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International Festival captivates

Merry Acres Elementary School Spanish teachers Luis Diaz, left, and Lidia Olds perform a traditional Costa Rican dance Saturday during the International Festival at Riverfront Park.

Merry Acres Elementary School Spanish teachers Luis Diaz, left, and Lidia Olds perform a traditional Costa Rican dance Saturday during the International Festival at Riverfront Park.

ALBANY, Ga. -- If smiles were an indication, people at the 2010 International Festival Saturday enjoyed tasting, listening and watching samples of diverse cultures that populate Albany.

The Zei dance put on by the South Georgia Okinawa Club at once delighted and perplexed Jessica Green.

"It looks so different, especially with the costume," Green said. "But I just think it is nice to be able to come out here and see all the different cultures."

That is the idea behind the fourth annual festival held at Riverfront Park from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., said Convention and Visitor's Bureau official Teresa Smith.

"Too often, we think of Albany as just having black and white," said Smith, the promotions and services coordinator for the festival. "Albany has a culturally diverse number of people and we celebrate that."

Considering that among the performers were dancers representing Costa Rica, Colombia, Okinawa and Africa, the celebration was quite diverse.

"We danced the Caballisto Nicoyano from Costa Rica," said Lidia Olds, a Spanish teacher at Sherwood Christian Academy. "I love showing my students and everyone my culture."

Drums made a cultural highlight at the festival with probably the most culturally diverse named group of drummers the "Afro Cuban Latin Ensemble" laying down a drum-circle beat for the audience. Not to be outdone, the Okinawa Club's Taiko Drum group danced and evoked a heart surging beat.

For a more intimate show, David Null brought his "The Merry O Netters" puppetry culture to entertain at the festival from Meigs.

"We try to tell stories for children with the puppets about the way people should share with each other," Null said. "We use various characters to entertain and make a point about cooperation among people."

The festival featured Buffalo-style wings, barbecue, Asian and other cuisines including good old American hot dogs and hamburgers.

While people lined up to sample the food, they were treated to music from a second stage on Front Street

at the entrance to the Bridge House.

On that stage, Terry Lee Jones sang a few songs by Albany's hometown star Ray Charles. Jones' plan, he said, was to bring it all home from all cultures.

"After all, no matter the culture, we've all got Georgia on our mind," Jones said. "That's what Ray Charles sang."