Folk dancing club steps into community social scene

By Alycia White-Brown

Not even blizzard conditions and icy roads could keep a dedicated group of International Folk Dancers of Ottawa from their dancing lessons last week.

“It’s a passion,” says Lyne

Parent, 21, one of the club’s youngest members. “I could not imagine myself without dancing.”

Every Thursday night about 40 members of the club gather just off Elgin Street in the Jack

Purcell Community Centre.

People of all ages and backgrounds push the orange plastic chairs to the sides of the room, creating an international stage on the shiny concrete floor.

Men and women dressed in everything from blue jeans, dresses, high heels or slippers snap and sway to lively music from around the globe.

The club is the only International Folk Dancing group in the region. Members pay $60 a year or a $5 drop-in fee to learn dances from all over the world.

On a typical evening, dances are taught by members, however the club also sponsors workshops run by guest teachers.

Leaders show the group

traditional steps, including those from Eastern Europe, Scandinavian, South America and

Canada. The group practices each dance, learning it until it can be added to seemingly endless list of familiar dances.

As the evening progresses, other club members are encouraged to teach the group the dances they love best. As the music

technician turns up the music, dancers like Annette Brand get up to lead the class. At 72, Brand has been with the club since it’s earliest days.

“I joined in 1981. I’ve danced all my life in one venue or another,” she says. “But I like

international dancing for the calibre and the variety. It’s a chance to socialize, but also to learn about other cultures and traditions.”

Variety is the key to the International Folk Dancers of Ottawa. The club started in the early 1970s to give local dancers the chance to share their dance knowledge and socialize together.

Today, in addition to their strong and dedicated membership, the club has special theme nights and even boasts a Web site listing all of their dances.

In one hour of classes, they move from traditional Romanian dancing to the more popular Meringue.

If a new song comes on people partner up to help each other master new steps. This opportunity to learn is what keeps people coming back and new people joining.

“It’s a never-ending learning process,” says Club President Michele Roy. “I have been dancing since the ‘60s when it was introduced as a recreational

activity to keep teenagers busy. But I keep it up because I love to dance.”

Roy says she worries though that many people pass up the opportunity to try folk dancing

because they think it is “too old-fashioned or that it is only for little old ladies.”

“What they don’t realize is that it’s for everyone,” she said. “You don’t need a partner, there’s lots of great music and a

wonderful social scene. And, what a work-out.”