Adventuring through countries dotted with castles, palaces, and historical landmarks, International Folk Dance Ensemble shared a wealth of cultural dances and music along the way. The group visited Belgium, France, and Poland this summer and represented USA culture in the Hello!Schoten World Dance Festival and the Eurofolk International Folklore Festival.
The group began their tour by visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. “Seeing her house personalized [her story] and made it seem closer to home. We talked about how important it is that we harbor a love for people of all different nationalities and beliefs,” says dancer Cassidy Brown. “It’s not only important that we love them but that we help them when times of crisis come.”
After driving through picturesque countryside to Brussels, Belgium, the group gave their first performance of the tour at the Theatre Wolubilis. Among the packed audience were special guests under the patronage of First Vice President of the European Parliament Ms. Mairead McGuinness, including European Union officials and also civic and religious leaders.
The next day, Ms. McGuinness provided the group with a private tour of the European Parliament building in Brussels. “Their goal is to have peace in the world,” says dancer Andrew Duncan, “and as we come to understand cultures from different countries, I believe that’s possible.” Members of International Folk Dance Ensemble showed their appreciation by performing a hard-shoe Irish number and singing the hymn “Irish Blessing” in honor of Ms. McGuinness’s home country.
"Even though a lot of us can’t speak the same language, [dance] helped us understand each other."
— Cassidy Brown
The group then traveled to France. In Normandy, they visited World War II sites commemorating D-Day and the soldiers who fought in the war. “[The Omaha Beach Memorial Museum] had so many details about specific people and their jobs,” says Brown. “It was moving, it was sad—but it was encouraging to think what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers did for us to enjoy our freedom today.” The dancers also visited the Palace of Versailles and performed in the Massy Opera House.
Donning the name of BYU American Folk Dance Ensemble, the group then traveled to the Hello!Schoten festival in Belgium. As part of the festivities, the group taught and learned dances alongside other participants from countries such as Serbia, Malaysia, Belgium, Mexico, and Russia. “Not only were we performing our show, but we were watching others and learning dances,” says Brown. “It was a cool opportunity. Our group wasn’t just focusing on us but focusing on others.”
During Schoten’s sold-out closing ceremony, the audience showered the BYU students with applause. The singing and dancing went late into the evening as performers celebrated with and bid farewell to the friends they had met.
The end of one festival marked the beginning of another. The BYU group packed up once again, this time to head to Eurofolk in Poland. Between performances, they visited the Holocaust museum in Majdanek and the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Kraków. American Folk Dance Ensemble also met up with the Polish State Folk Ensemble, who taught the BYU group two different styles of Polish folk dance.
It was the sharing of dances that made the tour successful. “Being able to dance with and talk with so many different groups from so many different areas from the world was eye-opening,” says Brown. “It was fun to experience dance as a universal language that connects us to each other, even though a lot of us can’t speak the same language. [Dance] helped us understand each other.”