Oglebay Institute Folk Dancers Celebrate Culture

WHEELING -Getting in shape and making new friends in the new year just might be as easy as dancing – folk dancing that is.

The Oglebay Institute Folk Dancers will start their beginners’ classes in January. The group, comprised of many ages, practices recreational folk dancing year-long at the Stifel Fine Arts Center dance studio.

Bob Tomlinson, one of the OI Folk Dancers instructors, said those considering joining should not be intimidated by the dances. As opposed to “high dance programs” in which developing skill is the first priority, folk dancing “emphasizes social interaction.” Part of that emphasis originiates from the history of the folk arts.

“They are dances from different countries that common people would do,” Tomlinson said. “That’s where the term ‘folk’ comes from. Everybody can walk in and participate.”

Noting the need to keep folk dances alive to pass on to a new generation, Tomlinson referenced the identity-building nature of the art.

“The first thing they did was restrict folk arts,” Tomlinson said of historical instances involving conquering nations. “It’s what defined the people they conquered. Folk arts unite people of similar values.”

As different countries have different customs, Tomlinson believes the “positive social interaction” of folk arts “transcend language and other world differences.”

The four main classes OI Folk Dancers offer include English country dance, children’s international folk dance, teen/adult international folk dance and American square dance. Bob Tomlinson, Valleri Gordon, Terry Williamson and Ethan Fithen are instructors for the courses.

According to Tomlinson, there are 50-60 people in the group’s dance programs on a weekly basis.

With a variety of classes and age groups, the instructors vary the dances from slow to vigorous, easy to complicated.

“We mix everything up,” Tomlinson said. “Teens like to be as precise as possible; kids just want to have fun.”

For the international folk group, the Israeli Hora Medura, Turkish Ali Pasa and Greek Trava Trava are just some of the many dances performed.

Tomlinson added exposure to different cultures is just one of the benefits of folk dancing.

“What is unique is that it encompasses so many facets of things you want to do in the new year,” Tomlinson said. “It’s great if you want to get out and start moving. You meet nice people that can become life-long friends. There’s the social studies aspect.”

Encouraging those interested in trying folk dancing to sign up for classes beginning in January, Ethan Fithen, another instructor, said “it is probably easier to come in at the beginning of the year.”

Those wanting to learn more about OI dance classes can visit oionline.com or call Oglebay Institute at 304-242-7700.