On July 2, the BYU American Folk Dance Ensemble will leave the U.S. for 28 days to perform in Belgium, France and Switzerland. The International Folk Dance Ensemble has advanced technical skills in many cultural styles of dance from around the world, such as Hungarian, Ukrainian, Chinese and Irish, among others.
On this tour, however, they will go as the American Folk Dance Ensemble, representing U.S. culture by performing traditional American dances, including pioneer dancing, line dancing, square dancing and clogging. BYU folk dancers are required to give a little extra dedication in order to learn their routines.
“They’re business, accounting, family studies and exercise science majors, and they’re doing folk dance in addition to all of that,” said Jonathon Wood, the ensemble’s tour director. “They all have a great love for folk dance, which makes them so much fun to be around. This is a great group of students.”
The first performance on this tour will occur at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where the ensemble will be the main entertainment for a large and prestigious 4th of July celebration sponsored by the U.S. Mission. In addition, three women from the Folk Dance Ensemble will kick off the event by singing the Star Spangled Banner in three-part harmony. Afterward they’ll go to various cities to perform at festivals, participate in gift exchanges with mayors, put on firesides with local LDS congregations and perform at a few smaller venues. These rich cultural experiences haven’t come without a price. Each member of the team is required to make sacrifices to be ready for these extended tours.
“We averaged about 10 hours each week this last school year, and that’s with most of us working part time jobs on top of our academic credits,” said Kaitlyn Gourley, an exercise science graduate. “Fun things come up, like road trips or even weddings, and we miss them because we’ve made a commitment to be at rehearsal.”
Christopher Gallacher, a student studying statistics from Gilbert, Ariz., said the sacrifices that he and his team members make are well worth it.
“Through performing arts, people in the audience are able to make connections in a different way than they do through speaking,” Gallacher said. “They’re moved because they feel something. Through this tour we can share our testimonies of the gospel.”
The dancers themselves aren’t the only ones who see the gospel spread through folk dance. Colleen West, artistic director for the ensemble, said these students represent BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extremely well.
“People almost always come up after a show and say something like, ‘There’s something special about your dancers on stage,’” West said. “I stand in awe at the positive way the students conduct themselves in representing the Church first and also the university.”
To learn more about the International Folk Dance Ensemble, click here.