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Clog America
Dance group Shalom Israel is from Ashdod, Israel.

For 20 years, Clog America has been building bridges of friendship through music and dance. Members have traveled the world, participating in folk festivals, dancing their ways into people's hearts and having their own hearts touched deeply.

Three years ago, the group started its own festival, South Jordan International Days, to bring home some of that excitement and cultural experience.

This year's festival takes place Tuesday through Saturday and will feature folk dancers from four countries: France, Indonesia, Italy and Romania. And what is very exciting, says Clog America director Shawnda Bishop, is that most of these groups are ones Clog America has built special relationships with over the years.

The French group Erro Bat, for example, is from the Basque region. "This group's director, Gerard Cuesta, discovered Clog America 20 years ago and invited us to our very first festival," says Bishop. Over the past 20 years, they have hosted Clog America five times, including a visit last month. "We have hosted them two other times, so this will be a great reunion."

The Italian group, Monte Patulo, hosted Clog America at a festival 10 years ago. "They were going to come here in October 2001, but after 9/11, they decided to cancel, so it is very exciting to have them come now," says Bishop. "Plus, they are made up of small family groups, so it adds a whole different dynamic."

In 2004, Clog America was in Romania and was hosted by the House of Culture in Cluj Napoca. "The children's group from this same House of Culture will appear at this year's International Days," says Bishop, "so that's a special connection, too."

The Indonesian group is made up mostly of college students and will also bring a very different style of dancing. An Israeli group was also scheduled to participate but had to return home. There have been earlier folk dancing festivals in Springville and Bountiful, which is wonderful, says Bishop, because it makes it more worthwhile for visiting groups, and she's sorry the Israeli dancers had to cut their visit short. "They dance with a lot of freedom and energy."

All four groups and Clog America will participate in a Concert of Culture on Tuesday at Bingham High School. Country Spotlight shows will feature individual groups at various locations on Wednesday and Thursday. A Kite Festival and Street Dance will be held at SoDa Row at Daybreak on Friday, and groups will perform as part of the Salt Lake County Fair at the Salt Lake Equestrian Park on Saturday.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.wwapa.org.

The visiting dancers will also perform in assemblies at two year-round elementary schools, which is always a popular part of the festival for both the dancers and the students. "Principals tell us that it really opens the eyes of the kids, that it brings cultural studies to life, says Bishop." The students find that these people smile like we smile, have the same needs as we do, that we all have this connection."

Clog America just returned from a three-week tour in Europe that started with an appearance at the American Cemetery at Normandy, France, and included festivals in France and Portugal.

"It is such a rich experience," Bishop says. "Because of the LDS missionary program, we have a lot of dancers that speak various languages, and we find that our group becomes a catalyst for a lot of interaction with the other groups."

And that, she adds, is the main reason why they started International Days. "We want people here to have the experience of getting acquainted with other cultures and peoples. As travel gets more difficult and more expensive, people have less and less of an opportunity to visit some of these places. To have the dancers come here is a very broadening experience."

It's a lot of work to put on a festival like this, "and we couldn't do it without the help and support of the community," she says. There will be about 150 performers and other guests who are all housed with local families, and a lot of local businesses and other groups help "in a very big way to make this happen."

It is very exciting, she says, for the dancers to "have an experience with America, to see that we are a lot different from what they see on TV. It really is a true means of building lasting bridges of friendship."

Email: [email protected]

SOUTH JORDAN INTERNATIONAL DAYS

When: Tuesday-SaturdayWhere: Various locations, see www.wwapa.org for more informationHow much: Free