(Coming Soon you will have full Access)
by Ryan Purcell
(BYU Folk Dance Historian)
For over six decades, the BYU International Folk Dancers have entertained millions of people around the world. During those years, thousands of young men and women have been taught by, performed with, and toured beside the organization’s founder, Mary Bee Jensen, and her successors, Ed Austin and Jeanette Geslison. The fact that in its 60-plus year history, the club has had only three artistic directors, is as unprecedented as its unending list of accomplishments. In 1959, the Folk Dancers began touring as part of Janie Thompson’s Program Bureau, and continues to the present day, making it the oldest and longest-running traveling performing company at Brigham Young University. In December of 1959, the first Christmas concert was performed under the banner of “Christmas Surprise.” The following year, the name was changed to “Christmas Around the World” and since then, this annual performance has become the traditional beginning of the Christmas season for the public and countless alumni.
Other than a glimpse at club histories that were brought out at occasional reunions, very few people have any idea of what it took to make the organization what it was, and what lead to the opportunities that so many alumni have enjoyed. That is now changing.
For the past 4 years, work has progressed in the creation of the BYU International Folk Dancers Historical Archive. The purpose is to collect all available records and documents pertaining to the IFD history into one location, digitize, organize, and document them, and make them available to alumni for their personal and family histories. But this is not just an academic endeavor. It is also, in every sense of the word, a labor of love, dedicated to the memories of Mary Bee Jensen and Delynne Peay. It was the unexpected passing of our dear friend, Delynne, that inspired its creation as a way to make the pictures, memories, dancing, and experiences of this part of her life available to her family. That desire has been expanded with the intention of providing the same to ALL IFD alumni. It is the hope that the materials contained in the archive will allow the alumni and their families a way to reconnect to a time in their lives that was unlike any other, when talents were developed, unique experiences were plentiful, and lifelong friendships were formed.
All materials in the archive are being organized by academic school year, from Fall try-outs and workshops through the following summer tours, and cover the years from 1955 through the 2016-17 school year. Sources of these materials have come from the BYU Folk Dance Archives, BYU Performing Arts Management, BYU Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, BYU Photographer’s Office, LDS Motion Picture Studio, KBYU, the personal files of Mary Bee Jensen, personal files of Ed and Vickie Scholes Austin, and personal collections of various IFD alumni that have been generously donated. Each year’s folder contains a log detailing every item found in that year’s archive, and the sources that provided the original. All documents, pictures, and videos that tell the story of that year, and have been located and included, all in high-resolution.
The archive is a virtual “scrapbook” containing many thousands of items, including countless pictures, letters, programs, posters, and newspaper articles. Among the many, newly discovered treasures are actual color films and videos, dating back to the first Europe Tour in 1964, and beautiful footage of the IFD performance at the inauguration of the new BYU football stadium that Fall on 2 October 1964. There is also beautiful footage of the fieldhouse performances of “Christmas Around the World” from 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971. In 1972, the concert moved to the newly built Marriott Center. These films have been uncovered in vaults, closets, cardboard boxes, and basements, and are in pristine condition, having never been seen before. All this has been carefully digitized and will be downloadable for personal and family history use, unless specifically noted. Locations and individuals shown in pictures have been identified according to the best information available.
While certain documents and letters of a highly personal nature have been excluded from the collection, many “behind-the-scenes” items, such as letters and memos, have been included in the annual archives for the purpose of showcasing the work of directors and university administrators, and helping those who have been part of the IFD story understand what it took to make those experiences possible. As is all too frequently the case, those who benefited the most from their time with Folk Dancers have no idea of what actually went into making those memories possible. It is also interesting to learn of what was hoped for, and never achieved. So far!
This is a massive project, covering several decades. As of this writing, the archive is complete from the 1955-56 school year, through 1969-70. The work will continue as quickly as time and resources allow. Eventually, all years included in the archive will be available. Any alumni who would like to donate their personal collections to the archive may do so by making arrangements with Ryan Purcell, the IFD Historian. Also, until an online access can be provided, alumni are welcome to contact Ryan to get a digital copy of archive materials for the years of their participation.
It is our hope that all alumni might enjoy this tribute to the lives that provided the shoulders for others to stand on. Learn of the contributions of those that came before, which made it possible for you to have the experiences you enjoyed, just as yours will do for those who follow.