After several years of missing it, we kept our calendar clear for the Saturday before Thanksgiving to get to the Milwaukee Holiday Folk Fair. The Folk Fair is kind of a condensation of the various summer ethnic festivals, although in fact it predates any of them, and includes a lot of groups that don't get included in the summer programs.
One of the major emphases of the Fair has always been folk dancing, and instead of the one or two big shows per day that you used to have to buy a separate ticket for, now they have numerous smaller programs throughout the day. We got there early on Saturday and found good seats for the twelve thirty show, which included Finnish, Spanish, Greek, Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, and African-American among others. It's always very interesting to see the various dance groups and what it says about the communities and the groups. I always find the Finnish sweet and sad, since the group is always only gray-haired couples with no young people. By contrast, the Ukrainians and Greeks were large groups with lots of young men and women, important for the very athletic and exciting trepak style of the Ukrainian dancing in particular. The African-American dancers were all women, but had male musicians. The Spanish Flamenco group was also all women, but dressed as men. (I remarked to Georgie that this made sense, since if you are just starting out a group/school, black pants, bolero jackets and hats are probably lots less expensive than flamenco dresses--).
The other attractions of the Fair are food, shopping, and the cultural/craft exhibits, approximately in that order. We bought and sampled pastries from the Bavarians, Swiss, and Donauschwaben, pork loin dinners from the Czech, spring rolls from the Thai, and rosewater lemonade from the Arabs at various times and found it all good. (Donauschwaben are ethnic Germans whose ancestors moved into the valley of the Danube, or Donau, river.)
Shopping this year was rather lackluster, and we didn't buy anything significant. One thing that frustrates me is that the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dealers all seem to concentrate on cheap crap like backscratchers and crude bamboo flutes, or plastic toys, which I suspect are aimed chiefly at the pocket money of the multitudinous high-and grade-school students that are always bussed in to these affairs for a cultural field trip.
We saw a variety of lovely display booths, which are often set up as a room from a home. Having just come back from Ireland, we were disappointed by the plainness of the Irish booth. On the other hand, the Turks had a fascinating "Turkish bath" setup, and Georgie was particularly taken with the beautiful fabric of the traditional towels, which had gold embroidery!
Instead of being spread out over several buildings, the whole Fair fit into the huge new exposition center at the State Fair grounds, which made everything very convenient and comfortable. On the other hand, it seemed that there were fewer food vendors and dealers and more dancers than in years past. (Staffing the food booths is hard long work-dancing is more fun and short-term, which may have something to do with it.)
We had a very enjoyable time and were glad to have made it this year.