It was nearly 18 years ago, but Nada Dosenovic remembers vividly the day she walked into Willows elementary and heard familiar music coming from the other side of the gymnasium doors.
Inside, members of the Saanich International Folk Dancers club were practising. They were not only singing in Serbian, one of Dosenovic’s native languages, they were dancing the traditional setnja (Shet-nyah), also a cultural staple in her life in the former Yugoslavia.
“After everything that had been happening in my homeland, it was very emotional for me,” she says. “The tears came down my face and my daughter, who was with me and was attending Willows school, asked, ‘what’s wrong mom?’”
Being instantly reconnected to her ethnic roots through singing and dancing went a long way toward making this relatively recent immigrant to Canada, at the time, feel at home. She went on to become president of the dance club and is a founding member of the Greater Victoria Folk Festival Society, which is staging its second annual Folktoria, June 8 and 9 in Centennial Square.
The sharing of folk culture through dance, music and food, and the promotion of multicultural understanding in the community is what this festival is all about, says Docenovic, the society’s vice-president. It’s essentially a reimagining of the former Folkfest – but in its simpler days back in the Square when it was solely about celebrating Victoria’s ethnic diversity.
“Folktoria is something we are working on to bring [that feeling] back,” she says. “And doing it in kind, sharing your culture and sharing your traditions – giving without thought of getting something back other than the joy that comes with the sharing.”
Saanich International Folk Dancers, which mostly performs traditional Baltic folk material, is one of 30 organizations participating in the festival, from dance groups to cultural associations and ethnic food vendors.
With free admission to the Square and the shows, it’s a similar format to the old Folkfest, says Sonia Grewal, society president and the founder/president of the Shan-e-Punjab Indian dance company, which is also performing.
“It’s important to bring forward inclusivity and diversity in the festival,” she says. “I remember Folkfest and how I loved it and looked forward to going to it and later, to dancing in it. We’re trying to revive that original spirit, but also to bring in some new people on the committee with different perspectives. It’s a new beginning, and a way to honour multiculturalism.”
The festival opens at noon on the Saturday with blessings from Lekwungen elders and a performance by the Songhees Lekwungen Dancers. The regular schedule that day opens with the Tradewinds Hawaiian dance group and ends with the Folclore Alegre de Victoria Portuguese group. A deejayed International Dance Party winds up the night from 8:40 to 9 p.m.
Representatives from the Greater Victoria Public Library will be on hand from noon to 5 p.m. June 8, while the Royal BC Museum will participate from noon to 4 p.m. that day.
Sunday’s schedule runs from noon to 8 p.m. and sees a similarly wide range of dance and musical performance groups, from Scottish to Polynesian, First Nations to Polish.
Ethnic food vendors signed on include Sizzling Tandoor Restaurant (Indian), Cook N Pan Deli (Polish), Victoria Italian Assistance Centre (Da Vinci Centre), Kabab Me Crazy (Syrian) and the Songhees Seafood & Steam food truck (First Nations).