As part of the summer bluegrass and clogging series that takes over Main Street with an array of bright outfits and smiling faces, amid a healthy dusting of cornmeal, the local ambassadors of culture openly welcomed the dance troupe Talija to join in on the fun.
A beloved fixture of the Folkmoot international festival, the Serbian group of musicians and twirlers immediately won over any within an earshot of Waynesville. Draped in traditional attire and facial decorations, the teenage ensemble stepped onto the cornmeal-laced pavement as a foreign nation, thousands of miles away on a map. Magically, they moved a little bit closer that night for all who bared witness.
“I love it here in Western North Carolina,” said Dragan Pantelic, director of Talija. “The people, the nature here is just like in Serbia. People here are always friendly and always make you feel at home.”
Traveling around the world some 10 months of the year, the troupe performs a native style of dance that contains a European stew of influences as varied and unique as the country itself. The group has appeared twice before at Folkmoot, which is something Pantelic looks forward to.
“For me, the main thing with this festival is having the kids come to a new country,” he said. “They find new friends and new people and new places. When we come here, we want to give the crowd energy, and we hope they enjoy it.”
Sitting on a nearby curb, Pantelic’s daughter Andjela, one of the performers, is soaking in all of what the region offers.
“I enjoy traveling, and I like it here. We want to show the crowd our best,” she said. “We want to show our culture and our people to everyone.”
As the presentation came to a climax, onlookers roared with applause and whistles of appreciation and approval. With three young children in tow (ages 1, 3 and 5), Waynesville resident Rebecca Ingle feels privileged something like this can be found in her own backyard.
“They were phenomenal; I truly enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s interesting how my perspective of this festival has changed from being a spectator to now being a parent and bringing my children here and exposing them to different things.”
Hanging off their mother like a jungle gym, the young trio is all wide-eyed excitement and giggles with the atmosphere surrounding them.
“I like the fact this shows them different cultures without us having to leave the area,” said Ingle. “I love how it inspires the kids, and I’m really glad we have something like this. I hope the performers get as much out of it as we do.”
Corralling the ensemble back onto the bus for another performance at the Stompin‘ Ground in Maggie Valley, Pantelic has a look of satisfaction on his face.
“You know, we spend most of the year traveling and performing,” he said. “Out of all the festivals and shows, this one is my favorite.”
With a bow of thanks to the audience, Talija hands over the reins to bluegrass quartet Flat Creek and square-dance caller Joe Sam Queen.
“The great thing about square dancing is the hospitality and how social it is,” said Queen. “You meet your neighbors, your friends, your relatives. All you need to know is your left hand from your right hand and what gender you are.”
Rotating and shuffling around the street with the utmost meticulous style and grace, the Green Valley Cloggers displayed the traditional rhythms and techniques, never once losing step with the fast-picking band hailing from eastern Tennessee.
Soon, folks from every corner flood the street and partake in the hoot and holler provoking gyration drifting through downtown. From manic motions to perfectly aligned movements, the pace switches from a hoedown to a slow dance, with not one female left to sit alone in the wings without a dance partner. Like a little pack of asteroids, toddler “couples” orbit around their young, middle-aged and elderly parental planets.
Catching his breath for a moment, Leicester resident Ken Brame stands to the side.
“I’ve been to Folkmoot a few times,” he said. “The music is great and really gets your attention. It’s great Waynesville has all of this. It’s uplifting.”
With the mystical Smokies surrounding the community like a nurturing mother, the bluegrass melodies echo off the ancient hills as if to bring the pages of history together.
“This is a great community to live in and visit,” said Queen. “The Appalachians beckon those near and far to come join the circle.”
Want to go?
Catch the last downtown street dance of the year in Waynesville from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, featuring Eddie Rose & Highway Forty with the J Creek Cloggers. Held on Main Street in front of the historic courthouse. Sponsored by the Downtown Waynesville Association.