Favorite Festival Moments from Folklife Center Staff

Even with a million things to do to ensure that the Folklife Festival goes off without a hitch, the staff of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage still find opportunities to experience exciting things on the National Mall. After two weeks of early mornings and late nights, we finally got a chance to sit back and reflect upon the amazing interactions and learning opportunities that took place at the Festival. With the passing of time, certain interactions have remained imprinted in our minds as moments we’ll cherish forever.

Click photos to enlarge and view captions.

The mingling of Kenyan and Chinese participants at their hotel every evening led to some incredible cross-cultural interactions and jam sessions. Photo by Isabella Gatti

“At the hotel after the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert I was sitting at a table with Quetzal Flores, Radmilla Cody, Abigail Washburn, and the Mongolian group Ih Tsetsn. They started this beautiful harmonizing that ended in a loud raucous sing-along, and afterwards they were all hugging and clapping. No words were spoken, but it was this wonderful uniting moment.”

—Sabrina Lynn Motley, Festival director

One of the Ramogi Dancers of Homa Bay County with a young visitor. Photo by Josue Castilleja

“A six-foot-tall Ramogi dancer with an elaborate headdress was dancing during a story circle in the Kenya program along with the other dancers. He asked for volunteers to come up and join the group, and this one little boy stood up. He looked scared of these large men at first, but once they started to dance and gave him a flywhisk, he became comfortable and excited. It was amazing to see this little boy have the courage to join in and dance with them.”

—Josué Castilleja, art director

Kenyan participants celebrating the completion of the dhow with song and dance. Photo by Walter Larrimore, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

“After completing the Kenyan dhow from Lamu, the ship builders invited visitors to join them in a big spontaneous celebration and were rejoicing with song and dance.”

—Masatomo Yonezu, Kenya program intern






Alatenggaridi, Stephen S. Moiko, and Dabuxilatu pose for a photo after a cross-program on herding culture at the Boma Stage. Photo by Mu Qian“During a cross-program discussion on herding culture, the two Mongolian participants asked the Kenyan Maasai participant what types of animals he has in Kenya. They asked the question in Chinese, but while they were waiting for it to be translated, one of the Mongolians put his two index fingers on his head like horns, imitating a goat, in an attempt to ask if the Kenyans had goats. Everyone was laughing.”

—Emily Fuller, education intern

Kite maker Zhang Wenzhi prepares to fly his kite on the National Mall. Photo by Hillary Cleary, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

“On a sunny afternoon, kite maker Zhang Wenzhi took up position in the middle of the National Mall. Yang Zhengchao, a lusheng player still dressed in brightly decorated clothing for his performance, stood nearby having just helped Zhang to reel in the kite line. Zhang clutched his kite and turned toward the Hong Kong flower plaque. He gazed upward, focusing on the flags atop the large bamboo structure. At a certain moment, when the wind caught the flags just right, Zhang broke into a fast, deliberate run, kicking up dust from the ground as his banyao whistle kite sailed up behind him into the sky.”

—Sojin Kim, China program co-curator






Festival visitors dance with Ih Tsetsn singer and qobuz player Dabuxilatu during a performance at the Moonrise Pavilion. Photo by Walter Larrimore, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

“Near the end of their set, Ih Tsetsn would always play ‘The Handsome Horse,’ which is an upbeat, lively song. One of the members would always jump down from the stage and dance with all of the visitors, teaching them different dance moves.”

—Max Lenik, video production intern



A tai chi performance at People's Park. Photo by Meg Boeni

“As a co-curator, I rarely had time to sit and savor any one activity in particular, which means that many of my Festival memories are now blurs of moving hither and yon. But I distinctly remember one minute of quietly standing just inside the China program’s east gate and marveling at how much was happening all around me: explosive sounds from the Dragon-Lion Cart, animated learning activities in Family Style, graceful movements of tai chi in People’s Park, a lively discussion in Teahouse Commons, and many moments of mutual discovery among visitors and participants in the crafts demonstrations areas. All of those are for me the essence of a Smithsonian Folklife Festival.”

—Jim Deutsch, China program co-curator



Collected and edited by Kendra Speak, a special events intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.


  • http://ninjakillercat.co.uk/ Claire Toplis

    This looks amazing, I would dearly love to be part of this.

    • http://folklife.si.edu/ Smithsonian Folklife

      Hi Claire! We do offer many volunteer positions during the Festival, as well as internships, fellowships, and seasonal staff positions. See here: http://www.festival.si.edu/volunteer (Sometimes people even come from overseas to work with us!)