Chilean pavilion adult ambassador Carolina Fuentes stands in the middle of a circle surrounded by other pavilion ambassadors as well as a few dozen youth who interact with Newcomer Employment and Education Development Services, an organization providing support and services to immigrant and refugee families who are new to the city.
The air conditioning is working hard to keep the small room at the NEEDS office at a tolerable temperature as Fuentes leads the group in some traditional Chilean dance moves. She raises her hands, they raise their hands; she shakes her hips, they shake their hips; in some cases there may be a language barrier, but everyone is able to follow the steps.
Beginning in June, ambassadors from 12 pavilions have participated in a series of free events where they shared their culture, music, dancing and food with people at NEEDS.
And about 100 NEEDS clients are getting the VIP treatment later today, when they board buses that will take them, along with Folklorama guides, to the festival's kick-off event at Assiniboine Park.
The program is new this year, but both NEEDS and Folklorama have determined it will continue as an important addition to the festival's community outreach.
"We’re thinking about the next 50 years and where we’re going to be in the future and part of that was the changing demographic of the city and the province and how Folklorama has anchored so many communities over the years and given them a place to call home," says festival executive director Teresa Cotroneo.
"Reaching out to newcomers who may not necessarily know about us was an important thing for us to do to connect them to Folklorama and bring that new demographic into the fold as we move forward."
NEEDS chief executive officer Margaret von Lau says the response from the youths has been "huge," with more than 70 attending the program sessions since they began.
"It’s a great opportunity to learn about the different cultures," von Lau says. "Having this live training coming to them is priceless. It’s from the perspective of not only helping them integrate into Canadian society, but they’re going home, they’re sharing with the parents who may not necessarily have the opportunity to go to Folklorama, especially if there are large numbers of children, it’s not cheap… having this kind of relationship and partnership is absolutely beneficial for us and for society."
"It’s something our ambassadors really love doing, of course, because they’re all about the pride in sharing their culture," adds Cotroneo. "So it’s more than just a business partnership, for sure."
Donovan Martin, 15, a youth ambassador for the Caribbean pavilion, looks at the collaboration between NEEDS and Folklorama as a way to communicate in ways not rooted in verbal language and connect with some of the newest members of the community.
"The basis of Folklorama is helping to express culture and to learn culture and there’s so many people who aren’t able to express it," he says. "When other people dance for us and we dance for them, we can bridge that gap. We can’t literally understand each other, but we can understand through dance or song or just by playing together."
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Monday, July 29, 2019 at 5:08 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of name.