Rainbow Nation Remembered

By Lindajoy Fenley

Just as South Africa became the “Rainbow Nation” when anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela accepted his country’s presidency in 1994, the Community Life Center at Brooking’s United Methodist Church became the place for a rainbow gathering at the end of Lorraine Klaasen’s second residency week. The South Dakota community danced to Township music as it celebrated the culture of a faraway country.

The first dancer to emerge from the audience—a young girl with blonde braids—didn’t hesitate when Klaasen announced there was plenty of room to dance next to the stage. The girl’s example inspired a youngster of Mexican descent who had won a ticket to the concert for her enthusiastic participation at Camelot Intermediate School two days earlier. Others joined, too, and before long the girls’ dance party had a rainbow feel reminescent of post-apartheid South Africa.

The number of dancers continued to grow throughout the concert.

Eventually, several women from the Congo—including a 3M employee who met the ensemble at their first Brookings workshop—were on the dance floor. A variety of Midwesterners then joined the off-stage dancers for “Pata Pata,” a dance song that gained worldwide fame with Miriam Makeba in the 1960s.

Audience members later commented that the age and cultural diversity of the concert audience was delightful. “That’s what made it so much fun,” said Linda Thaden. It was great, the Brookings resident added, “to see those kids up there having fun… and the old gray-hairs in the back enjoying the concert too.”

Thaden frequently visited the old South Africa in the early 1980s when she and her husband and their two children spent three years in neighboring Botswana. Ron Thaden was part of the founding faculty of an agricultural college sponsored by the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development (AID), his wife said. While American professors taught in the college’s early years, Botswanans came to South Dakota State University to earn master’s degrees in agriculture so they could do the teaching, she added. The Botswana institution, still in operation, is now over 30 years old.

Lorraine Klaasen brought enthusiastic audience members onstage to dance with her.

Most of the dancing at the concert was to the side of the stage, but towards the end, Lorraine signaled dancers to move in front so she could watch them while she sang “Unomeva,” a song about paying attention to important issues and watching your step so you don’t step on a thorn (unomeva) while distracted by unimportant things. A few moments later, she invited the Congolese women to the stage and, later, gave the children a turn in the limelight.

Enthusiasm grew throughout the concert. But finally, the second week of Klassen’s tour with Arts Midwest World Fest wound down in a flurry of autograph signing on the three Klaasen CDs available on the tour.

Lorraine Klaasen and Gloria Wongondombi with CDs and flowers.

After an unseasonal 70-degree day and a heartfelt concert on Friday, South Dakota’s weather returned to its normal fall feel on Saturday. A gentle mid-afternoon rain fell while we took time to do laundry, run errands, and pack suitcases. Sunday, we headed north to Wahpeton, North Dakota.


The students at Breckenridge Elementary, Breckenridge MN are sooo excited!!!!

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