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Let the Lotus Spirit Move You! - Lotus World Music and Arts Festival 2008

by Sally McKinney
October 5, 2008
Bloomington, IN
Drawn together by live music and dance beats, a crowd gathers for Lotus in the Park. Outside a giant white tent, people listen to hand drums, straining to see the Sogbety Diomande's West African Drum and Dance Company workshop. Inside, sweaty dancers, mimicking their African instructors, stretch arms to dance like a flock of birds. Swoop to the left, hands to the chest, and swoop to the right.

One of seven afternoon music/dance/art workshops, Lotus in the Park is a public event of Lotus World Music and Arts Festival 2008. Held October 2 – 5, the 15th annual Lotus festival mixes sit-and-watch performances with get-up-and-dance sets. For Lotus 2008, more than two dozen world music groups from six continents perform in Bloomington, Indiana.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, performances take place between 7:00 and midnight in nine venues: the convention center, a night club, two churches, three tents, and a renovated downtown movie theater. Yet no one can see it all! Everyone must choose.

Some dance aficionados come to watch performances. In the past Lotus has showcased dancers from Royal Lao Orchestra, Chinese Folk Dance Company, and shown Sonia Poveda's Flamenco, Turkish Sufi dancers, and the Mahotella Queens. Others dance fans come to participate. Over the years they have shuffled, rocked, tapped, and clapped to the music of Paris Combo, Les Yeux Noirs, Lo'Jo, and again this year, Funkadesi.

Based on experience, I've learned to begin each evening with food and wine. At Malibu Grille, two Frenchmen at the next table see my potato—stuffed with bacon, cheese, and chives— and say to the waiter "We want what she has!"

At Lotus 2008, dance enthusiasts can be involved at any level they choose. Since all venues are located in the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD), an area five-by-six-city-blocks-wide, I can walk to a white-tented parking lot for Reelroad. This lively group gives traditional Russian melodies a post-folk spin. One couple keeps pace by locking arms and swinging. For a rare, slow piece, I keep the beat with a right, left, right!

The next group, Little Cow, plays Hungarian gypsy/rock/ska, has a perfect dance beat. A crowd of young people, many of them college students, jumps high in the air. Now I can use the syncopated rock step I've perfected since college.

The world spirit and vibrant energy of Chicago-based Funkadesi always moves me to dance. Their influences include Indian ragas, beach bar reggae, Latin club music, and African drums. Their ethnic clothing includes head wraps, a woman's silky tunic and pants, the bright flag colors of Jamaica.

On Saturday night, I have samosas and wine at an Afghan restaurant, Samira. Sogbety Diomande's West African Drum and Dance Company, from Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, performs in a nearby tent. Their stunning athletic dances, driven by doundoun, djembe, and other hand drums, have the audience entranced.

"There's a reciprocity between drumming and dancing," explains Harmony Harris. She and husband, drummer/composer/performer Dr. Djo Bi, live here in Bloomington and teach African dance.

When Sogbety Diomande performs traditional masked stilt dances on stage, he mediates the world of the living and the spirits of the departed. Mesmerized, we watch as a dancer on stilts kicks nearly 90 degrees. Another dancer makes twelve leaps while reaching to his toes, and does this twelve times.

Mid-evening, in a downtown church, I watch Son de Madera. Three talented men from Veracruz, Mexico, play guitar and sing in the son jarocho tradition. A woman appears. Dark-haired and lovely, she's wearing a long, luminous blue-green dress. Sensuous, yet untouchable, she taps out percussion on a plain wooden box. Artfully, she unwinds a sash on the dress. Alas, for the village guys, this beauty is beyond their reach.

On stage at the Bluebird night club, Pistolera creates a contrasting scene. This peppy New-York-based Latino group gets dancers moving right away. Here, the audience shows off their salsa, or samba, and whatever else. Happily, there are no "dance police" to point out mistakes. Happily, there's no need to "understand" world music. First, catch the Lotus spirit. . . then you'll understand.

Strategy and Tactics:

For more about the festival including 2009 dates:
Visit www.lotusfest.org

For dining and lodging information contact:
Bloomington/Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Web site www.visitbloomington.com
Phone (812) 334-8900 USA

Most often, groups playing danceable music perform in tents as wide as closed-off streets. Very few chairs; much space for dancing.

Buy tickets in advance to get lower prices. Each evening after 6:00 pm, exchange the ticket for a wrist band –admission to any performance that evening. Dress is casual; comfort rules. A jacket or shawl feels good on cool evenings. The best shoes have padded soles. People also wear running shoes, ballet flats, cowboy boots, and clogs.

The book "Bringing the World to Our Neighborhood: The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival" has over 100 photographs and a CD with Lotus music. Written by LuAnne Holladay, published by Quarry Books/Indiana University Press. Learn more at http://iupress.indiana.edu
People walk past Lotus sign during the free festival afternoon: Lotus in the Park

People walk past Lotus sign during the free festival afternoon: Lotus in the Park

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


West African dancers show participants how they do it in Sogbety Diomande's dance workshop

West African dancers show participants how they do it in Sogbety Diomande's dance workshop

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


Lotus banners reach toward the sky

Lotus banners reach toward the sky

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


Lotus in the Park - an afternoon of free music/dance/art workshops within the four-day Lotus World and Art Festival

Lotus in the Park - an afternoon of free music/dance/art workshops within the four-day Lotus World and Art Festival

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


A dancer from Guinea, West Africa, during a performance

A dancer from Guinea, West Africa, during a performance

Photo © & courtesy of Levi Thomas


Spanish dancer Sonia Poveda performs traditional Flamenco

Spanish dancer Sonia Poveda performs traditional Flamenco

Photo © & courtesy of Levi Thomas


Dancers perform with Kusun Ensemble, West African country of Ghana

Dancers perform with Kusun Ensemble, West African country of Ghana

Photo © & courtesy of Sally McKinney


Dancers from India perform at Lotus festival in 2006

Dancers from India perform at Lotus festival in 2006

Photo © & courtesy of Gerry German


A group called Slavic Soul Party plays while the audience shows their free-style. The occasion: Summer Night of Lotus, 2008.

A group called Slavic Soul Party plays while the audience shows their free-style. The occasion: Summer Night of Lotus, 2008.

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Huntington


Dancers join performers on stage during a Sidi Goma performance

Dancers join performers on stage during a Sidi Goma performance

Photo © & courtesy of Kevin Atkins

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