Encore Spring 2024

International Folk Dance Ensemble

Mountain Strings

Fostering Unity on the West Coast

International Folk Dance Ensemble’s Isaac Schaat and Amy Hawkes dance in traditional Ukrainian garb.

International Folk Dance Ensemble and Mountain Strings soaked up some sun this winter on their midsemester tour in Southern California. In February 2024 they took their show to Irvine, Escondido, San Diego, Ontario, and Thousand Oaks. In addition to their performances, the groups participated in three local outreaches. Two were held at local schools, where International Folk Dance Ensemble captivated students with dance forms from around the globe. The other outreach was held at an elderly care center, where Mountain Strings connected with residents through music.

Throughout their stay in California, Mountain Strings and International Folk Dance Ensemble fostered unity between diverse groups. The local receptions they attended brought together individuals of different faiths and positions: city council members, mayors, nonprofit representatives—even consuls general from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Hungary, Jordan, Pakistan, Senegal, and Switzerland. To celebrate shared values, local members of various faiths were invited to commence each performance with a prayer.

Mountain Strings performers smile after their performance in Ontario, California.

The students enjoy meeting alumni and sharing their love of BYU’s performing arts. Wanda Cluff, now 89 years old and a former member of International Folk Dance Ensemble, attended the show in Escondido. Her son, Jimmy, told the group, “My mom was so excited to enjoy your show and relive in part her years of dancing with the group 67 years ago. After your show, she was retelling many of the fun and silly times from her days. Dancing has been a fun part of her life ever since.”

Other interactions also led to meaningful connections. Mountain Strings violinist and fiddler Ellie Geslison recounts, “There was one woman who I spoke with after the show who especially impacted me. She told me that she played the violin herself and that watching me play the violin and fiddle onstage had inspired her to start playing again. I was touched that my talents and performance could mean so much to someone watching.”

BYU folk dancers perform “Syracovy,” a dance from Slovakia, at Classical Academy Middle School in Escondido, California.

International Folk Dance Ensemble and Mountain Strings will again greet sunshine in April as they embark on their tour to Mexico, where they will participate in a week-long festival in the vibrant city of Puerto Vallarta. In May they’ll head to the southern United States for a three-week tour, gracing stages in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. This monthlong journey promises a diverse range of experiences as the groups represent BYU through the performing arts.

BYU Folk Dancers (from left to right) Amy Hawkes, Tori Stone, Clara Smilanick, Abby Collins, Makeila Morgan, Janelle Wilson, and Tori Allen stand in front of the Balboa Theatre in San Diego, California.