Ethnic Express group’s passion for folk dancing spans decades

Hundreds of years of dance history from around the world can be found in a small dance studio at the East Las Vegas Community Center.

Ethnic Express, a group that studies traditional folk dances, meets Wednesdays to practice and perform. The group will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.

Las Vegas slot machinist Richard Killian founded Ethnic Express in 1978 after dancing for years with groups at UNLV. After a decade and a half in the valley, Killian and his wife, Donna, had made friends who shared a passion for folk dancing.

“We gathered up everybody with all the records they had … and we said, ‘Let’s start a club,’” Killian said. They started meeting at the now-closed Marliza’s Belly Dance Studio on West Charleston Boulevard and moved through a few locations until they landed at the Charleston Heights Arts Center.

They’ve met there regularly for 20 years, though renovations have displaced them for the past year and a half. They hope to return by early next year, Killian said.

That hasn’t slowed them down. They’ll dance anywhere, Killian said, including restaurants and each other’s homes.

The group originally called itself “The Orijent Express,” after the international express train route that ran from Paris through Eastern Europe to Istanbul. “Orijent” is a Serbian men’s dance the group performs.

Many of the group’s dances come from the regions the Express traveled through, or near, such as Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. Group members have other favorite dances, from Israel, Ireland, China and Japan.

Between 15 and 25 members arrive at 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday in comfortable clothes and ready to dance. Many already know the steps to the numbers; some are simple, others complicated. The group runs through about 30 dances every meeting.

Several members of the club have been coming for decades.

“I’ve been dancing since I was a teenager,” said Bob Shapiro, a member since 1980. “I went to Israel when I was 18, and we folk danced near the Sea of Galilee. If you got too hot, you just jumped in the water.”

New members of all skill levels are welcome, Killian said. At a recent meeting, the group moved through Ajšino Oro (a Macedonian and Albanian dance); several people watched or shadowed behind dancers who knew the steps.

Killian said the group lacks younger members, since most members of Ethnic Express are retirees.

“That’s what keeps your body moving in sync with your mind,” Killian said, watching as the group made its way through a fast-paced Israeli dance. “I’m 85, if that gives you an idea of why I like this.”

It’s also a way to learn about different cultures and ways of life, Killian said. The group regularly brings in guest teachers, such as Turkish dance instructor Ahmet Luleci and Israeli instructor Ira Weisburd.

“People say there’s no culture in Las Vegas,” Killian said. “Look at us!”

Contact Madelyn Reese at or 702-383-0497. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

Poet’s Walk Henderson introduces storytelling
Residents enjoy a storytelling activity.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like