2017-06-16 / Ticket

Folk Dance Brunswick

Cut a rug every Friday at People Plus
BY BEN GOODRIDGE
Times Record Staff


FOLK DANCE BRUNSWICK meets every Friday from 6:30-9 p.m. at People Plus in Brunswick. Admission is free with a suggested donation at the door. 
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GEORGE SIMONSON FOLK DANCE BRUNSWICK meets every Friday from 6:30-9 p.m. at People Plus in Brunswick. Admission is free with a suggested donation at the door. PHOTOS COURTESY OF GEORGE SIMONSON BRUNSWICK

Every Friday night at People Plus in Brunswick, 20-30 locals get together and dance the night away. But instead of swing dance or hip-hop, international folk dancing is the theme of the night, combining dozens of traditional moves from around the world, including the Baltics, Greece, Scandinavia and Russia.

Folk Dance Brunswick runs from 6:30-9 p.m., and starts with a dance class designed for beginners and veterans alike before moving into a mish-mash of dances done in groups and duos that get faster and more complicated. Every few months, live folk bands from Portland and Boston are invited into the fold, which FDB instructor and folk dancer George Simonson said only adds to the invigorating experience.

“Folk dancing is very stimulating,” said Simonson. “Other dances have a fairly limited amount of things you can do, whereas these dances from around the world have hand gestures, foot gestures and the like. There is an endless amount of moves you can use.”

Simonson said that folk dancing is misrepresented in much of the United States, and is much more than dancing to music played by “dreary people with guitars.”

“It’s a constant whirlwind of strange and beautiful music like polka and Balkan tunes, very upbeat and never predicable,” said Simonson. “We work off a database of over 4,500 songs.”

Simonson said he started Folk Dance Brunswick five years ago with his wife, Mary Brennan, and a small group of people after they sensed that folk dancing was not doing well outside of big cities.

“Starting back in the 1950s, there were people all over America who thought the world would be a better place if we knew about the world’s music,” said Simonson. “Folk dancing started on college campuses and spread from there, but it’s quite a bit smaller now. Outside of places like New York and San Francisco, it’s becoming harder to find. There are some groups around Maine — Portland, Lewiston — but I wanted Brunswick to have folk dancing.”

Simonson said that while the FDB membership is multi-generational, the majority of folks who show up on Friday nights range from the ages of 50-70, and can remember when folk dancing was well-known and well-practiced.

“Now we’ve all found each other again,” said Simonson. “A lot of the people who come to Folk Dance Brunswick were among the founders of that movement.”

Averil Fesseden of Brunswick has been dancing with FDB from the beginning, and said that she had practiced folks dance “far in the past, and then didn’t do it for many years.”

Before joining FDB, Fesseden had done some contra dancing — which is basic folk line-dancing — in the Brunswick area, but had been yearning for something more.

“I loved the greater variety of Folk Dance Brunswick,” said Fesseden. “The international aspect of it was very different. I love Greek dancing, Balkan dancing, English country dancing. We’ve done some French dances, some Canadian. They are all quite different than one another. The variety makes it very interesting. With most dances you end up doing the same thing over and over again. Some people love that, but for me after a few hours that gets boring. Learning a whole variety of dances is really good intellectual and cognitive stimulation, very good for people who want to keep up their brain function.”

Fesseden said that FDB is an especially friendly and welcoming group, inviting in beginners and advanced dancers alike. Different dances are taught each week to help newcomers catch on faster, but she said everyone is always learning.

“The work that is involved is shared in the group, and I think that’s a nice feature,” Fesseden said. “People are encouraged to join in and make a contribution in terms of leading dances and teaching dances.”

Though Simonson is the main instructor and has been around since the beginning, he said he doesn’t like to take credit for what FDB does. That credit, he said, is due to the group as a whole.

“Folk dancing has always been about groups,” said Simonson. “One of our favorite types of tunes is called rapatna. It’s sort of like rap, and in the Balkan countries the whole community dances together. This music comes from villages where every person jumps in. You have the guys showing off to the girls, the girls waving their skirts, and old folks coming up to prove they still got it.”

But Simonson said that his favorite type of dance is the slower, sentimental type.

“I love pieces that are full of feeling, melancholy, beautiful and soulful,” Simonson said. “There’s something for everyone here.”

Looking to the future of FDB, Simonson said that his “only mission is to help spread the fun, intellectual stimulation, good exercise, social interaction and improved world harmony of international folk dancing.”

Folk Dance Brunswick meets every Friday from 6:30-9 p.m. at People Plus in Brunswick. Admission is free with a suggested donation at the door. To learn more visit folkdancebrunswick.com.

bgoodridge@timesrecord.com

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