Hundreds of people gathered Saturday to sample ethnic food, dance and listen to music at the Festival of Nations at Deering Oaks in Portland.

In its 15th year, the festival features family-oriented cultural activities to celebrate Maine’s ethnic diversity and traditions. The festival is co-hosted by the city of Portland, the Mugadi Foundation, Women In Need Industries and the Poland Spring bottled water company.

Countries represented at the festival this year included Ireland, Cambodia, India, Sudan, Germany, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Cameroon, Peru, Sweden, Benin, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the United States. Native Americans were also represented.

Long lines gathered to sample food from African, Middle Eastern, Latin American and the Caribbean countries. Music from around the world was played over loudspeakers. People were encouraged to dance. There were also special children’s activities, including face painting.

Wendy Edwards of Sanford, a salsa dancing instructor, offered free lessons. She said she started out ballroom dancing until she discovered salsa, a Latin American dance music of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican origin.

“There was a man from Costa Rica who was very good. The second I saw him I knew that was what I was waiting for,” said Edwards.

Steve Koskinen of Portland made his maiden visit to the festival Saturday, in part to dance the salsa.

“I’m a what I call a half-a-rican. My mother is from Puerto Rico,” said Koskinen.

He said he grew up knowing the merengue but happily made a switch to salsa after taking lessons.

The food was the festival attraction for Jan Doherty of Portland. This was her first visit to the festival.

“I have heard about it and decided to check it out. I want to try something I have never tried before,” Doherty said.

Nathan Isajar, 13, of Portland, whose family is from Columbia, grew up attending the festival and now helps out at the festival’s Flores Restaurant food table.

“This is my second year,” said Nathan.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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