Utah festival highlights diversity, preserves traditions

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At the Fall Living Traditions Festival on Sept. 29 members of Volta Miuda perform Capoeira, a Brazilian slave tradition focused on melding martial arts with dance to give people freedom. (Devin Ross Richey)

For the past 32 years Salt Lake City hosted the Living Traditions Festival once a year in May, but this is the first year they will hold a Living Traditions Celebration in every season.

According to Salt Lake City Arts Council employee Matt Thurber, the council wanted to extend the cultural celebration year around. With 30 to 50 different traditions represented at the event each year, Salt Lake City met the cultural demands to make seasonal celebrations possible.

The first ever Fall Living Traditions Celebration was held on Saturday, Sept. 29 at the Salt Lake City’s International Peace Gardens.

Performers took turns presenting cultural traditions on a stage. Burundi African drummers and Polynesian dancers were some of the many cultures represented. Artists displayed visual arts and crafts, children did hands-on activities, like learning traditional dances, and there were stands with foods from around the world.

One Brazilian dance tradition called Capoeira was performed at the festival by Volta Miuda, a dance group based in Salt Lake City.

Capoeira mixes martial arts with dance movement and is essentially a non-contact fight between partners. It is also a Brazilian symbol of freedom and has a rich history.

According to Bebum Volta Miuda, a member of the group, the tradition began with Brazilian slaves.

Discovering Capoeira changed Volta Miuda’s life for the better, so much so that he changed his surname to Volta Miuda, the name of the organization he practices Capoeira with.

Volta Miuda said the slaves started Capoeira as entertainment, but they eventually used it to mentally free themselves from the bonds they were placed under.

“In the ‘hatha’ (or circle stood in while practicing Capoeira), you’re not thinking about what happened before. You’re not thinking about what’s going to happen after. You’re in the now,” Volta Miuda said.

According to Volta Miuda, the mental freedom Capoeira gave to the slaves eventually gave them the power to physically free themselves. The slaves used the skills they practiced in Capoeira to overthrow their masters.

“It is the most positive thing that’s entered into my life,” Volta Miuda said. “I am who I am today because of Capoeira. If it has the power to free actual slaves from slavery, it has the power to free us from whatever slavery we face.”

Volta Miuda added that modern day life can sometimes be filled with different kinds of oppression like addiction, financial struggles, laziness and poor choices.

Festival guest Miguel Ovella said he was amazed by the stamina and grace of the Capoeira performers. When the group started to chant “quiero agua,” which is Spanish for “I want water,” Ovella said he appreciated the humor as a Spanish speaker.

Iranian refugee and Heydar Rasoulpour poses with one his paintings at the festival. He says he paints about human behavior, which is the same no matter where you are from. (Anne Wallace)

Ngahti Hiona, a Utah based group that performed traditional dances, taught festival-goers how to use Poi Balls. Poi Balls were originally used in New Zealand to strengthen men in preparation for war, as they would swing the balls to strengthen their muscles. The practice has since morphed into a performance art, according to Ngahti Hiona member Tachina Finlayson.

Artist and Iranian refugee Heydar Rasoulpour said he attended the festival to share his artwork. He spent time as a refugee in both Iraq and Turkey before settling in Utah. Rasoulpour said he has experienced and been influenced by different cultures each place he goes, but still feels just as Iranian as he did before.

“We have similarities between all cultures. No matter where you live or where you’re born, we have the same behaviors,” Rasoulpour said. “We are all human.”