Western North Carolina is fortunate to be the home of the Folkmoot International Festival that has brought a handful of these groups to the region each year for 32 years and counting. While it’s fun to watch the groups perform, it can be easy to forget the reasons why they work so hard to carry on the traditions of their cultures.
So why do they dedicate so much of their lives to these almost lost art forms? Folkmoot group leaders say it’s because song and dance transcends all boundaries and cultural barriers. One doesn’t need to speak Spanish or French to understand what the dancers are trying to convey. The story is told through movement and expression.
Eric Solano, director of the Parangal Dance Company in California representing Philippines, said the dance company was started in 2008 to create awareness and promote Filipino culture. It can be an even more difficult task when your cultural dance group resides in the San Francisco Bay area and most of its members have grown up in the United States — but it also makes it that much more important for the members to stay in touch with their roots. The word “Parangal” means “tribute.”
“We go back to Philippines to study and immerse ourselves with the different groups — there are 13 to 15 indigenous groups from north to south. It’s one way for us to be close to our roots,” he said. “But it’s also important for us to understand why we dance and perform.”
While part of the group’s mission is to preserve, the other part is to educate other communities on the culture because having knowledge and understanding of another culture makes it harder to perpetuate negative stereotypes about its people. And that is at the heart of Folkmoot’s mission.
The mission of Ballet Folklorico Universidad de Tarapaca (BAFUT) in Chile is to unite the many different cultures established in Chile through the old folk dance traditions. While Chile is one nation, it is long and narrow and comprised of three different regions with many established indigenous groups. The group from Chile performs a number of different folk dances representing each region.
Through all these dances, audiences can learn how ancient cultures celebrated milestone events, like a wedding, a death, peacetime and wartimes, said Ramiro Malis Teran, director of the dance and music group from Ecuador.
“We’re here to show the world that culture,” he said.
Because Canada shares a border with the U.S., Maude T. Fillion, said it was becoming more difficult to hold on to the French-Canadian heritage in Quebec. Her dance company, Manigance Compagnie De Danse, strives to preserve a type of jig dance unique to the region. The mixture of Irish jig, European dance and American tap dance dates back to the 1890s when all three of those different cultures worked together in lumber camps. That is just one example of how a mix of cultures can lead to an entirely new form of expression.
This amalgamation of cultures can be seen nightly at the Folkmoot Friendship Center as the international groups join together to share their dance and song with one another.
“This is the reason we come here,” said Estela “Mimi” Ortiz Aguilu, director of the Areyto Ballet from Puerto Rico. “We might all be from different cultures but there’s no reason why we can’t find friendship and understanding.”