People may know Annie Lazarova as a nurse at Foster School, or as the mother of Filip, Eddi and Kalina (Markham School students in fourth, second and first grades, respectively), or as the wife of Yavor, who works in IT for a local tech company. But there is also a group of people who spend countless hours at the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center (BMNECC) in West Homestead, and they know Annie as a dedicated member and dancer in the center’s performing folk ensemble, Otets Paissii.
“We have at least 150 members [at BMNECC] who come to events, and not all of them are Bulgarian—some just enjoy the culture and the friendships that you make there,” says Annie, Cedar Boulevard, who is only Bulgarian by marriage, as Yavor moved to Pittsburgh from Bulgaria more than 16 years ago to pursue his undergraduate degree at Duquesne University with a Tamburitzan scholarship.
They met through the group, where Annie was also a dancer. When they graduated and began building their lives together, their involvement in BMNECC and Otets Paissii helped Yavor to stay connected to his homeland and both of them to continue to pursue their passion for folk dance. This week, the whole family is doing double duty for Otets Paissii, as they prepare for the annual spring concert this Saturday, May 18, at 6 p.m. at McKeesport Area Senior High School.
The two-hour concert incorporates traditional music and dance from the Pirin Mountain, Thrace and Sofia regions of Bulgaria. It will primarily feature BMNECC’s 25-member adult Danka Dance Group, with the children’s group appearing as guest performers. Two other Mt. Lebanon families—the Borisovs and Kletters—will be joining the Lasarovs on stage for this performance.
Katya Kletter, Hazel Drive, is from Bulgaria and dances with Annie. Like the Lasarovs, her family is involved at BMNECC, including her husband, Todd, and their three children. Her oldest, Sofia, a second grader at Washington School, will also perform with the children’s group.
Annie remembers meeting the Borisovs two years ago through her job at Foster School. She met Bozhidar, who is in third grade, and after recognizing Borisov as a Bulgarian name, she asked him which of his parents is Bulgarian. Turns out, it was both! Ivanka and Anton moved with their family to Mt. Lebanon more than two years ago. Now both of their children, Bozhidar and Darina, who is four, are taking Bulgarian dance classes at BMNECC and will perform on Saturday.
“It’s the only Bulgarian club in the entire city of Pittsburgh, so people come [to BMNECC] from everywhere—Bethel, the North Side, Munhall, Irwin,” says Annie. She also noted that other Mt. Lebanon families have been involved in the past, but stopped membership as their kids aged and took up other extracurriculars.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science awarded BMNECC with an official accreditation as a “Bulgarian School Abroad” in 2016. Students receive a certificate from the ministry upon completion of each grade level in the Otets Paissii school.
“We have a full dedicated day at the center on Sundays. The kids have language class, history, geography and dance, which overlaps with the adult dance rehearsal,” says Annie. “We speak Bulgarian at home, and this really helps to give the kids more background.”
Founded in 1930, the center is the oldest and largest Bulgarian-Macedonian organization in the United States, and in addition to the performing ensembles, it offers film screenings, Bulgarian sporting events, lectures, art exhibits, and, according to its website, it houses the largest collection of Bulgarian artifacts in the country.
“Pittsburgh has such a vibrant ethnic scene, with a lot of different groups for people to get involved in,” says Annie. “[BMNECC] is just one of them. I think it’s because we are a community that likes to try new things. We value the arts. We value other cultures.”