A true love of dancing is at the heart of the AMAN Folk Ensemble.
Szabo Istvan Zoltan has noticed one difference between the United States and his homeland of Hungary.
It's the response he gets when he tells Americans that he is a folk dancer.
"They think you're a sissy-boy," he said. "Or they ask you, 'What is your real job?'"
In Hungary, Zoltan said, dancers are in a "safer position" because the government strongly supports and funds the arts. In the United States, it's a different story. The National Endowment for the Arts -- and consequently state arts agencies -- is facing budget cuts of up to 40 percent next year.
"I feel a little abandoned," said the 31-year-old dancer who now lives in Los Angeles and performs with the AMAN Folk Ensemble, which is completing its three-week residency in Lawrence this week.
"With the fear of NEA funding going down, it's very difficult for us," said Joann Fox, a 26-year-old member of the troupe who lives in Burbank, Calif. "It's always a challenge to do payroll. ... It's difficult to concentrate on your art when you're worried about paying the bills."
Fox said the strength of the American arts world is that those who continue to live here must be truly dedicated. Such is the case with AMAN.
"These dancers have been with the company for years and years because it's something they truly enjoy," she said. "They're not in it for the money. ... They're in it for the long haul."
The AMAN Folk Ensemble arrived Oct. 6 in Lawrence and will complete its residency here with a performance at 8 p.m. today at the Lied Center.
During their stay, the dancers have staged costume and mask exhibits, led a Hungarian cooking class, taught classes for public school and Kansas University students, and conducted community-based workshops.
Education is the main focus for dancers in the residency program.
"We're a little bit missionary," Zoltan said. After each school performance at the Lied Center, the troupe visits the school later in the day to dance with its students.
"We show them what the art is. They don't just see a commercial," Zoltan said. "Hopefully, they can get something from what they've seen."
It hasn't all been work for the AMAN dancers during their stay in Lawrence.
Tibor Toth, 31, a Hungarian native now living in Los Angeles, spent his extra time fishing for bass and catfish along the Kansas River. Zoltan visited the Plaza area of Kansas City, Mo., and he, Fox and some of the other dancers took several walks through Lawrence's historical neighborhoods.
"The small town (atmosphere) is great, especially after Los Angeles," Zoltan said. "It's so nice to see and have human contact (on the streets) ... and the old houses are like museums."
Fox said the ensemble completed a three- to four-week residency in North Carolina before coming to Lawrence, and will leave this weekend for Fort Collins, Colo. After that stint, the troupe heads back to California for shows in Orange County and Palm Springs.