While the International Dance Festival is relatively new to campus, the Office of International Services (OIS) has been laying the event’s groundwork for years. The festival celebrated its second annual year in UpC on Friday, April 29.
The idea for the International Dance Festival was born out of the necessity to not only celebrate diversity within campus, as Kaleidoscope— the annual fall festival of culture and cuisine—has done for years, but also within the Poughkeepsie community as well. Director of International Services Andrew Meade remarked, “We actually had the idea for several years, but we didn’t have the courage to act on it right away … It’s not just international students but it’s everybody in the space, and so we’ve been trying to have a spring counterpart to [Kaleidoscope] for a long time. This is an event around movement…and not just for dance organizations that are on campus, but also dance organizations that are off campus.”
The overarching idea for this year’s International Dance Festival was to bring together both the Vassar and Poughkeepsie communities. As Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for International Services Shàni Cox expressed, “It’s a chance to show Poughkeepsie that there’s more to the people living at Vassar, this little bubble, and there’s more to the people in the community as well.” Meade agreed with this sentiment as well, explaining, “One of the ways this is different from…anything else that OIS does is that we do market it to the outside community, both in terms of dance groups but also inviting families to come on campus, to actually be here in the space and to mingle and engage with Vassar students.”
Admission to the event was entirely free and campus organizations generously covered the upfront cost of concessions, allowing 100 percent of the profits collected at the event to be donated to charity. “Our idea is that the concessions will raise money for a good cause every year,” Meade described. The funds from this year’s festival went to a very worthy cause, one that has touched international communities both abroad and at Vassar. As Cox explained, “All of the money that we collect will be going to the Nepali Earthquake Relief Fund through a Vassar international alum who’s from Nepal. So we work with her family in getting the funds there and distributed to where it really needs to go.”
While some organizations donated time or money, a variety of groups offered to perform. Although the lineup was varied, the organizers had to get creative because certain cultures and dances were represented more than once in the show. “We tried to separate the dances so you don’t get the same style of dance one right after the other, or even the same style of dance from the same country in a row,” Cox noted.
The event showcased a variety of multicultural talent. The first act included performances by community members, ranging from Korean springtime dances and a Charleston/Foxtrot hybrid to traditional lion dances and a particularly spectacular routine done on Chinese yo-yo.
Student performances were intermingled with those of community members and vividly showcased the rich diversity on campus. Dances included a tango by the Ballroom Club, a Bachata-Merengue-Cumbia fusion by Poder Latinx, Japanese techno, Waikiki hula, belly dancing, Bollywood and a performance by the Vass Shakers. Vassar Sori even contributed a performance of Samul nori, traditional percussion music from Korea.
Audience member Dana Chang ’19 appreciated the uniqueness of the show, comparing it to others at Vassar. “Because I’m so used to going to a lot of the dance shows that happen on campus and a lot of it’s more contemporary things that I’m used to, it’s cool seeing the different cultures represented through dance,” she remarked. “It’s been beautiful.”
Chang’s sentiments were largely echoed by the crowd. Shishi Gachuhi ’19 observed, “I think it’s really interesting, and the [Chinese yo-yo] one was amazing.” Kimmie Nguyen ’19 agreed, “There is such an interesting mix of cultures from around campus and it really showcases how diverse our campus is.”
While the International Dance Festival primarily celebrated diversity, it also practiced inclusivity and unity. Meade reflected, “A lot of the programming that we do out of this office is designed to build community and try to help support the international student community, but we really also want to do things that are about bringing all students together, so we’re hoping that this becomes one of those things.”
The festival definitely reached this goal and successfully brought students (and communities) together. The end of the show featured a surprise performance in which the audience was, to its surprise, the featured guest. Despite age, background or even dancing ability, the audience and the night’s performers danced flash mob-style to Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).”
Cox looks forward to building the sense of unity between Vassar and its community through the International Dance Festival in the future. “We’re really hoping to make sure that this becomes an annual thing … We’re trying to make this as much of a collaborative event as possible, so not just OIS, but OIS and student orgs, and I think this year is the most student orgs we’ve worked with,” she remarked. “It shows a lot of promise.”