The Festival of Nations Celebrates the Rich Cultural Diversity of St. Louis
The radiant energy audiences feel when watching cultural groups dance, sing and play at the annual Festival of Nations is matched by the joy those performers feel in showcasing their artistic traditions.
“It’s too bad we can’t get all the dancers on the stage,” says Shawn Jin, whose wife, Weiwei Fu, founded the Wei Dance Studio. “We have to do an internal competition to decide who will end up standing in the middle of the stage because everyone wants to be in the middle.”
The Wei Dance Studio returns to the Centene Forest Stage this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24-25, to dazzle audiences with colorful and vibrant performances. For Wei Dance’s 50 to 60 students, the Festival of Nations is the biggest show of the year. The majority of the dancers are of Chinese descent, and all of them take pride in bringing their heritage to the St. Louis region, showcasing traditional Chinese dances mixed with some modern, Western dance forms.
“This is the most important event for the dance studio,” explains Jin. “Everyone is very, very excited. Our performance from last year is featured in this year’s Festival of Nations poster and marketing.”
Jin and his wife also collaborate with local Chinese artists and artisans based in China to offer one-of-a-kind Chinese pieces of art and handmade gifts at their vendor booth for attendees to enjoy.
The Festival of Nations, the region’s largest annual multicultural festival, has a new layout within Tower Grove Park this year, with the goal of helping visitors and vendors beat the heat under the park’s massive shade trees. The celebration, sponsored by the International Institute, is anchored by three stages, with a row of vendor stalls known as World Bazaar on the north side and a row of food booths on the south. In between are displays from sponsor and community organizations, as well as Artisans’ Way, which features activity booths and hands-on experiences to explore art forms from around the world.
The family friendly, event-packed weekend offers face painting, free dance lessons (teaching styles like Spanish flamenco and Japanese bonodori), plus music workshops for children—and even an hourly parade for youngsters to show off their newly made instruments.
Over the course of two days, visitors can hear live reggae music, Caribbean steel drums and a Mexican mariachi band while enjoying Vietnamese delicacies from Resurrection of Our Lord, a local parish where Catholics of Vietnmese heritage worship in their native language. Or they can watch traditional West African, Polynesian and Punjabi Bhangra dance groups before sampling Eritrean dishes from the Red Sea Eritrean Community Center, which continues its 15-year participation streak.
The Iranian American Cultural Society of the Midwest—on a 25-year participation streak of its own—offers traditional food at one booth and Iranian crafts and cultural items for sale at another booths. Other returning vendors include The Puerto Rican Society, Caribbean Association of St. Louis and Japanese International Harvest Church—just a few of more than 30 cultural traditions represented, including Jamaican, Nepalese, Polish, Turkish, Egyptian and Afghan.
Take a relaxing stroll through the festival grounds, spend a few high-energy hours of activities with friends or browse the food booths for a stunningly diverse international feast in your own hometown.
The Festival of Nations runs Saturday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 25, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. A complete festival map, detailed parking information and a full schedule of events are all available on the festival’s website.
Featured image courtesy of Ronald Anderson.
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