Dancing for unity

Posted 7/21/09

When you’re 11 years old, nothing seems worse than having to dance with a girl. That applies whether you’re from Indonesia, India, Finland or the …

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Dancing for unity


When you’re 11 years old, nothing seems worse than having to dance with a girl. That applies whether you’re from Indonesia, India, Finland or the United States.

Yet, 50 children, representing 11 different countries braved both sweaty palms and cooties in a display of native cultural dance at the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Denver Chapter of Children’s International Summer Villages.

“You tend to think about the world in a different way when you know someone in a different country,” said FiFi Af Bjorksten, a 25-year-old camp leader from Finland.

“When you watch the news about a place where your friend is you pay more attention and wonder how it’s affecting her. I think that’s a real benefit to all of us.”

To bridge cultural differences and forge relationships is the motivation behind Children’s International Summer Villages, according to Denver Chapter president Madeline Collison.

“In a world where peace is such a fragile commodity and intolerance is all to rampant, we believe the village experience plays a vital role in advancing cultural understanding and international friendship,” said Caryn Cheyfitz, a CISV volunteer who helped plan previous Denver Village experiences.

The young international guests, two 11-year-old boys, two 11-year-old girls and an adult leader, have been living together in Denver for three weeks to experience educational, cultural activities that foster multi-cultural communication.

Some of the activity themes include communication, cooperation and conflict resolution.

As for language barriers, well, Parker Lacy, 10, will tell you there’s no such thing. When his family hosted two boys, one from Poland and the other from Brazil, for a weekend, Lacy took the boys out back and engaged them in water balloon and squirt gun fights.

“Water balloon fights have no language barriers,” said Lacy’s mom, Lynn.

Lacy said he hopes to be selected for one of the international village camps in the future.

Until then, he’ll stand on the sidewalk at Aspen Grove and watch 50 of his peers, from around the globe, perform native dances from their homelands.

“We will make a dance now,” exclaimed one of the 11-year-olds from Germany.

Cue the chicken dance music with German lyrics.

Next up, Af Bjorksten and her team of Finnish delegates formed a conga line. By the end of the lyrics “you don’t need to be so great to do this dance,” the group had everyone in the audience, including Littleton’s Mayor Doug Clark dancing a jig.

For her first trip to the United States, Af Bjorksten said all stereotypes have been removed.

“You come over here thinking you’re going to get what you see in the moves,” she said. “It’s not at all like that.”

Eleven-year-old Josh Franklin agreed.

“I’ve been to France, Spain, Italy and the Bahamas, and you learn that everyone is different but everyone is the same,” said the Philadelphia resident.

In 1991, the Rocky Mountain Denver Chapter of CISV was formed by three women, from different U.S. cities who were lifetime CISV-ers.

South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce’s Cristin Tarr is one of them.

Since founded, CISV has sent over 50 delegations of Denver youth to international peace villages in countries ranging from Jordan, Spain, Norway, Finland and India to Thailand, Japan, Australia and Canada.

CISV is a charitable, independent, non-political, volunteer organization promoting peace education and cross-cultural friendship.


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