Group builds bridges through international folk dance


Phoenix International Folk Dancers dance a traditional French-Canadian routine in the Great Hall of the Irish Cultural Center with arms linked. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Former Phoenix International Folk Dancers president Lois Postel watches as participants dance. Postel danced for much of her life, and travelled to Kenya, Turkey, Egypt, and Russia to belly-dance when she was younger. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Andrea Huelsenbeck, PIFD dancer for 8 years, dances with Michelle Dionisio, PIFD dancer for 6 years. "There are some amazing people here," said Huelsenbeck. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Andrea Huelsenbeck's feet hit the wooden dance floor. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Michelle Dionisio dances in front of a painting of the Irish countryside in the Irish Cultural Center's Great Hall. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Jo-Anna Magninie instructs the group in one of the more complicated choreographies. “We dance with such a supportive group of people," said Magninie. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Most dances required the participants to all join hands in a line or circle. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Vesna Miller dances in one of the night's more relaxed, slow routines. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Pat Gandea, PIFD dancer for 18 years, smiles while she dances with the group. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Jo-Anna Magninie laughs while joining in on a routine she had just instructed the group on. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Barby Ehrenburg, PIFD dancer for one year, dances during the end of the night's last song. (Nicole Neri/DD)

In an increasingly divided country, a group of people are bridging different backgrounds, cultures and ages by coming together through the love of music and dance every Tuesday night.

The Phoenix International Folk Dancers fill the Great Hall of the Irish Cultural Center weekly, joined together by traditional folk music and the pleasant beat of feet on hardwood floors.

“Everybody’s sort of like family here… it just becomes a part of your life,” said Lois Postel, the group’s former president of 17 years.

“It’s almost like belonging to a fraternity or a sorority,” she said laughing.

The Tuesday night dancing sessions are informal, lighthearted, and deeply welcoming lessons from 7 to 10 p.m. Despite its informality, the program has attracted loyal members. Many have been dancing with PIFD for 20 years or more.

The sessions teach traditional folk dances from Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Macedonia, Armenia, Canada, Israel, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Russia and the United States, among others.

Dick Watt, one of the group’s current dancing instructors, has worked with PIFD for 20 years. He used to teach elementary school in Mesa, and was also a music appreciation professor at Arizona State University.

The group is loose and casual, but a constant to come back to for many members.

Vesna Miller, who has been dancing some Tuesday nights for 14 years, said that she used to come all the time before she had kids, but had to take a break. She said now that her kids are 8 and 10, they’re finally old enough that she can leave them at home with her husband without feeling guilty. She brings them with her sometimes.

Joanna Meyer, who also used to be a teacher, said she started dancing with PIFD about 50 years ago, with a 30-year hiatus when work kept her from coming on Tuesday nights. “But as soon as I retired, I got back to dancing,” said Meyer.

Jo-Anna Magninie is one of the group’s main dancing instructors, and has worked with the organization for 18 years. She also currently works as a registered nurse. Alice Chong, one of the group’s main instructors, has been with PIFD for 22 years. She said when she was nine or 10, she used to make her neighbors dance with her.

“I guess it’s in my blood,” Chong said.

On Tuesday the group also had two first-time dancers: a businessman named Doug Moerick from Wisconsin and a dancer named Laura DiLembo from Canada.

“It’s been fun,” said Michelle Dionisio, who’s been with the group for six months. “I love the cultures, I love learning. And these people make you feel so comfortable. That’s what I love, when you can join a group and feel welcome.”

Postel said that PIFD is a teaching organization, and that it focuses on welcoming people of all ages, skill levels, and backgrounds, and allowing people to make mistakes.

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