YOUR STORIES: Dancing Across South America
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Wednesday, November 11, 2015
By Lee Ann Bannerman
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*Editor's Note: I'm geeked-out excited to be featuring this story from the Bannerman Family today. Yep, that's a scrapbook momento below. I've also had the pleasure to dance with them at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Montreat and the Bannerman Family Thanksgiving Dance Camp. And even though we're cousins, I just may be their biggest fan...

 

*All photos courtesy of Lee Ann Bannerman unless otherwise noted.

 

 

During the 1970’s, the United States State Department organized what were called Good Will Tours to countries outside the U.S., which were designed to build diplomatic relations between governments.

 
These tours consisted of cultural exchanges with the countries visited and were made up of musicians, dancers, storytellers and other performers invited to represent the U.S. overseas.

 
In 1974, my family was invited on one such trip and embarked on a six-week tour of Central and South America.


The Bannermans from left to right: Beth, Craig, Lee Ann, Ren, Evelyn and Glenn.

 
Our family were clog dancers, and as there were six of us – three male and three female – we made up the perfect small team.  I believe we were seen performing at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival the year before and impressed the tour organizers, who then approached my parents about the possibility of touring in South America.

 

 
In addition to my family, there were a number of other groups on the tour, including an old time band who accompanied our dancing: Highwood’s String Band https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfVC4217wu4; a blues group from Chicago: Martin, Bogan and Armstrong  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQiAY0SlRJI and Cajun dance band D. L. Menard and the Louisiana Aces https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsPWnkU7m7k (I can’t find 70’s footage of the group, but there are some videos of them in later years). 


 

The tour began in Washington, D.C. at Wolf Trap Farms and then toured to nine countries over six weeks. 


In Arequipa, Peru

 
The first thing I think about when I look back on that summer was how brave my parents were to even consider such a thing.  Four children between the ages of 10 and 20, a group of complete strangers, foreign, Third World countries, some of which were only just recovering from serious civil wars, and many of which were on very rocky political ground. But to hear my parents tell it, the tour was just an opportunity they couldn’t imagine passing up.  And we’re all the better for it.

 


In Managua, Nicaragua


So many memories stand out for me, but a lot of the trip is fuzzy.  I guess that’s down to my age then and my age now.  But each time I re-visit photos or scrapbooks, and re-read letters and itineraries, I’m overwhelmed by what an amazing opportunity it was, and how lucky I am to have those memories.

 
Some favorite memories/stories from our trip...

 
My sister wanted to know how to roll down the windows on the plane.  It might have been her first time on a plane, I’m not sure.  But I’m pretty sure it was my first time. 


We got to drink Coca-Cola all the time (which incidentally led my brother Craig to exclaim on the plane as we headed back that when he got home he was going to fill the bathtub with ice water and get in with a straw).

 
We didn’t have to eat our vegetables.

 
We got to go to a lot of fancy receptions at ambassadors’ houses and were treated very well everywhere we went.


We have a photo of my sister and me with a certain dictator that we probably shouldn’t keep, but we do...


Glenn and Lee Ann Bannerman


One of the first days of the trip, when we were in D.C., I was racing down some stairs headed to the hotel pool and fell and twisted my ankle.  I couldn’t walk on it and went to an infirmary of some kind.  They told Mom and Dad they didn’t think I’d be able to dance, as it was badly sprained. 


Image of D.L. Menard by David Simpson (cajunzydecophotos) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

That night D. L. Menard asked Mom and Dad if it would be okay to visit me.  He came with his guitar and sat by my bed and played me songs.  In between, he told me stories, mostly in Cajun, and rubbed my ankle and spoke in hushed tones. 

 

The next day, my ankle was great and I was given the go ahead to dance and go on the trip.  I’m convinced to this day D. L. pulled off a bit of voodoo and healed me!



In Arequipa, Peru with (left to right) Ren, Edwardo, Evelyn, Lee Ann and Beth

 

I had a Costa-Rican boyfriend named Edwardo for a little while.  He worked outside our hotel selling coffee bean necklaces, and every day we’d stop and talk to him.  He even came to see us dance on the last night we were in town. He was very handsome, and I was sad to say goodbye.


One evening, when I was getting ready for bed, I couldn’t find my beloved Tiger.  Tiger was a stuffed toy, who’d been with me since I was about five.  I adored him and was inconsolable when he was nowhere to be found.   The next morning, we were in the lobby of the hotel waiting for a bus to take us to a performance when my mother spotted a room attendant walking across the room carrying a huge stack of clean bed linen.  On the very top of the crisp white stack sat Tiger!  Apparently he’d gotten tangled up in the sheets and carted off to the laundry room.  Needless to say, he never left my side after that.


In Arequipa, Peru (left to right) Lee Ann, Cristina, Maria and Bernie.

In Arequipa, Peru, a local family who owned a jewelry shop befriended us.  I spent an afternoon at their house playing with their children.  It was a welcome change from the fast-paced tour, and even though I didn’t speak Spanish, we somehow managed to play together and became fast friends.


And not everyone liked Americans.  At one festival, we received hostile phone calls from performers from another country.  The next morning my father found my brothers sleeping fully dressed with their boots at the foot of the bed.  When he asked them why, they replied they felt they had to be ready, in case anything kicked off! 

 

Lee Ann in Bogata


In some cities, the poverty and devastation from natural disasters (Nicaragua) and civil war (Columbia) were apparent on every street corner. Even as a 10-year-old, I felt conflicting emotions and didn’t always understand the suffering I saw. It was an education that made a lifelong impact. 


Glenn and Lee Ann in Guatamala


I’ve often wished we'd have a reunion at some point.  I would love so much to see some of those friends we made and swap stories and photos.


Photo above: The Bannerman Family as it's grown over the years. Image taken from Glenn Bannerman's Facebook page.  

 

To learn more about the Bannerman Family visit http://www.bannermanfamily.com.

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2 Comments
judy anderson - I first moved to Monreat the summer of 1970---that was 48 years ago this July 2018. There is no way that the Bannerman Family can comprehend the number of lives they have collectively and individually touched during the summers in Montreat NC. I am so grateful for the memories each one of the Bannermans have passed along throughout the decades. They are truly a golden thread in the tapestry of my life---Always--Judy Anderson
Barbara Ford - Thank you for this reminiscence. Excellent written article! I had no idea of this travel experience or what a long legacy your parents have had. Bannermans : to eternity and beyond.