Just Plain Folk

A gal could feel like globehopping reporter Nelly Bly at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. In three programs spanning three weekends, 32 local folkloric dance groups throw open a window to more than 20 world cultures through dances that have traditionally functioned as anything from romantic overtures or courtly entertainment to displays of athletic bravado or ritual celebration. Beginning with the opening-night crash of cymbals announcing the acrobatic Chung Ngai Lion Dance, Program I swings through the Eastern Hemisphere with dances from China, Java, and northern India, with forays into Greece and Peru. Program II, "Spectacular Vernaculars," mixes relatively obscure Uzbeki and Cambodian dances with the locally familiar Appalachian stylings of the Barbary Coast Cloggers. The final program, "Rhythm Sticks," focuses on percussive footwork, from the grounded sway of Afro-Cuban ensemble Owo Ache to the sprightly Scottish jigging of the Red Thistle Dancers. Program I begins at 8 p.m. Friday at the Palace of Fine Arts, Bay & Lyon, S.F. Admission is $15-25; call 392-4400.

There will be Scottish folk dancing at the Free Folk Festival, too, from the Dunsmuir Scottish Dancers. Like the Ethnic Dance Festival, the Folk Fest lovingly preserves global folkloric traditions through live performance. Unlike the Dance Festival, this one has bands, hands-on workshops, arts and crafts, and family activities, too. The live-music roster is literally all over the map, with Irish reels and hornpipes from Crónan, radical folk from women's trio Rebecca Riots, klezmer from Ellis Island, and swing jazz from the Gateswingers. The festival begins at noon Saturday (also Sunday) at Roosevelt Middle School, 460 Arguello, S.F. Admission is free; call (510) 287-9095. (

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