Europe arrived in Gainesville this weekend as adults and children eagerly watched and sang along to musical performances, ate European cuisine and took part in games and activities at the 2013 “Viva Europe!” festival on Saturday.
The UF Center for European Studies, International Center and Santa Fe College hosted the festival for the second year in a row. According to the Center’s outreach coordinator, Gail Keeler, approximately 1,500 people attended, despite the rainy weather.
“People are eager to learn,” said Keeler. “If you just give them the opportunity, they’re eager to learn about different cultures and to experience things. And the rain won’t keep them away.”
The event took place at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Despite the rainy weather, guests could explore the Tour d’Europe, a tented area with display tables representing different European countries such as Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Russia. You could learn how to write your name in Russian, look at paintings of 18th century Istanbul or learn how to say a few words in Spanish.
One volunteer was eager to answer attendees’ questions, as they passed by her Russia display table, hoping to give them a new European experience.
“I hope they get different perspectives of Europe,” said Olesya Dudenkova, a graduate assistant for the Center of European Studies. “Not just the stereotypes associated with different countries.”
Guests could also taste some authentic foods from these countries, such as crepes, falafel and Italian ices. Younger children could also take part in the festivities by getting their face and hands painted and playing bocce.
Attendees could also purchase jewelry, dolls, literature and other souvenirs at the marketplace, where all proceeds would go toward future projects to help disadvantaged children in local schools. Lisa Booth, a PhD candidate at UF, said initiatives such as “Viva Europe!” is necessary for a successful relationship between the U.S. and the European Union.
“The state of Florida and the E.U. have significant economic ties and knowing more about this helps with that relationship,” said Booth, who studies European history with a specialization in Russia.
But perhaps the most enticing part of the festival were the various musical performances. There was everything from Irish folk music to English country dancing to traditional Greek dances.
Performers such as the Gainesville English Country Dancers, the Greek American Student Association and the Türk Kültür Merkezi Halk Oyunları Ekibi, a Turkish dance troupe from Montreal, invited guests on stage to learn traditional dances.
“Dancing has a long tradition for many centuries,” said Piper Call, a lead dancer from the Gainesville English Country Dancers. “In the modern day, it existed all over the country. We are very welcoming of all dancers. Anybody at any age can do it.”
And at the beginning of every hour, there was a “Top of the Hour Folk Song Sing-A-Long,” where guests could sing and dance to popular songs like the “Macarena.” Despite her past experience of performing for crowds of people, Ottilia Varga, who stunned the audience with her Hungarian bottle dance, was taken aback by the event overall.
“Everybody was very friendly and open,” said Varga, who is originally from Hungary and is now an organizer of the Sarasota Folk Dance Camp. “I think the event could hold more countries and more people.”