Imagine traveling the entire world without leaving the Miami Valley! That’s the appeal of A World A’Fair, one of our area’s most entertaining and educational weekend attractions.
Traditionally held each year in May at the Dayton Convention Center, the festival dates had to be canceled for the past three years due to COVID-19. The good news is that it’s back in full force the weekend of May 5-7 at a new location: the Greene County Expo Center in Xenia.
The family-friendly event that got its start in 1973 is a wonderful opportunity to learn about 32 nations in the most authentic way– by sampling their foods, their entertainment, their art and traditions. And by chatting with folks –or their descendants– who have roots in those countries.
The organizations will host booths featuring food and cultural displays. There will be performances from local, regional, national and international performing groups as well.
Justine Deeter, president of DIFI, the international organization that hosts the festival, has been participating in A World A’Fair since 2010 when she first volunteered at the French booth and began dancing with the high kicking Madame Gigi’s Can Can Dancers. “I fell in love at first sight!” says the Centerville woman. “Having all the communities come together and help each other with the goal of educating the community about their cultures is a sight to behold.”
It’s especially exciting to see the colorful opening parade each day with participants in festive costumes. Parades begin at 5:30-5:45 p.m. on Friday and at 11:30-11:45 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Two new groups are being welcomed this year: Guam and Latvia.
A memorable moment at each festival is the naturalization ceremony held on Saturday morning before the opening ceremony. This year, an estimated 80-90 individuals will become American citizens at the event.
What’s different this year
Because the festival isn’t being held at Dayton Convention Center this year, it will be spread out over four Fairground buildings.
- Building One will house country booths and most of the 12 Beer Passport participants. Adults can purchase a Beer Passport on Friday night which entitles them to sample various kinds of beer throughout the evening and vote for their favorite.
- Building Two is the Formal Stage and Eating Area. The black box theater will be arranged dinner style so you can bring food you’ve purchased from other buildings while you enjoy dances and shows.
- Building Three is Club Booths and across the way is an Assembly Hall with additional club booths as well as the Interactive Stage.
Bette Kelley of Yellow Springs moved to Dayton in 1970 and has been involved since the early days of the festival She says she especially enjoys looking at the various cultural displays. “There’s usually a theme and it’s fascinating to learn about how the different ethnicities approach the same subject,” she says.
The theme this year is transportation so you can expect to see interesting examples of the ways in which various nations have influenced the way we travel today.
“What I’ve noticed over the last few years is that what started as Africa now includes many African countries,” says Kelley. “So there’s an opportunity to learn about all of those different countries which reinforces the idea that we’re all different, but at the same time how similar we all are.”
When it’s time for a meal, Kelley scouts out Korean treats such as kimchi and Bulgogi, the Philippine chicken adobo, tabouli from Lebanon and pastries from the South Slavs. “Since I’m there for all three days, I also tend to look for food I’ve not tried before after I’ve indulged my favs,” she says. “As a lifelong dancer, I also enjoy watching the various performing groups. In addition to the main stage, there’s always an interactive stage so that anyone who wants to learn new dances has an opportunity.”
Kelly’s group, Zivio, represents the South Slavs and is preparing nine dances from seven different countries. Other performances at the festival include Miami Valley Pipes and Drums, St. Andrew’s Highland Dancers, Irish Dancers from the Celtic Academy, Harmony of Japan and Cincinnati Dayton Taiko. There will be Bollywood dances and cooking demonstrations from India and a group of fan dancers traveling to Dayton from Korea.
Be sure to pick up a special passport for the kids. When they visit the educational display at each booth, they’ll be asked to find the answer to a question found in their passport. They’ll have their passports stamped and can take them home as a souvenir.
A family affair for generations
Paige Van der Sluijs and her husband, Alex, have been attending the festival since they were children. “Both of our families have danced and participated since it started,” she says. “My family are members of the South Slavic Club, representing the former republics of Yugoslavia. My grandpa played in the band for many years and I started dancing when I was 6 years old. "
Her husband’s family participates in the Holland-American club. “Alex’s Oma and Opa (grandparents Geertruida and Antonius Van der Sluijs) moved to Dayton from Rotterdam, Netherlands in the late ‘50s,” Paige reports. “Tony Van der Sluijs is one of the oldest living members of the Dutch club. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be attending the festival and working at the Dutch booth.”
When Paige and Alex met in 2008, they realized they had a lot in common including their involvement with the festival and their love for their cultural heritage. “Before our wedding my mom found a picture we didn’t know existed,” she says. “It is his Oma and Opa watching me dance! Now our own kids, Yori (4) and Annika (3) will be dancing with the south Slavic club this year!”
HOW TO GO
What: Dayton International Festival: A World A’Fair
When: 5 to 11 p.m., Friday, May 5; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday, May 6 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 7.
Where: Greene County Expo Center, 120 Fairgrounds Road in Xenia.
Tickets: Advance tickets are available from the various international clubs or the organization’s website (www.aworldafair.org ) Adults $8 (18-59) $5 for Youth (6-17) and Seniors and children under 6 are free. At the door you’ll pay $10 for adults, $8 for youth, seniors, retired military and spouses with ID. First responders and active duty in uniform are free with ID. Those who order online will receive a QR code enabling them to skip the line and proceed straight to the entrance.
Participating countries: Rwanda, Netherlands, Germany, Scotland, Italy, Puerto Rico, Ireland, France, Lebanon, Japan, Kenya, South Slavic, Africa, Peru, Korea, Nigeria, Panama, Guam, Philippines, India, Hungary, Egypt, Guam, Turkey, China, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, Latvia, Ukraine, Norway, Nubia and Sudan.
Parking: $5 with proceeds benefiting Xenia High School students.
More information: https://www.aworldafair.org/.
Credit: Scott Stolsenberg; Scott Stolsenberg
Credit: Scott Stolsenberg; Scott Stolsenberg