BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble returned , and went—for the first time—to Cambodia. It was the group’s 60th anniversary, and the Folk Dancers couldn’t have celebrated it in a better way than by sharing their show Journey with communities in Asia.
On tour, Folk Dance Ensemble contributed the proceeds from its performances to several organizations: the Father Ray Foundation’s Vocational School for People with Disabilities, Pratthanadee Foundation, the Chaipattana Foundation, and Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital. “It’s the best thing that we could have done over there,” says dancer Abram Allred. “It’s so much better when your proceeds are for another organization. The sponsors put in so much effort; they were happy to see us and support something good.”
More than 70 influential leaders attended a performance at the Koh Pich Theater in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that benefitted the construction of Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital, a local medical center for underprivileged women. “These guests were overwhelmed with the talent, precision, and professionalism of [Folk Dance Ensemble’s] performance,” says Joni Dowd, a public affairs missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in
Not only did Folk Dance Ensemble donate their proceeds to the Mercy Centre in Bangkok, Thailand, but they also spent time there. The center manages an orphanage and school for children, and it also provides shelter for adults and children with AIDS. Teenagers from the center performed traditional Thai music and then taught dances to the ensemble. Afterward, BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble and its accompanying folk band, Mountain Strings, presented a few numbers. “Even though [the center’s residents] are not in an ideal situation at all, we enjoyed being with them and they enjoyed being with us. They were able to teach about their culture and things they take pride in,” says Allyssa Pehrson.
During the tour, the BYU Folk Dancers were delighted to learn traditional dances from Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam as part of workshops with dance schools and universities. In exchange, the group also had the chance to teach American dances. “We just had a lot of fun. It was a good experience of two cultures coming together and seeing what we have in common,” says Allred.
A particularly memorable exchange happened in Bangkok when the group met with Srinakharinwirot University’s dance department. The universities performed and taught dances and then shared the stage for an audience of 700 people to present the dances they learned that day. “It was fun to be exposed to such a variety of dances that were not part of our repertoire,” says dancer Brandon Carter. “We got to learn more from the culture and learn why the dances are the way they are because of political and cultural influences.”
Folk Dance Ensemble visited historical sites and monuments in each country. In Thailand, the group In Cambodia, the group visited the temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, along with some civil war sites. “I was in awe of these people from Cambodia,” says Elliott. “A fourth of the population was wiped out. Even though they were starting from zero and were moving forward, they were so happy and kind and were trying to have a positive look on life.” Finally, in Vietnam, the students explored the historic and famous Củ Chi tunnels, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt House.
Folk Dance Ensemble also participated in devotionals and activities with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They held a nationwide conference in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia with more than 500 young single adults in attendance. In Hanoi, Vietnam, the ensemble enjoyed dinner and a night out in the market with local young single adults. “I think it meant a lot to [the members of the Church there] because it reminded them that they are not alone in the world and that there are other people who get to share the same talents with a community even though they are across the world. It was amazing to see the brotherhood and sisterhood there,” says Allred.”
After seeing how much the local Church members enjoyed watching the performances and interacting with the BYU group, Dowd expressed much gratitude: “We can’t begin to relate the incredible impact and magic [the Folk Dancers] made for these most humble, faithful members, many of whom will never have the opportunity to see something of this magnitude for years to come, if ever again.”