(Photo courtesy of Glen Cote) “Members of the UMass Lowell Folk Dance Club dance at a club meeting.”
Every Tuesday at 7 a.m., the UMass Lowell Folk Dance Club meets at the campus recreation center and on Zoom to share two hours of folk dancing, bringing people and cultures together.
The club was founded in 2019 by physics student and current club president Sarah Bustin, and is taught by folk dance teacher Andy Taylor-Blenis. Bustin said, “The MIT Folk Dance Club got derecognized because there weren’t enough student members, and I thought, well, we really need to bring folk dancing back to the college level. . So I started a mailing list to generate interest, and I asked Andy if she would come teach, and she said she would, and in April we had our first dance with live music.
The club’s first dance was attended by 50 people and featured live music. Since then, the club has arranged to bring in paid guest instructors to teach folk dances from different areas of expertise. After remote learning began, the club began meeting over Zoom, a practice they kept alongside in-person meetings due to its popularity with members both in the state and around the world. all the countries.
People from all over the world brought folk dances and music from their cultures to the United States, where these dances are still practiced today. “America ends up being a place where everything freezes in time,” Taylor-Blenis says.
Traditional folk dances from countries like Ireland, Hungary, and Armenia were preserved in the United States and even eventually brought back to their homelands by dance teachers who lived in the United States.
These dances and their music have also changed over time and travel. Taylor-Blenis said, “A lot of times what’s happened in the past is someone would go to a country, learn all these regional dances, come back and go, ‘folk dancers won’t want all that so what they did was they took a piece of music, which came from a region, took the steps that came from that region, and they put those steps in to fit that music. And that’s what they presented to the folk dancers.
Bustin said the club does not teach dances that are religiously significant or specific to members of a certain culture.
The club shares dances and music from a range of cultures around the world. Club members can also request dances for the class to learn and dance. In March, the club taught a variety of dances, including an Irish dance, an Armenian Kurdish dance, a Pontic dance, Romanian dances, Greek dances and more.
Along with preserving and sharing culture, folk dancing can provide the movement, expression, and connection needed to elevate moods and build community. Bustin said: “[Folk dancing] helps me a lot because I also have depression and feel better after leaving proms. And another way it’s helped me is that I’m a lesbian and I feel like I can express myself when I dance. Especially with counter dances, because you’ll often see guys wearing skirts – people change roles a lot. It’s starting to happen more in international dance too, and there will be genderless dancing, and anything goes, and it feels really good to be able to be myself and hang out with the whole community.
The Folk Dance Club welcomes interested dancers of all experience levels and personalities. “People don’t realize that the shyest people are the ones who really do well in dance. They don’t need to have conversations – the conversation is written on the floor. The movement, the connection to the hands, the conversation is there, and you don’t have to talk to anyone. You just walk in, and you take your hand, and you join the circle, and you don’t have to be perfect,” Taylor-Blenis said.
Those looking to dance with the club can sign a waiver to show up any Tuesday or can officially join UMass Lowell’s Engage. Taylor-Blenis says, “People don’t expect perfection. Come make mistakes and then work your way up, and come make other mistakes and work your way through them.