What better way to celebrate Spring than coming together to dance!
At the end of September, folk dancers throughout Aotearoa will be gathering in Gisborne to do
just that. Run by Folk Dance New Zealand and hosted by Gisborne’s recreational folk dance
group, Good Folk, the weekend of dance workshops features both visiting and local tutors and is
open to everyone.
Good Folk director and former president of Folk Dance New Zealand, Gisborne resident Jane
Luiten is hoping the weekend will whet local appetites for community dance, both from dancers
and local musicians. ‘Dance is the shortcut to connection and joy, regardless of age or
background or skill’, says Luiten, ‘There is no quicker way of bringing people together.’ Such
occasions, she adds, spring fully into life with live musicians on board, who equally enjoy
playing for live dancers. With so much musical talent in Gisborne, the hope is that the event will
be the springboard for future community dancing. ‘Dancing together is in our DNA – just look at
the district dance halls throughout Te Tairāwhiti and beyond. We just need reminding how.’
The feature act of the weekend, from which the event takes its name, are the Balfolk dance and
musician workshops held on Saturday, to be followed by an evening Bal, or Folk Ball.
Balfolk is a lively and participatory dance genre originating from European folk traditions.
It encompasses various partner dances, group dances, line dances and circle dances, with
each dance having plenty of room for individual expression and improvisation. The dances
range from fast-paced and dynamic to slow and graceful, catering to dancers of all skill levels.
Balfolk gatherings feature live music, creating a communal atmosphere and a vibrant dance
experience. The musician workshop run concurrently on Saturday is aimed at local amateur musicians who want to be part of the fun. Sheet music for the tunes can be obtained prior to the event, the idea being that after a day of directed workshopping, dancers and musicians can come
together in the evening, when the magic begins.
The inspiration for the Tūranga Bal is largely the collaboration of two seasoned dancers on a mission to grow the Balfolk community in Aotearoa. Renowned dancer, teacher and
choreographer Michael Parmenter, of Auckland, brings to the floor a lifetime of
knowledge and experience in dance. Michael recently completed a fellowship in community dance at the University of Otago. Kate Grace of Dunedin, also a community dance teacher, brings a cultural perspective. Kate grew up in France immersed in the rich tradition of Balfolk and has an innate understanding of its significance within the community. Like Jane Luiten, their efforts to create a ripple effect that touches enthusiasts across the country stems from a deep belief in the transformative power of dance in bringing people together and enriching lives.
On Sunday, the Appalachian clogging workshop draws on local dance enthusiast Elizabeth
Raines, whose clogging team in her USA homeland has toured extensively internationally.
Clogging is distinctly American as it blends dancing elements from the British Isles, Africa and
pre-Columbian America. The workshop will focus on beginning/intermediate clogging steps and
then integrate them into mountain-style square dance figures. In the afternoon, international folk
dance favourites are revised by Jane. The dance party on Sunday evening features simple
folk dances accessible for all. Over the weekend, Folk Dance New Zealand members will
also be learning a song specifically composed for them, in waiata-a-ringa workshops led
by Paraone Luiten-Apirana.
Folk Dance New Zealand is a national organisation that seeks to support all forms of folk dance.
The Tūranga Bal is the annual gathering for members but, Jane stresses, the weekend is for
everyone. The musician aspect of the event is supported by funding from the Creative
Communities Scheme. From complete beginners to seasoned enthusiasts, everyone is warmly
encouraged to join. ‘Folk Dance, by definition, is inclusive: ‘People Dance’, which doesn’t
require partners, experience, or skill particularly. Bring your smile!
The Tūranga Bal runs from 30 September – 1 October 2023. For further details and registration visit www.folkdance.nz