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Folk dancers travel the world on their feet

On Thursday nights at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, Marc and Jan Rayman dance their way through Japan, Bulgaria, Hungary and other distant lands.

More than 50 countries are represented in the new international folk-dancing class taught by the husband and wife.

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At the first class on Oct. 1, the group formed a circle around the Raymans as they broke down eight different dances from across the world. They started with a simple Turkish dance called "Kendime," feeling out how comfortable the students were with the moves.

"We prepared ourselves to teach many different dances, and then we chose based on the group," Marc Rayman said. "We'll continue with that same style. Our hope is that as the group takes hold, we'll branch off into a much wider variety of dances."

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Some participants, such as Ann Armstrong and Christine Watanabe from the Pasadena Folk Dance Co-op, were experienced dancers who came to enjoy the Raymans' clear style of teaching.

But most, like George Gouloomian of Glendale, were beginners to folk dancing. Gouloomian found the event on Meetup.com, but did not quite understand what he was showing up for.

"I thought maybe it would be salsa dancing or something," the 70-year-old Gouloomian laughed. "I'm a free dancer, so I'm always getting in trouble for not going this way or that way. I'm not regretting it, though. I've had a marvelous time."

The Raymans say they want to bring international folk dancing to people with all sorts of experience levels. The couple have danced for 34 and 33 years, respectively, and taught for 25 years together.

The couple met in a folk-dancing class while pursuing graduate degrees — his in physics, hers in cognitive neuropsychology — in Boulder, Colo. Each has gone on to earn doctorate degrees and pursue intense careers in their fields, but the folk-dancing floor was always there to ground them.

"Sometimes at the end of the week, we would be exhausted from our two jobs and fixer-upper house, and we would drag ourselves to folk dancing," Jan Rayman said. "We would tell each other, 'We'll just try for 15 minutes' and every time we would stay the entire time and walk out feeling so much better."

The group dances every Thursday at 7:30 p.m at the Community Center of La Cañada. The dancing lasts 1 to 2 hours, depending on the group, and there is a suggested donation of $5 to help rent the space. Visit www.foothill.dance for more information.

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Natalie Wheeler is a contributing writer.

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