You Can Dance If You Want To

August 13, 2010

I took the DART (light rail) down to Dun Laoghaire, fondly called the "Irish Riviera," for the Festival of World Cultures, a weekend of music, crafts, and workshops from performers around the world. This seemed fitting, as I've actually met few Irish people since I've been here. Instead, it's been all Spaniards and Frenchmen, Argentines and Slovaks, Romanians, Chinese, and Japanese.

Dun Laoghaire (or Dunleary) was a cute city with gently sloping hills and picturesque sailboats moored in the bay. I was heartened to see plenty of booths advocating for various causes including being green and the realities of the World Bank. I wandered up to a stage on a grassy hillside, grabbed a beer, and enjoyed Afro Eire (Irish African drummers), Alale from Galway who blend Irish and Spanish folk music, Biko band which mixed French and Irish traditions, and the Najib Soudani group that performed classical Sufi dance to African and Moroccan beats.

I was struck by how natural everyone looked, how comfortable in their skins they seemed. In New York (at least on the L train) you have so many people dressing with a sense of irony, or looking outlandish (presumably for the sake of looking outlandish). There's such a self-consciousness to the culture that seemed refreshingly absent at this festival. As the Biko band settled into some light world grooves, people happily joined the big-bearded hippie with dreads on acid who had been dancing crazily on his own and started dancing arm and arm together. My first reaction (shamefully) was to be embarrassed for them, prancing around with those blissful smiles on their shining faces. But then I realized that these folks were really in touch with the sound, the music around them, the expressions of cultural pride without a hint of embarrassment, self-consciousness, or irony. No one was advertising a persona or canabalizing styles from the past. It was just simple, unadulterated joy. If you squint really hard, you can see them in the background of the video.

After, I walked around sampling olives stuffed with feta and almonds; moist, honey-soaked baklava with ground pecans and cinnamon; a delicious paella heaped with seafood, and frozen yogurt drizzled in Baily's. My co-worker Milan called to say he was hanging out with some Slovak and Czech friends over at the main stage so I began to make my way over to join them.