Dance to culture in Columbia

Pictured is the group of Armenian students set to perform in Columbia this coming Monday.

The Columbia Rotary Club will soon be hosting a group of young ambassadors from Armenia to offer locals a small glimpse into their culture, art and history.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pastor Stephen Krenz, who also serves as the Rotary Club’s president, said the event came about when the club was contacted by someone from the Reunite Cultures Fund, formerly known as the Rotary Childrens Fund.

RCF organizes the cultural youth exchange program “Golden Gates” as well as the RCFS International Friendship Exchange program for Rotarians, generally facilitating cultural exchange from countries including Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

The latest ambassador program began Jan. 16 and features a group of young Armenian artists who are performing at numerous locations throughout the country.

The general purpose of the coming event, as Krenz described it, is to allow members of the community to learn about a new culture.

Krenz added that the club will be making a meal for the ambassadors, with several club members serving as host families for them before they move on for another performance elsewhere.

“Doing things for youth and understanding amongst cultures we think is just a beneficial thing,” Krenz said. “The theme of Rotary is service above self. We want to serve them while they’re here and put a good step forward for America and just have them have a good connection, and we can also learn a little bit about what they’re going through in their culture.”

He further noted that members of the community as well as club members are welcome, and he also hopes to see some individuals from the area with Armenian heritage attend.

Also offering his perspective on the event and the wider program was Vitaliy Bezrodnov, an organizer and chaperone for the Armenia ambassadors who was also the individual who reached out to the Columbia Rotary about setting up the event.

Bezrodnov spoke about how Rotary International’s exchange program work has been strong for some time, though in 2003 the RCF was formed specifically to cater to youth cultural exchange.

The program that is organized, he said, sees a collection of young individuals who are talented in some way – typically when it comes to music, dance or other arts – serve as cultural ambassadors to educate about their history and art.

“This group is here for five weeks,” Bezrodnov said. “They do the presentation at schools, colleges, they visit the Rotary Clubs, communities, congregations. Their mission is to be cultural ambassadors, to introduce their culture to American people.”

He emphasized the skill and talent that is expected from the participating students as the programs are organized.

Bezrodnov also offered additional details about the event and performance. As he said, those in attendance will be able to experience traditional Armenian dance and unique instruments, with the performance wrapping up with a focus on education.

“We would like to put people in the atmosphere of the culture and the traditions of that country for the hour,” Bezrodnov said.

Like Krenz, Bezrodnov spoke about the importance of cultural exchange for the youth of today.

“The world is getting smaller, and it’s important that young people on the different continents understand that and have the connections, good connections, good understandings, respect to each other,” Bezrodnov said. “This is a great opportunity for them to open the window. For the Armenian kids in this case, it’s a great opportunity to explore the United States, learn about the country, about freedom, about the people of the United States. For the audiences, for the kids, for the general public of the United States, it’s a great opportunity to learn about other countries, other worlds outside the United States.”

Offering a similar sentiment was Columbia Rotary Club Foundation Chair Tim Gutknecht, who pointed out how important exchange and travel was for his own son.

“Cultural exchange is a great thing,” Gutknecht said. “I’m a great believer that we are the sum of our experiences, and the more different people, different cultures and different places that we can experience, the broader a person we are.”

The event will take place at Columbia Middle School this coming Monday, Jan. 29, from 7-8 p.m, with donations for the ambassadors accepted.

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Andrew Unverferth

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