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Clog America
Members of Clog America dance in a square in Maribor, Slovenia, on a recent trip.

Dance is about movement, rhythm and style. But it is also about connection.

When a dancer meets another dancer, it doesn't matter if they dance the same dance or even speak the same language, an instant camaraderie springs up, an instant bond takes hold.

For 20 years, the folk dance group Clog America has experienced this phenomenon, as it has traveled around the world, sometimes as the only representative from the United States, to participate in folk dance festivals.

"For 20 years we have been building bridges of friendship and peace around the world through music and dance," says Shawnda Bishop, founder and director of Clog America.

And now, she says, they have a chance to give back. "What better way to celebrate our 20th year of touring than to bring home a bit of that festival magic?"

This is also the year that South Jordan is celebrating its sesquicentennial, "and they have given us a lot of support," Bishop says. "When they came to us and said, 'What can we do that we haven't done before and that will be a special celebration,' the idea of International Days was born," Bishop says.

The weeklong festival, which will run Aug. 10-15, will offer a celebration of international music and dance. "Bountiful and Springville have wonderful folk dance festivals," she says, "but there hasn't been anything quite like this in the Salt Lake Valley. We thought it would be a great way to expose people, especially young people, to a variety of cultures through the magic of dance."

International Days will feature performances by Clog America as well as Maly Slask from Radzionkow, Poland, and Bartok Dance Ensemble from Budapest, Hungary. In addition, the Bingham High Dance Company is a co-sponsor of the festival, and several local international children's dance groups will also perform.

"We're so happy to have the Bingham High dancers," Bishop says. "They bring a whole other kind of dance to the festival."

The Bingham dancers do "mostly jazz, hip-hop and modern dance," company director Jessica van Klaveren says. "So, this is very exciting for us. It's kind of like the Olympics. We are hosting all these other countries, and we get to celebrate the universal language of dance."

The festival will include street dances, instruction and performances at various locations in South Jordan, culminating in a "Folklore Fun & Summer Bash" at The District on Friday and "Concerts of Culture" at Bingham High on Saturday.

Most events are free; "Concerts of Culture," which also serves as a fundraiser for the Bingham High Dance Company, has a nominal charge.

The festival is all about dance, but it is also about friendship, says Stefanie Rasmussen, a member of the Clog America troupe. "Wherever we go, we meet people who become friends forever."

Nowadays, technology plays a big part of that. "We're always asking them about Facebook, and that's how we keep in touch," says Rasmussen. As part of this festival, "we decided to do it backwards." She and two of the Bingham High dancers, Brooke Bashaw and Caitlin Ellis, have been in charge of a Facebook project to get connected with dancers from Poland and Hungary before they come.

It's been a lot of fun, Rasmussen says. "We get to find out what their life is all about, and they know they have friends that will be here when they get here."

That exchange of culture and friendship has been a big part of the Clog America experience, she says.

"I've learned that everyone has their own special thing, that everyone wants to feel special. And they appreciate it so much when you appreciate their culture. We are all different, but we are all dancers."

This festival "is a great way to bring out the culture of dance, to share something we have in common with people all around the world," Ellis says.

Dance is such a nice way to do that, Bashaw says. "Dance is a way of self-expression. It's a way to live in the moment. And to get these e-mails and to see how others dance — it's been a lot of fun. I love it."

This summer, Clog America has already participated in three international festivals. They represented the United States at the 21st International Folklore Festival that was part of Festival LENT in Maribor, Slovenia; they performed at the 12th International Folklore Festival Karlovan in Croatia — the first time the United States has been represented at this event.

And, they were part of the 44th annual Europ?sches Folklore Festival in Bitburg, Germany.

Because the Spangdahlem Air Force Base is located nearby, "Clog America has always been a favorite there," Bishop says. "A lot of the airmen and their wives come to the festival. When one of the wives told me that our performance made her proud to be an American, that was very special. We closed the festival there and got three curtain calls. After five hours of dancing, they still didn't want to let us go."

International Days will be patterned a bit after some of those European festivals, she says. "The idea of having different groups performing in different areas of the district and then coming together for a street dance and to teach families how to dance, that's very European." Some of the groups will also be doing presentations in elementary schools; education is a big part of the whole idea.

Bishop hopes International Days will become an annual affair. It's a very real way to broaden horizons, she says. "We hope the youth, especially, will feel a greater empathy for others, will appreciate the culture, music and dance that we have in common. This puts a personal face on a different area of the world. And the dancers are all hosted by local families, so there is a lot of opportunity to interact, to build bridges."