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Folkfest: Springville event helps break down cultural barriers

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SPRINGVILLE — They come from various parts of the world to play their songs, dance their dances and display their colorful costumes.

Performers at the popular Springville World Folkfest know, however, that the 15th annual event, going on all week at the Spring Acres Arts Park, is about much more than entertaining. The song and dance is a means of breaking down cultural barriers and putting people from all backgrounds on the same level.

"Dance is like a universal language. It is something we can all relate to," said Sean Martell, a dancer with a Scottish group from Canada that is participating in the World Folkfest for the first time.

Organizers and participants say they love entertaining the hundreds of people who attend the festival each year, but the mixing of cultures that takes place at the World Folkfest is the part they cherish most.

"There's not enough appreciation and tolerance for other cultures, but this is one way to try to achieve that," said Eileen Forrester, director of the Canada dance group.

"Events like these that bring people together from different parts of the world are the medicine the world needs today," said Gary Fields, director of the American Indian dance group Morningstar.

The dancers also recognize their roles as ambassadors, using their talents to share things traditional to their heritage. Spectators leave each night's performances feeling as though they've taken a brief tour of the world.

"When people see these performances they know these costumes, songs and dances are all original and native to these countries. They know they are seeing a part of the world that they might never be able to visit," said Teddy Anderson, director of the World Folkfest.

The benefits of the World Folkfest, however, extend way beyond the stage.

A special relationship of understanding and friendship develops between the dancers and the host families with whom dancers live during the weeklong festival.

Emily Markgraf's family has hosted Folkfest dancers for six years.

"We do this for our children," Markgraf said. "The idea is that we can't take them to see the world but we can bring the world to them. We have brought many cultures into our home over the years, and now our children have friends from all over the world, and they are friendships that exist with no barriers." Bonding also takes place between the festival's dancers. Before week's end, the more than 300 dancers participating in this year's event will become close friends.

"I came to see the different dances from the different countries, but I also came to meet new friends," said Korean dancer Son Mi Young.

Six countries are participating in this year's event: China, New Zealand, Korea, Spain, Canada and the United States. About a dozen countries initially committed to the World Folkfest, but financial and personal issues caused several to cancel at the last moment.

"This will still be a first-class event," Springville Mayor Hal Wing said.

Performances are scheduled each night through Saturday, except Wednesday, at the Spring Acres Arts Park adjacent to Springville High School, 620 S. 1350 East. Shows begin at 8 p.m.; tickets can be purchased at the gate.

The cost is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $3 for children 12 and under.

On Wednesday night a free street dance with the festival dancers will be held in the parking lot of the Springville Museum of Art, 200 E. 400 South.

E-MAIL: jimr@desnews.com