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Victoria’s Folktoria bridges generations and deep-rooted cultures

The Centennial Square festival celebrates cultural legacy on June 1 and 2
Dancers with the Luna Ukrainian Ensemble put on a colourful floral performance at Folktoria on Saturday (June 4) in Centennial Square. (Don Descoteau/News Staff) Shan-e-Punjab Dance School at a past Folktoria. (Courtesy Folktoria)

Besides being the founder of Folktoria, Sonia Grewal also works with youth through her dance organization, Shan-e-Punjab Dance School.

They are practising Punjab’s traditional national dance, Bhangra, for Victoria’s annual Folktoria festival celebrating cultural traditions within the community June 1-2 at Centennial Square.

Keeping cultural traditions alive is one of the main goals of Folktoria, giving stage to the many cultural institutions with strong roots in the community. This year, the Morris Dancers and Wong Shung Kung Fu Club celebrate 50 years in Victoria. It’s BC Fiddle Orchestra’s 30th. But one of the questions at the back of Grewal’s mind is how to keep today’s youth engaged.

Grewal, who is Punjabi and immigrated to Victoria with her parents at six months old, said it’s the focus of her Bhangra dance school.

“That’s what my job is,” she said. “[For] every group, that’s the biggest thing: how do you keep this going? How do you get youth engaged? I take the youth that are going to perform to Folktoria so that connection builds, their curiosity builds, they learn about others.”

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Now in its seventh year, Folktoria is a rebirth of FolkFest, which the Inter-cultural Association of Greater Victoria produced for decades. The Greater Victoria Folk Festival Society (GVFFS) now puts on the event, which represents more than 65 groups.

Each performance – whether that be Bollywood Beats, Lilia’s Polynesian Dance Co. or Flamenco Victoria, among many more – gets 15 to 30 minutes on a main stage.

Groups are also represented through food, fashion and song.

“It’s absolutely just beautiful. When you’re there, it’s just like music to your heart,” Grewal said. “It builds that curiosity of other’s cultural heritage.”

Members of the Hollytree and Island Thyme Morris Dancers perform at Folktoria in Centennial Square in 2022. The group is celebrating 50 years in the community in 2024. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)

Pam Rudy, on the board, first became involved in her late 20s when it was the FolkFest and later became a GVFFS director during its 2nd year. She participated in various dance groups – Saanich International Folkdancers, Kariatis Folkdancers, and L’Chayim Israeli Dancers – all of which weren’t connected to her upbringing but something she connected with.

“My parents played prairie-type fiddle and mandolin, so I was probably drawn to folk music in that respect. So finding places in Victoria that felt like they reminded me of home,” she said. “After that, I moved into other groups. I think it was the upbringing that was maybe a spark. And it may have been a bit dormant for a little while through university and then got me back involved again.”

Daniel Low, a senior member and line dance instructor with the Wong Shung Kung Fu club, volunteered with the event since ‘93 when it was FolkFest.

“I think it’s really important that Victoria has a celebration of folk dancing and the community’s historical and ethnic roots, because obviously Canada is a smorgasbord of ethnicity,” he said.

Grewal has fond memories of personal growth that happened throughout the years thanks to FolkFest and Folktoria.

“When I was part of the folk festival, I was very young and building my organization … When I was there, I felt quite a sense of belonging. That’s what I remember,” said Grewal. “It’s a neat feeling to see that happen again. Seeing the different cultures come together and learning.”

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Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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