Celebrating Colorful Cultures: Rochester International Association’s World Festival dancers

The 40th Annual World Festival is your ticket to sampling and learning more about Rochester’s ethnic offerings. Participants will taste multicultural foods, enjoy activities for children and adults and indulge in beautiful music and dance. The festival will take you on an amazing journey, where dedicated performers—with colorful costumes and expressive rhythms and choreography—will make your experience simply unforgettable. 


Around the World

“The World Festival is the ideal event for everyone to come together to celebrate diversity, meet neighbors, educate themselves about the different cultures in Rochester and have a good time in the process,” says co-chair Brian Faloon. An immigrant of Ireland, he is one of several individuals organizing the event with a firsthand international perspective. 

The journey will celebrate dances and cultures from many places around the world, including Middle Eastern belly dancing, a children’s Chinese dance focusing on the seasons and a Sudanese dance that demonstrates boy-meets-girl rituals. “Throw in some Argentinian tango and Mexican dance, Vietnamese and Philippine traditional music and performance, and we almost cover the globe,” says Faloon.

Producing with Passion

Behind the scenes, Terri Allred, owner of Third Eye Tribal, coordinates the performances. “Every year we recruit performers of all kinds to participate in the World Festival,” she says. “Although most of them are dancers, we also have musicians.” 

Several cultures are included with a variety of expressions of dance and music. “We have some amateurs and some professionals who perform in the show,” she adds. “We want participants to be able to experience a small piece of many cultures and to be enriched by that experience.”

A professional dancer who also is from a diverse community, Allred began volunteering with the Rochester International Association (RIA) as the children’s coordinator for the World Festival. “I am passionate about celebrating art from different cultures—dance in particular,” she says. “I love getting to know all of the performers and helping to produce such an amazing and unique annual show.”

Jess Abrahamson from KTTC will serve as this year’s emcee and lead the audience through the multicultural dances of dedicated performers. However, for both past and present performers, the experience is more than just a dance.


Sarah Juhn’s colorful costume is a modified form of a Korean traditional dress, hanbok, with her top resembling what female royalty wear in the palace. The dance she performs, using fans with painted lotus flowers, was created approximately 80 years ago, based on a traditional Korean folk dance. “I decided to take a more active step toward reconnecting with my culture and started learning this dance with a family friend Yeonhwa Kim, who majored in Korean traditional dance,” says Juhn.

“It’s nice to be able to perform this new type of dance since I already am a dancer with classical training in ballet/pointe,” she says. “Doing a traditional Korean fan dance and jang-goo [drum] dance, I oftentimes am the one showing what Korean culture is truly like, and this is a way for me to stay in touch with my culture. Doing this dance, I think it was nice for my parents to see me working to open up a part of our family identity, based on culture.”

“Being a Korean-American teenager, I definitely struggled with an identity crisis,” she says. “Learning traditional Korean dance has helped to ground me, in the sense of understanding where I stand in terms of a cultural identity.”


Ganga Gopalkrishnan Dances Bharathanatyam 

Ganga Gopalkrishnan’s two-piece costume consists of Indian silk with grand print, borders and frills around the body, and she dances Bharathanatyam, a classical dance/art form. “This dance performance is a culmination of years of learning and training various muscles according to the rhythm and expression,” says Gopalkrishnan.

“Bharatanatyam is bhava (expression), raga (melody) and thala (rhythm). The dancer learns leg steps (adavus), hand gestures (mudras) and flexibility exercises separately,” she says. “In the dance performance, all of these are used in synchronized fashion for a recital. The dance tells the story of the Indian mythological character Krishna, including his childhood, youth and his superpowers.” 

Gopalkrishnan says discipline and dedication are required to master the art of dance. “The performance also shows the dedication and enjoyment toward the art form. Dance is a form of expression of your inner self. Take time to enjoy and rejoice by participating in dances which showcase your culture and tradition.”

Ifrah Hassan Showcases Somalia

Somalian male costumes comprise a piece of clothing called macawis; females wear a long piece of clothing called hido iyo dhaqan. With special meaning, Ifrah Hassan performs a cultural dance that her great-grandparents once danced.

Hassan practices and dances with purpose. “It means a lot to me because we display our cultural dance to the world and show the world that we value our culture. Families are happy to see us displaying our culture through dance,” says Hassan. “They are proud of us.” 

In dance—and life—Hassan recognizes the Somalian culture first and foremost. “It is a very important thing in my life, my culture is my identity. Without my culture, I would have nothing.”    

More Than a Mission

World Festival is the RIA’s largest event. The association was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1982. “In the beginning it was basically the only group that tried to have programs with the mission of multicultural education and exchange in a fun and social way, as well as being informational and educational,” says Herta Matteson, president of RIA. 

Matteson, from Germany, became involved with RIA in 1988 and continues to reap the benefits of multicultural interactions directly. “When I hear about something somewhere in the world, it is not just some distant event but the home of someone I know,” she says. “It gives me such a different way to look at it.”

Taste, Learn and Enjoy!

At World Festival, the city’s largest multicultural event, dozens of cultures are represented by RIA members and other participants. “It’s a great and fun way to learn about all kinds of interesting people from many countries who contribute greatly and make up the colorful fabric of our city,” adds Matteson. 

World Festival is a place to gain understanding about cultures within our community. Attendees can visit with members of local ethnic communities and participating nonprofit organizations. There will be opportunities to taste international cuisine and take part in activities for all ages, including an international marketplace, face painting, a piñata and balloon animals for children and cultural displays. 

The journey awaits you! Performers such as Juhn, Gopalkrishnan and Hassan look to their cultural heritage for inspiration and are eager to share their world of art and dance with you. Certainly the influence of their performances goes beyond the journey.

Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.