Hosting Folkfest dancers makes big impression on local host family

host family
A local host family with Slovakian Dancers who stayed with them.

By Megan Mayfield

We hosted Folkfest dancers for the first time 8 years ago. I had a friend who was helping find host families, and although we had never attended Folkfest, I said yes to help her out. I am so glad I did! From the first performance, we were hooked.

Each year, dance groups from 7-10 countries around the world come to perform at the Springville World Folkfest, now in its 33rd year. It really is a trip around the world, with dancers coming from countries in South America, Asia, and Europe. Each group comes prepared with multiple dance routines, so each of the 5 shows is different. These dancers work hard all year long to prepare and to save money for the trip. In order for an experience like this to be feasible for them, they stay with host families. We give them food and shelter and drive them to their practices and performances. We also show our dancers what it’s like to live here, taking them to fun places around the valley. In return, we get the wonderful experience of learning about life in other parts of the world.

In 2018, we hosted kids from a dance group called Zeleziar, based in Kosice, Slovakia. I knew next to nothing about Slovakia, but I was excited to learn. The whole group was about 35 dancers, and we had 3 girls and 2 boys stay with us. From the very beginning, they were just the sweetest kids and we had a great time together. We went to the Dinosaur Museum, the Aquarium, hiking, shopping, etc. The best was when they dressed my husband and I up in their costumes and performed part of a traditional Slovak wedding for us. It was so fun! By the end of the week, they were all calling me their ‘American Mom’ and I called them my Slovak children.

When they left at the end of Folkfest, I cried so much that my sweet husband took pity on me, and for my birthday he bought me plane tickets to Slovakia. The two of us went for 5 days to visit our dancers. They showed us around their city, and we went to one of their practices. It was so fun to see their dance studio and watch a rehearsal in action. The next day, we went on tour with them like groupies. They had a performance in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which is about 6 hours away from Kosice. We rode on the bus with them. We talked to many of the dancers, not just the ones who had stayed with us. Even those who don’t speak English talked to us, using their friends to interpret. I came away feeling like I have 20 Slovak children now! It was fantastic to see their complete performance (about 1.5 hours long!) and experience the audience’s reactions. They really are talented dancers and musicians, and I loved seeing their love for their country and culture. They received the longest standing ovation I’ve ever seen!

Another highlight of that trip was meeting some of the families of our dancers. We met Martina’s father and Lukas’s whole family. We loved them immediately. It’s amazing how much fun you can have with strangers who speak a different language! I felt a special connection with Lukas’s mother, Iveta, and we have communicated often through Facebook. The translators are helpful, but I really want to be able to just talk to her. So when I got home, I bought a Slovak textbook and got to work. Iveta helps me with my grammar and vocabulary, and sometimes I help her with English. I recently found a local man who speaks Slovak and he’s been tutoring me as well. 

Zeleziar, the folk dance group, celebrated their 55th anniversary in February. I managed to find some inexpensive flights, so my 13-year-old daughter and I flew over for the celebration. We stayed at Lukas’s house. I guess it was their turn to host me! I loved experiencing their way of life and learning to cook some Slovak food. I am now a firm believer that the best way to see the world is to have a local guide! In March Martina’s family came to visit us here and we took them to Zion National Park. Just last week, Lukas’s family came and we went to Arches, Mesa Verde, and Goblin Valley. The fact that we come from opposite sides of the planet and speak different languages barely matters. We laugh together, we talk about important things, we love each other. I truly believe that these relationships will last for the rest of our lives. 

Each year, as I watch the Folkfest performances, I am overwhelmed by how big and diverse the world is. Last year, for example, there were dancers from China, Peru, Bolivia, Belarus, Switzerland, Hungary and Slovakia. The music, costumes, languages and dance styles were so different from each other. Each unique, and each beautiful. Yet, I am also struck by how small the world can be. We can have different languages, customs and cultures, but somehow our hearts are the same. If there is one thing I’ve learned from Folkfest, both as a host family and as an audience member, it is that people are all the same. I am so glad my children have opportunities to see that our differences don’t have to define our relationships with anyone. Our relationships can be defined by respect, kindness, and love.