“Even in uncertain times as these, it is the similarites that we all share that unite people and make specatular events like Folkmoot USA a reality,” said Zeb Smathers, a member of the board of directors for Folkmoot and the master of ceremonies for the event. “And,” Smathers said, “celebrating those similarities is what it is all about.”
The 28th annual Folkmoot USA celebration came to the Smoky Mountain Center for Performing Arts on July 28. The performances were a celebration of the common ground between nations through music and dance.
Guadeloupe, Caribbean, Burundi, East Africa, Finland, Italy, Trinidad, China, Croatia and the USA were the nations represented in this year’s Folkmoot USA celebration.
The male dancers from the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean were akin to modern ‘break dancers.’ They incorporated both traditional African rhythm and modern break dancing technique.
Another group from Burundi, East Africa, amazed the crowd with a traditional performance on the amashako drums, usually reserved for royal celebrations.
The Canadian troupe made brightly colored streamers and decorative fans seem like the most natural dance partners. Anabel Ho, director for the Strathcona Chinese Dance Company from Vancouver, Canada, remarked that dance is a visual, universal language and, through that medium, ways can be found for peace and harmony. Ho said that performing in festivals like Folkmoot give her dancers a great experience. “It gives them a better understanding and appreciation for different cultures.” Ho commented that their purpose for being involved with Folkmoot was to bring Chinese dance to a wider audience.
Vancouver, Canada is located on the west coast. Ho said that there is an Asian majority in Vancouver and that there are 2nd and 3rd generations of Chinese descendants living in Canada. “It is an inside joke that we call ourselves bananas, yellow on the outside but white on the inside,” she said.
It is that cultural exchange that attracts these dancers to international festivals. Olivia Yeung, one of the 17 members of the Strathcona Chinese Dance Company, says that after the performances there is always a party with all of the nations at the Folkmoot center in Waynesville. “We can talk to our new friends and share thoughts and ideas and just mingle with different people from different cultures.”
The grande finale of the evening was a group from the USA, known as American Racket, who clogged to American folk music. Members of the audience may have gotten the impression that they were at an old time ‘barn raising.’ It was a competition with feet in what seemed to be an American form of Riverdance.
The concept for the Folkmoot USA celebration originated in Waynesville, N.C., and was founded by Dr. Clinton Border in 1973. By 1983, the idea was presented to Haywood County community leaders. The first festival was then held in 1984.
The name “Folkmoot” was derived from an Old English word meaning “meeting of the people.” What could be more accurate than that to describe the concept of the meeting of the nations for this festival? Since the beginning of Folkmoot, over 100 countries have participated in the celebration.