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October 3, 2012

International Festival celebrates diversity, inclusion

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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Southfield-based Indian dance troupe Nadanta will perform at the International Festival in the Southfield Pavilion Oct. 5-7.

SOUTHFIELD — Fusing countless cultures, customs and crafts, the International Festival — hosted by the International Institute of Metro Detroit — returns to Southfield this weekend.

“This festival is a celebration of diversity, not just of Southfield, but the entire metro Detroit region,” explained Michael Manion, community relations manager for Southfield. “We bring in hundreds of people to this event, and this year we are on track to bring hundreds in again.”

The festival will be held 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 5, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 6, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Southfield Pavilion in the Southfield Municipal Complex, 26000 Evergreen Road.

The three-day event was held in Southfield more than a decade ago, before moving to Detroit, then back to Southfield, where it’s been held the last four years. The International Festival displays religious, cultural and ethnic diversity with demonstrations, imported products for sale and food tastings.

At the ethnic bazaar, for example, attendees will get the world market feel as they browse authentic art, clothing, jewelry, accessories, beauty products, teas, spices and trinkets from dozens of cultures, Manion said.

“Over the years, I think I’ve seen just about everything,” he said. “There’s some very unique, interesting things.”

In addition to the low-cost novelty pieces, there will be higher-end items and great gift-giving ideas, he added.

On the entertainment side of the annual festival, international music and dance performances will take place throughout the weekend.

Polish, African, Greek, Mexican, Ukrainian, Middle Eastern and other cultures will be explored through the world of dance. In particular, festival-goers can catch performances of the quick rhythmic footsteps of Irish dancers, the fiery swirls of Spanish flamenco dancers and the dramatic theatrics of the Nadanta Indian Dance Group, based in Southfield. 

Lisa Montes, co-founder and dancer of Alma Espanola, said her flamenco dancing is something that connects her with her Spanish ancestry and with humankind.

“To me, flamenco is such an easy thing for people to understand because it represents a wide range of the human experience,” said Montes, who said that her grandmother, Dame Maria del Carmen, helped bring the Spanish dance movement to Michigan. “My grandmother passed away, but we are continuing her legacy (with Alma Espanola).”

Montes, her sister Mari Montes, and co-founder Victoria Lara launched the group in 2002 and have regularly performed flamenco and Spanish classical dance around metro Detroit ever since. At the International Festival they will share Spanish culture, language and customs passed down from Carmen, who started dancing professionally around the world at age 14. Montes said it’s a dance style that draws everyone in.

“People can really get in touch with their feelings during flamenco. It’s also very interactive,” she said, adding that the crowds tend to join in clapping and following the rush of emotion — from somberness to celebration — during their routines. “Flamenco really shows the passion of the Spanish people, who are very warm, friendly people. It gives people the feeling as if they were not just watching as spectators, but leaving feeling the way we did performing onstage.”

Manion said that the festival, which the institute started in living rooms dating back to the 1920s, really draws on the melting pot feel. It demonstrates everyone “bringing the separate together to make one strong country,” he said.

Staying true to that, the festival ­­will kick off on Friday with a U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services swearing-in ceremony of new citizens at 10 a.m.

“The swearing-in ceremony is a great way to kick off the festival, especially because the festival is a celebration of diversity in the area. What better way to start things than to celebrate immigrants coming to America to become citizens?” Manion said.

Last year, 239 immigrants from 58 different countries were sworn in as new citizens, and they are expecting several hundred more to be sworn in this year, he added.

The festival will continue through Sunday with various cultural and religious demonstrations, ethnic food samplings and what Manion said is a unique opportunity for residents to explore the world, right in their own backyard.

The 2012 International Festival is sponsored by the city of Southfield, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, St. John’s Providence Health System, Comerica Bank, Federal Mogul, Flagstar Bank, Hubbell, Roth & Clark, PNC Bank, R.L. Polk, the Southfield Community Foundation, and C & G Newspapers. Weekend passes are $3 per person and $5 per family, with free parking. For more information, visit www.cityofsouthfield.com or call (248) 796-5130.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.