight, the aroma of delicious pirohy filled the air. These dumplings are a staple in Slovak cuisine, beloved for their comforting potato filling. There was a collective feeling of togetherness, nostalgia, family, and of Slovakia that even an American like myself could feel.

My daughters and I were on our first daddy-daughter trip. We were in New York to apply for my daughters Slovak Living Abroad certificates, which hopefully they will proudly receive just like their dad. They also participated as models in the fashion show at the ball. Fortunately, they aren’t old enough to be embarrassed by their dad filming them as they walked the runway in their Slovak-designed bridesmaid dresses. This fashion show, spearheaded by the +421 Foundation, was more than just a display of clothing; it was a celebration of modern Slovak designers honoring their cultural influences in unique ways. Although I'm not a fashion blogger, the pride on everyone’s faces was evident, showcasing Slovakia's famous artisanal and folk influences in contemporary designer clothing.

Comparing the Slovak ball to my wife’s family events, I don’t think my wife’s family, or the attendees at the ball, actively think, “We are doing this to preserve our heritage.” Rather, they are simply enjoying time with their friends and family as they have since childhood. These dances and songs are learned by imitating their parents, a tradition passed down through generations. As each generation hands over the baton to the next, these collective stories sometimes need a bit of polishing. Events like these are special moments when a culture can rejoice and remember. I’m just very happy that my daughters were able to attend and see a glimpse of Slovakia from Garfield, New Jersey.

The event was discussed on Radio Slovakia English Section on February 1st, 2024. We discuss this podcast and more in a previous post.

Author: Josh Datko, Founder of Tatra Tales - your gateway to authentic Slovak treasures

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