Billingham International Folklore Festival – Dance around the world

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Made in Taiwan

Billy Elliot would have been proud. Jamie Bell from Billingham, started his dancing career at his sister’s dance school in this North East town, then went on to star in the film Billy Elliot, and is now a movie star. There is whole lot more dancing going on in Billingham this week at the 49th  Billingham Folklore Festival

Billy would have loved the festival!

Traditional folk dance troupes from around the world have been converging here in our summer holidays to display traditional cultural music and dancing from countrys across the globe. The festival started way back in the 60’s – it’s quite a unique event – and probably the largest of its type in the world. We went to the gala evening performance on Saturday night hosted in the Forum Theatre, a lovely venue with wood paneling and with quite a sixties vibe going on itself.
There are groups from China, Latin America, the Basque country, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Peru, Taiwan, the USA and Macedonia to name a selection. Some shows are happening at  Dance City in Newcastle but most performances take place outside in an arena in the town centre, whatever the weather. I used to come to the festival when I was a girl with my mum many years ago and found the colourful costumes, the athletic dancers and the big smiles as heart lifting as exotic today as I did then.
We saw the Mexican group Decanos from the University of Guadalajara who were the first ever Mexican group to visit Billingham back in 1976. Formed from the graduates of the University at the time, some of the orginial dancers are returning to dance here again more than thirty years later. The more mature dancers are still as fit as many half their age and it was great to see how dance can be part of life whatever your decade. Use it or lose it!

Mexican dancing keeps you young!

We saw the beautiful Dance Village Art Company of Taiwan, with their quite stylised dance pieces depicting themes like spring, peace and the landscape. Peru brought us the energetic and colourful Peru Multicolor whose latin groove had more of a contemporary feel (maybe because of my Zumba classes?) and who used images from Peruvian legends and folklore tales to create their dances.

Lively Peruvian Lovelys

My favourites I confess, were always the Cossacks. The standard is the best I’ve ever seen. A full scale splits six feet in the air is no mean feat, the men (and women) are incredibly athletic and at times the dance is like an Olympic gymnastics display to music. I was sitting in the front row and the dancers barely looked out of breath after throwing themseles around at high speed for half an hour. The Volya Dance Ensemble are one the best Ukranian Dance Ensembles in the world. Even if they are from Canada.

Russian Roulette

The festival is branching out to include more modern types of dance shows like the incredible Demon Barbers. Their sell out Lock In Show which I saw early this year at the Whitley Bay Playhouse pitches hip hop against clog dancing in a pub after hours. No one makes Morris dancing sexy like the Demon Barbers
It’s quite a tough time for the arts at the moment but Reuben Kench, Head of Culture and Leisure at Stockton Borough Council knows that this is a very special tradition for this North East town which brought real multi culturalism to an industrial area of Britain long before it became trendy everywhere else.
The festival is on until 17th August and it’s a bit of a hidden gem really. Go see it while you can.

Colourful Caramba

Check out their opening ceremony video….