Archived Arts & Entertainment

Dance festival has gathered a crowd of supporters over the years

By Marian Larson • Contributing Writer

Not even a broken limb could keep one die-hard fan from missing a Folkmoot performance.

But then, “Folkmoot-fanaticism” seems to run in Karen Ford’s family.

The Lake Junaluska resident loves everything about the festival — the music, the instruments (she has a collection of between 30 and 40 — all purchased at Folkmoot), dancing, and most of all, the people. In 22 years she’s yet to miss seeing the international dance troupes that descend on Haywood County from the Earth’s four corners.

“If that man (Dr. Clint Border) hadn’t started Folkmoot, we all would’ve missed out on a lot,” she said.

One year, Ford and her grandmother had plans to attend an evening performance at the Stompin’ Ground. That afternoon, her grandmother fell and broke her arm. Ford tried to take her to the hospital, but her grandmother insisted that they wait until after that night’s show. They arrived an hour early, got front row seats, and headed to the emergency room after the last bow.

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Whether the attendee is a Haywood County native, a new resident, or an out-of-town tourist, Folkmoot USA doesn’t seem to have much trouble drawing an audience.

Folkmoot fans far and wide come every year to enjoy the two-week long Haywood County festival. They travel from all over the Southeast, and some even come from as far as California and Wisconsin. Judy Bromley, ticket manager, estimates that 30 percent of patrons are from out of town.

“Our country is such a melting pot, and I think people’s own heritage makes them interested in Folkmoot,” Bromley said. “And some of them have never done the international thing, while others have traveled all over the world.”

Locals, however, make up the festival’s largest group of supporters.

Willie Rhodarmer, a Haywood County resident and Folkmoot volunteer for the past 10 years, is a long-time supporter of Folkmoot and has friends who visit every year from out of town for the closing ceremonies.

“This does a lot for international relations and good will. It’s so exciting and fun to see how the groups get together once they get here. I think it’s one of the best things around,” Rhodarmer said.

Monroe, N.C., resident Reggy Gaddy found Folkmoot by accident when he was spending the weekend in Maggie Valley during the festival’s first year. He was looking for something to do around town, and someone mentioned a dance performance at the Stompin’ Ground. He has been hooked ever since.

“I haven’t missed a year. I wouldn’t miss Folkmoot for anything,” Gaddy said. “The first year or two, we wondered whether it would go on. It’s only gotten bigger and better since then.”

Gaddy thinks that Waynesville is a perfect place to host the annual festival.

“I’ve often said that if I left Monroe, I’d love to live there. The people are so friendly, and everyone gets so involved in Folkmoot. That’s intriguing to me,” he said.

And since he’s never traveled internationally, Gaddy sees something new every year.

“It gives me a chance to see things — people, instruments, dance — that I’ve never seen before,” he said.

For Odette Sinclair of Louisville, Ky., herself a folk dancer and teacher, Folkmoot is a way for her to be on the other side of the stage. Most of her vacations are spent in class at various folk dance camps, so Folkmoot serves as a respite for her.

“To be able to see folk dances that we do — and of course some that we’ve never seen or performed — is what I love. I love the variety,” she said.

She and her husband have been coming to the festival for 15 years. What used to be a trip for just the two of them has turned into five or six couples coming from Louisville each year.

One of Sinclair’s favorite performances was that of a Swiss group several years back. Sinclair grew up in a Swiss community in New York City and did Swiss folk dancing as a child. Watching the group’s Folkmoot performance brought back happy memories for her.

“They were so modest, not showy but true to the form of Swiss dance. They haven’t tried to glitz this. It was still a peasant dance,” she said.

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