Robert Henry "Bob" Leibman spent a considerable amount of time in villages in Macedonia and East Serbia, studying wedding customs and dance. Most of his folk dance teaching is of the dances he learned from villagers. Although he teaches dances that range in level of difficulty, most are easy enough for the majority of folk dancers to learn and enjoy. His more difficult dances are suitable for exhibition purposes.
Of Bob's teaching, Dick Crum, noted Balkan dance specialist and folklore researcher, wrote "Bob is a low-key but methodical and incredibly patient teacher who knows what he's doing; his styling (especially in Macedonian dances) is an absolute joy to behold and emulate."
Yves Moreau, well known Bulgarian dance teacher and folklorist, wrote "I urge you strongly to take advantage of the valuable material [Bob] has to offer as well as the new insights he'll bring you through the showing of his audio-visual documents of spontaneous, living folklore from Yugoslavia!"
Bob was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. As a junior at the University of Chicago in 1961, Bob began a life-long interest in ethnic dance. After receiving a masters degree in mathematics in St. Louis, Missouri, he relocated to Boston to teach Mathematics at Boston State College. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he pursued a Master's degree in Folklore & Mythology at UCLA, which he finished in 1974. After spending parts of the next year touring the country teaching Balkan dance, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked on a Ph.D. in Folklore & Mythology. In 1982, he moved with his second wife, folklorist M. Jane Young, to Austin, Texas, where she taught Folklore at the University of Texas and he taught Mathematics at Austin Community College where he continues to teach to this day. He Finally finished his dissertation after 15 years as ABD and received his Ph.D. in 1993. The dissertation is on the structure of dance families and how these structures form the bases for the actual performances of these dances.
Bob traveled to Yugoslavia on research trips in the summers of 1965, 1967, 1968, 1972, and 1973. He also spent the entire academic year 1970-71 there on a Fulbright scholarship studying wedding customs an interest developed on his first trip when he was invited to attend a traditional wedding in the Macedonian village of Pečtani, just outside of Ohrid. He subsequently recorded and filmed weddings in this village on a number of occasions during his ensuing trips. During his 1970-71 year-long stay, Bob was headquartered in Novi Sad with his first wife, Slavic linguist Ronelle Alexander, and made considerable use of the University's ethnology library. He also traveled extensively in Macedonia and Serbia, but particularly in southeast Serbia where his wife was collecting data on the speech patterns of the Torlach population who lived there and spoke intermediate which differed from the surrounding standard Serbian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian languages. Because of her research, he visited a number of villages in this region and ultimately attended and filmed several engagements and weddings, one, in Halovo, a mixed marriage between a Serbian woman and a Vlah man from that village.
In 1967 and 1968, he attended seminars in Pula and Badija, run by Dr. Ivan Ivančan, where the instructors Ivančan (Croatia), Jelena Dopudja (Bosnia), Marko Ramovš (Slovenia), Desa Djordević (Serbia), and Vičinski (Macedonia). In 1971 and 1972, he attended the Macedonian folk dance / folklore seminar in Oteševo on Lake Prespa taught by Pece Atanasovski and Živko Firfov. During all of his trips, he also attended many of the major folk festivals of the country (Smotra Folklora in Zagreb, Beograd Sabor, Balkan Folklore Festival in Ohrid, Ilindenski Denovi in Bitola, Sabor Stvaralčog Folklora in Leskovac, Homolski Motivi in Kučevo, and even the 2nd Koprivštica Festival in 1971) where he filmed and recorded the village groups who performed at these festivals.
Bob devoted a good portion of his trip during the summer of 1972 to recording music to which he might teach some of the dances he had previously learned. He finished a project with villagers from the Soko Banja area in east-central Serbia, begun the previous trip, and subsequently released as LP and CD with dances and songs from the Soko Banja area, including Osamputka, Ostraljanka, Rumenka, Šokec, and Stara Vlajna. He also released an LP entitled "Traditional Tosk (Southern Albanians) Songs and Dances from the Lake Prespa Area," which includes dances such as Beraçe, Devolliçe, Grchkoto, and Nesho. The latter was a project begun when several of the American attendees at Pece's Oteševo seminar happened upon some Tosk Albanians who invited them to attend some weddings in their village, Krani, which is on the eastern shore of Prespa (across from Oteševo), but still in Macedonia. He attended with Steve Kotansky and David and Kathy Shochat and they filmed and recorded parts of the event (men and women were at different houses). Steve and Bob returned later that summer to do more recording and also get personal instruction in some of the dances. Earlier that summer, Bob and Steve also attended the first Leskovac festival of Serbian village groups and then traveled to the winning village, Koretište, near Gnjilane in southeast Kosovo, where they spent several days and filmed various age groups of men dancing to zurlas and tâpan. No record of this music has been released, though Bob taught the material in Seattle to a group who subsequently performed it at the Seattle Folklife Festival. Bob and Steve also filmed and recorded (but never released) music and dances of Albanians from Struga.
Bob led folk dance groups at Washington University, St. Louis (1963-65); M.I.T., Cambridge (1966-69); and in Los Angeles (1971-74). He was the first director of the Mandala Folk Dance Ensemble of Cambridge (1966-68) and was a folklorist with an M.A. in Folklore from UCLA (1974). He has given workshops at M.I.T., Michael Herman's, Barnard College in New York, for Yves Moreau in Montréal, for Larry Weiner in Washington, DC, at the Mandala in San Francisco, and at the University of California Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Riverside.
Among Bob's publications and dance syllabi for recordings are
- Dancing Bears and Purple Transformations: The structure of dance in the Balkans. Leibman, Robert Henry, 1992. 449p. Illustrated.
- Macedonian Folk Dances. Leibman, Robert, 1972. 40p. Illustrated. Dances presented by Petre Vasilev "Pece" Atanasovski. Edited by David Golber. Illustrated by Neil Siegel. Snark Records.
Dances Bob has taught include Beraçe, Čačak, Dancu, Deliagos, Devolliçe, Dzidzibarka, Grçkoto (Kalamatianos), Juta, Memedo, Mori Odajo, Nesho, Oj Devoče Rititi (Potam Povam), Osamputka, Paški Tanac, Pembe, Poloska, Rumenka, Sarakinskoto, Šokec, Sokobanjska Gajda, Stara Vlaina, Staro Selsko, Što Mi Je Milo, Todorka, and Trojanac.