2019 was the busiest year in the history of the young Melbourne-based folklore group Mladi Hrvati with preparations for three major events held within six months of each other forcing them to hold 2-3 rehearsals per week.
In addition to rehearsals, the management of the hall renovations, the remaining logistical/event planning and fundraising for their tour, along with personal work and family commitments meant that most members were running on pure adrenalin, and the thought of being forced to come to a complete halt would have been a foreign and unwelcome concept at the time.
But 12 months on, forced to stop – they were, and sit still – they did. Like many others in their situation, they had no idea how long they would be unable to continue on with business. Would they resume in one month? Maybe two? At worst maybe would they be returning in Term Three? But with adrenalin still pumping, and the belief that Mladi Hrvati stops for nothing (not even a pandemic) planning for at-home rehearsals went into full swing immediately.
After all, they had scheduled performances that they needed to be ready for.
Detailed dance and music tutorials, along with practice tracks were created and sent to members within a week of the shutdown, and in the weeks that followed, dance challenges were set for the young members each week in the hope that it would keep the practice up because they would be back to business as usual in no time – or so they thought. As the weeks turned into months, they began to realise that 2020 was slowly creeping away from them, and there was not much that they could do about it.
After a brief glimmer of hope for a return in Term Three, the second lockdown was announced in Melbourne and it hit like an emotional tonne of bricks.
“Was this actually happening? The thought that we would continue to be withheld from our family and friends and the things that we loved while other states were getting on with life as normal was almost too much to bear. But we began to accept that this year would have to be written off, and so many plans that were made must be put on hold until further notice.
We began to feel for our younger members who had already been isolated from their school and Mladi Hrvati friends for months. We knew that we needed to find a way for them to feel connected and engaged with the group, so along came the first Zoom catch up. An easy Show and Tell for the Juniors and a check-in with the Intermediates to see how they’d been coping, and a chance to talk about any new hobbies they’d picked up over lockdown. The smiles, the laughter, and the talking! Oh my! Where was that mute button when you needed it?! The first Zoom catch up was a much-needed breath of fresh air for the youngsters, so it became a weekly ritual for each group,” Maya Juka said.
As detailed in the Hrvatski Vjesnik, the Juniors have had a weekly outlet with show and tells, dress-up weeks, bake-along sessions where they got to make their own kid-friendly desserts, joke telling and even making their own lava lamps in a science session.
“The Intermediates are a little bit older and a whole lot cooler, but still liked to have fun with things like Two Truths and a Lie, and baking sessions where they made their own brownies and apple strudel from scratch. Mostly they loved to talk to each other about life in general – what they’d been watching/listening to, anything that might’ve sparked their interest during the lockdown, or simply the highs and lows of their week. Whatever the subject or activity, our weekly Zoom sessions provided a sense of normality and boost of morale for our youngsters, and were a highlight that most looked forward to in their week.
We strive to preserve our Croatian culture for future generations here in Australia, but it is just as important that we nurture and help maintain the strong friendships and bonds that have been formed through Folklorna Grupa Mladi Hrvati. These friendships are the budding blossoms that will one day keep our community strong enough to further preserve our culture for future generations. Na mladima svijet ostaje.”