a little closer at A World A ‘Fair
By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Photo: Dancers representing Lebanon in the 2013 A World A’Fair festival; photo: photo: Scott Solsenberg
A World A’Fair is ringing in its 41st annual international festival with its theme “A Celebration of Festivals” this weekend at the Dayton Convention Center. Presented by Soin International and Dayton International Festival, Inc. (DIFI), the festival will feature a mix of food, music, dancing and exhibits that will display the diversity of Dayton’s ethnic backgrounds and cultures.
“It’s a great event for people to come and taste the food and drink from around the world,” John Pappas, formal stage chair of DIFI said. “You can also buy gifts and trinkets.”
“What’s curious is it’s all volunteer,” DIFI President Wayne Guldent said. “We are non-profit, all the venues are non-profit. It’s probably one of the largest all-volunteer events.”
New this year are the Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, who will have performances each day of the festival. It has taken two years to get the Drummers and Dancers from Burundi, the biggest hurdle being to obtain permission from Homeland Security. “We had to get a letter from the American Guild of Musical Artists in New York,” Pappas said. “They had to sign off, saying it was OK.”
Another international group, The Kenya Safari Acrobats, who will have performances on Saturday and Sunday, have always been a big draw. “They are a combination of U.S. citizens and Kenyan citizens,” Pappas said. “The room fills up when they perform.”
Also returning this year is the Beer Passport, which will be available Friday evening. The Beer Passport entitles the carrier to a 2-ounce sample of beer from each of 12 participating booths. As in years past, a naturalization ceremony will take place Saturday at noon for all those who will be attaining U.S. citizenship.
What’s in the (melting) pot?
There’ll be beer, dancers, dozens of booths and multiple stages. Where to begin?! Have a taste from this sampling of cultures that will be represented at A World A’Fair and start planning your adventure:
The American Czechoslovakian Club (ACC) was founded in 1975 with a goal of preserving the heritage of the Czech and Slovak immigrants and their descendants.
“The future of the American Czechoslovakian Club looks positive, with a solid membership base, and many dances and events to support our dream of preserving our Czech and Slovak culture in Dayton, Ohio,” Jeannie Farrell, ACC festival chairperson said.
Spectators can expect to see their Beseda Dancers all three days of the event. They will also highlight their wonderful ethnic pastry and world-class beers.
“[A World A’Fair] joins the ethnic organizations in the area, and gives all of us the opportunity to showcase our culture, and allows us to educate those who attend,” Farrell said. “It also is a great way to share with the community some interesting facts about our ethnic history in Dayton.”
“Madame Gigi’s Outrageous French Cancan Dancers were born at the World A’Fair,” Jeanette Watts, also known as Madame Gigi, said.
Having joined a French group doing French folk dances, Watts admired the response the Lebanese dancers were receiving with their pretty girls and sex appeal.
“I collected six dancers together, we borrowed blouses, skirts and bloomers and made ruffled petticoats, and the next year, we hit the World A’Fair stage,” Watts said.
Festival goers can expect an exhilarating experience from Madame Gigi and her dancers.
“The Cancan is a part of French heritage,” said Watts. “It’s an expression of joy, of joie de vivre, it’s got an irrepressible energy to it that makes people smile. It is also under-represented: there are scores of belly dance groups in every city in America, but there are only a small handful of dancers who have ever done the cancan – and it’s frequently done by a handful of dancers who put something together simply for one event. MGOFCD rehearses and performs year round. My dancers almost never get to walk. We sprint. And cartwheel, and flip and throw ourselves at the floor in the splits. THAT is the spirit of the Cancan! The dancers aren’t just shaking their ruffles. They are athletes.”
The Deutschland (Germany) group is currently composed of the Eintracht Singing Society and the Dayton Liderkranz-Turner.
“All the great food is prepared in the kitchens of our clubs,” Dayton Liderkranz-Turner President, Uli Gaertner said.
In keeping with this year’s theme “A Celebration of Festivals,” the group has decided to outfit their booth in honor of Fasching.
“Rather than go with the obvious choice, Oktoberfest, we thought it would be fun to focus on this German pre-lenten tradition,” Judy Schneider of the Dayton Liederkranz-Turner said. “In some areas of Germany, Fasching is also called Karneval.”
“I think an event such as the World A’Fair brings forth a representation of the heritage, culture and pride the greater Dayton Community has in their forefathers,” Gaertner said. “In addition, the display of the varied customs is a great way to learn about the traditions, food and life of the ‘old country.’”
Dayton Liderkranz-Turner has reason to be optimistic about their future.
“Our future is tied to our heritage and culture,” Gaertner said. “Next year, the Dayton Liederkranz-Turner Society will observe our 125-year anniversary. This anniversary is indicative of the fact our members and friends have strongly supported in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”
Maya Tech Learning Centers, Inc. represents Guatemala each year at the festival.
“Our organization focuses on Fair Trade products made by craftsmen, women’s cooperatives and individual artists that promote indigenous and traditional art – a strong part of the Guatemalan culture,” Karen Macario, co-founder of Maya Tech Learning Centers, Inc. said. “Products are for sale and all proceeds support our education projects in rural Guatemala and cultural presentations locally. We also feature fair trade organic Guatemalan coffee – sold freshly brewed by the cup or in 1-pound foil bags to enjoy at home. The coffee comes to us from cooperatives in the mountain highlands and is never warehoused, assuring quality and freshness. Lastly, our culture area of our booth will feature a vibrant celebration that takes place on All Saints Day each year in Guatemala – the flying of numerous colorful, handmade kites to symbolize a connection with our ancestors on this special occasion celebrated on Nov. 1 each year.”
Maya Tech Learning Centers, Inc. feels strongly about participating in events such as A World A’Fair.
“[A World A’Fair] is a significant event because the countries represented are non-profit community organizations with the desire to share their backgrounds and culture with the greater community,” Macario said. “The event showcases several cultures that make up the Dayton area and highlights the strong heritage that is alive in our neighborhoods, schools and families. Sharing various cultures strengthens our community by embracing our similarities and differences, building an openness in our daily relationships.”
The stage performances at A World A’Fair are a huge draw every year.
“The professional presentation of different cultures on the formal stage is a huge attraction,” Anupriya Krishnan, cultural chair of the India Club of Greater Dayton said. “The informal stage is more audience involved where people learn to do other countries’ dances. Spectators are often seen very excited and elated to be part of the informal stage. There is so much we learn as both participant and spectator by the educative and colorful cultural booths. We learn a great deal about other countries, as well as our own, because of different themes every year.”
Krishnan sees A World A’Fair as a great occasion in the Miami Valley.
“A chance to taste food from 30-plus countries under the same roof is a once in a year opportunity that no one will want to miss!” Krishnan said. “Age is no barrier when it comes to A World A’Fair. Everyone loves to be there each year!”
Last year, the Philippine-American Society of Greater Dayton took home several awards, including first place in the Overall Booth Display Award.
“Our win was the result of the cooperation of the organization’s officers and members in designing, building and manning a booth and cultural display that was in line with the theme of the year,” Armin M. Sayson, chairman of the board of advisers of The Philippine-American Society said.
“It is getting harder to keep the younger generation involved in the organization because many of them were born in the United States and don’t have the same attachments to their native homelands and people as the older generation,” Sayson, who is looking to acquire a community center for the Filipino-American community, explained. “Having a place to call home for the organization where we can keep our culture alive will certainly help.
“The community is fortunate the city of Dayton holds this event yearly because it allows the diverse ethnic communities to come together in a show of cooperation and unity and work together to showcase their cultures,” Sayson continued. “In spite of the differences, the ethnic communities are one in the sense they are all from the Dayton area and have a singular desire to entertain the people of Dayton in their diversity.”
The St. Andrew’s Society of Dayton has a multitude of things to offer their visitors.
“There are the dancers and the bagpipers, a host of native foods and drinks from Scotland, including their famous Haggis,” Chris Barde, co-president of the St. Andrew’s Society of Dayton said. “But we also offer the start of genealogic research into names and clans for those exploring their Scottish roots. Did you know there is an official tartan for the State of Ohio?”
No, I did not. Did you?
“Our society’s model is ‘Remember your heritage,’ but so many of us have multiple heritages and want to learn about them also,” Barde said. “More importantly, we can share what we know with those who want to learn more about their heritages.”
South Slavic Nations
This year, you can get a taste of Yugoslavia from the South Slavic Club.
“Since the South Slavic Club is made up of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, plus Bulgaria, we have several different cultures within our group,” Jim Rohal, first vice president of the South Slavic Club said. “We feature a different one of our countries each year, and this year our formal stage performance will feature a suite from Slovenia performed by our Zivio dancers. And our Junior Zivio dancers will perform on the informal stage and offer audience participation. At our booth, we will have live polka music throughout the weekend with an area for the public to dance. We will be serving wine and two kinds of beer from the region, along with ćevapčići sausages and salad, and many different kinds of pastries. In the cultural display area of our booth, we will feature full-size Kurenti costumes used in the Slovenian Kurentovanje festival to celebrate the coming of spring.”
Rohal understands the importance of keeping an event such as A World A’Fair alive in Dayton.
“Since Dayton has historically been made up of so many different ethnic groups, it is important we remember while we each have our own strengths, it is the combination of those strengths that has made Dayton what it is today – a great place to live and work,” Rohal said. “And while the original immigrants were largely from Europe, we now have people from all over the world whose diversity contributes to our strength as a community.”
One population that has been steadily growing in Dayton over the past several years is that of the Ahiska Turkish community.
“Ahiska Turkish Center wanted to represent its culture and introduce their traditions and values to other ethnic groups,” Janyl Sadabaeva, executive assistant to the president of Ahiska Turkish American Community Center said. “So, we learned there is a festival where each ethnic group represents its culture. Since we are a pretty large community in Dayton, we wanted our culture to be known, too.”
Sadabaeva looks forward to representing her heritage at A World A’Fair. So, what will we see from the Ahiska Turkish community?
“First of all, delicious food, beautiful clothes and, of course, wonderful music,” Sadabaeva explained. “Also, the warmness of Ahiska people.”
Sadabaeva understands how knowledge and acceptance of all cultures plays a large role in the future of a city.
“It’s very important to have for any city event like this, since it’s an introduction of every culture,” Sadabaeva said. “Within short days, a person is able to learn culture through food, clothes and entertainment of a new culture. Especially for Dayton, since it’s an immigrant-friendly community, we live in one city and need to learn more about neighbors. Such a nice exchange of cultures will allow us to understand better other ethnic groups, will help to build respect and solidarity, diversity will create a value of who we are and sense of tolerance toward each other, which is very important for the future of the city of Dayton.”
Keeping up with the Americans: The future of A World A’Fair
For all the wonder that is inherent in an event such as A World A’Fair, sustaining the event for future generations is a complicated and forever evolving challenge for its organizers.
“One of our main problems over the long-term is by the third generation, the kids are American,” Guldent said. “The language is something grandma speaks.”
“It can be difficult to keep it fresh,” Pappas explained. “We used to only have entertainers that were members of DIFI and there was not enough change, so now we bring in groups from other cities.”
Examples include a Russian group from Cincinnati and a Bulgarian group from Toledo.
“When we started, it was mostly European cultures represented,” Guldent said. “It’s shifted, and now there are more Asian and African cultures. It’s a reflection of how the face of America has changed.”
And Dayton is keeping pace.
“Dayton has embraced immigrants,” Guldent said. “It says a good thing about Dayton and about the United States.”
Soin International and Dayton International Festival, Inc. present the 41st annual International Festival, A World A’Fair – A Celebration of Festivals, which will take place May 16-18 at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. Advance sale tickets are $5 adult ($8 at the door) and $3 youth ages 6-18 ($4 at the door). Tickets for senior citizens are $5. Children under 5 and active duty military personnel are free. For a complete list of ticketing locations, participating ethnic organizations and a schedule of events, please visit aworldafair.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com. To read more from Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin, visit her website at jennerlumpkin.com.