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Visit SPIFFS for a taste of the world

Have you ever wanted to visit Africa, Asia or Europe? You can experience some of the sights, sounds and flavors of these continents and others at the 19th annual St. Petersburg International Folk Fair.

The fair, Friday through Sunday at the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg, features arts, crafts, music, dance, foods and costumes of 56 ethnic groups that are part of the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society Inc. Many of the groups will set up villages, identifiable by landmarks and other symbols specific to the group. The villages will feature, among other things, food and souvenirs of the culture.

Fairgoers may buy a SPIFFS passport, a replica of a U.S. passport, and have it stamped as they visit the villages.

"Artisans of the World" is the fair's theme. Each ethnic village will showcase special cultural exhibits, for example, English lace-making, German porcelain painting and Asian calligraphy.

The Parade of Nations on Saturday promises to be more colorful than ever, said Lotta Baumann, SPIFFS executive director. Ethnic member groups, dressed in their native costumes and carrying the American flag and their country's flag, will parade into the ThunderDome, she said.

During the fair, groups will perform ethnic folk dances and songs. Continuous informal performances, many with audience participation, will be new to the festivities and include activities such as cooking demonstrations and country line dancing.

The Ranganiketan Cultural Dancers from the state of Manipur, India, a Trinidad and Tobago steel band, and a Mexican mariachi band will be featured special guest performers.

The Friday Night Extravaganza! is a new fair event. Beginning at 5 p.m., Mexican, Colombian, Trinidadian, Polynesian and the Ranganiketan dancers will perform.

"I don't want people to say, "I've been, I don't want to go again,' " Baumann said in explaining the new events.

Folk artisans from different countries will demonstrate their crafts. Highlights include a demonstration of traditional and contemporary Celtic wood cuts in the Irish village, a carving and painting of the traditional "Dala" horse in the Swedish village, and a demonstration of Manipuri basket weaving in the Indian village.

SPIFFS, a non-profit umbrella organization of more than 50 ethnic groups that hail from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, began in 1976 in celebration of the Bicentennial, Baumann said.

IF YOU GO

The fair is at ThunderDome, 204 16th St. S, St. Petersburg, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday for students and 2 to 9 p.m. Friday for the public; from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 13. General admission, $4.50; senior citizens, $3.50; 6- to 14-year-olds, $2; younger than 6, free. Group rates available in advance. Call Lotta Baumann, 327-7999.

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