Bathing in beer

A World A’Fair celebrates folk medicine at the Dayton Convention Center

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: Experience A World A’Fair with performances and food May 19-21 at Dayton Convention Center; photos: Scott Stoisenberg

Long before modern medicine emerged, people from all walks of life often used home remedies, passed down through generations to heal the sick. Some were practical and worked well, such as the old Portuguese remedy of boiling sea water and laurel and using the cooled mixture to treat infections. Others, like the 14th century Czech Republic (then, the Kingdom of Bohemia) practice of bathing in beer to boost one’s health, were probably more fun than they were beneficial. In fact, spas created for the beer baths still exist today.

Unfortunately, not all treatments were fun or practical. The ancient Strazarka, healers from the southern Slavic regions, including Bosnia, regarded stress as the primary killer of people. Their treatment method consisted of wrapping lead around various parts of the body, and in truly severe cases, they would drop molten lead into the water and have the patient inhale the fumes. The lead, once cooled, would then be read much the way tea leaves are read by tasseographers. While we now know that lead is poisonous, the idea that stress is a killer has become common knowledge. That means the efforts of our ancestors to find cures for illness and the wisdom they gained helped pave the way for the medicines and treatments we use today.

This year, the Dayton International Festival’s A World A’Fair, May 19-21, will honor the art and science of folk medicine from cultures around the globe. From the re-creation of an old apothecary from the Netherlands that specializes in various types of licorice drops to treat different ailments to the folk medicines used by Native Americans, the fair aims to celebrate the knowledge and skills from healers both past and present.

“I am just blown away,” says festival president Rosetta Schaffner. “I can’t wait to go around and check out the booths myself.”

Visitors will be kept busy with 33 different cultural displays representing 33 ethnic organizations. Each display will dedicate at least a quarter of its space to a culture based on a specific scene. Children will be given special passports, small booklets they can take to each display and have stamped by the vendor after answering questions pertaining to that booth. Once the passports are filled, the children can then register to win a basket filled with international toys. Adults can purchase Beer Passports for $10 that will allow them to sample and vote on beer from 12 different countries.

And while enjoying that delicious beer, attendees can watch performances from renowned performers on two stages. One stage is set up traditionally, while the other is interactive—audience members can get up on stage and learn some of the dances. Performing artists include the Kenya Safari Acrobats, The Tamburitzans, Steve Free, Troupe Roja, and Neil Jacobs. The Tamburitzans, now in their 80th season, are the longest running folk performance act in the United States. Formerly of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, these high-energy, high-intensity artists bring class, flair, and exuberance to the multicultural stage.

The Kenya Safari Acrobats were featured on America’s Got Talent, where they wowed the audience with breathtaking, seemingly impossible stunts.

Award-winning Middle Eastern dance troupe, Roja, hails from Dayton and is well known for their unique blend of various folkloric and traditional styles, along with their truly mesmerizing use of props in their choreography. These women have gutsy grace and theatrical pop.

After watching Roja, attendees may want to wind down a bit and enjoy the stunning, almost ethereal music of Steve Free, award-winning Native American musician and storyteller. He has been nominated for the prestigious Emerging Artist of the Year Award for the Americana music awards in Nashville, Tennessee.

Other events include a free naturalization ceremony open to the public on Saturday at noon, performances by Spanish guitarist Neil Jacobs, chess lessons for beginners by the Dayton Chess Club, and sticker and balloon animal giveaways by the Dayton International Festival Youth Group.

“We have a huge variety,” Schaffner says. There is so much to see and learn and do at A World A’Fair that “huge variety” quickly becomes an understatement.

And remember, if you end up with a little indigestion from drinking too much or eating too much festival food, you might want to pay one of the many healers a visit. They may just have the cure.

A World A’Fair takes place Friday, May 19 from 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, May 20 from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, May 21 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 East Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. For more information, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at

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