UN Day Tea Shows Cultural Wealth of Dance

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International students held their annual UN Day Tea on Sunday. (JSU International House)

Ooreoluwa Olayinka, Staff Writer


On Sunday the 30th of September, I went to the International House’s annual UN Day Tea. Every year, hordes of people- Americans, internationals and alumni of the International House gather together to watch this multicultural display. I went with the intention to write an article on the event. However, I had no idea what I was going to write about. That is, until I saw the Chinese traditional dance performed by Yimei Dong and Meg Borths. That’s when I knew exactly what I would focus on- dance.

Dance is an important aspect of culture. Dance has often been referred to as a “universal language.” In a way, dance draws people together. Ms. Chandni Khadka, the Director of the International House Programs said it best when she said, “To me, what we do at the International House is very different from any other multicultural display. Here, natives are teaching their dance and culture to non-natives who are willing to participate. So, it is not just watching, it is learning and doing.”

The Chinese traditional dance was the first dance presented. I was captivated from the first movement. The dancers were both wearing red dresses, with long flowing sleeves. In fact, the whole dance reminded me of a field of sunflowers swaying in the wind. It was natural and graceful. It sparked so much curiosity in me that at the end of the event, I went to interview Yimei Dong. Dong explained to me that the song was called “Falling Flower.” She translated the lyrics for me- “Girls are like flowers, cherish your girl when she expresses her best to you else she withers like a flower.” Antonella Trabanino, who performed the El Salvador folk dance along with Maria Teresa Aguilar, also explained how her dance sparked an interest in her culture. She expressed, “People have been coming up to me telling me how they liked the dance, and asking me questions about the music, my traditional attire and so on! I was so happy to show my traditional dance which is very folkloric, colorful and lively.”

Dance brings a wave of emotions. Martha Graham, a contemporary dancer, once said “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” This is apparent from the second dance, the African dance. When I spoke to a couple of dancers, it was obvious that sharing their dance gave them a sense of pride. Chioma Ugochukwu said that when she was teaching the dance to the members of the International House, it made her “happy that they were so willing to participate.” Precious Mmegwa expressed a feeling of being transported back home. “A lot of times, being so far away from home, I feel so alone but while I was dancing, in that moment, I felt like I was back home.” She also expressed a feeling of unity saying, “There were many disagreements during the practices, but while dancing, I felt like everybody was one.”

There was a particular International House alumnus who caught my attention. Suman Silwal, a Nepali, lived in the International House from 1989 to 1992.  One could see the positive energy exuding from his being. He was the physical representation of how dance cuts across borders and socio-economic differences. He would start clapping to cheer on the dancers, encouraging the audience to clap too. Everyone, regardless of race, class, age or gender would join in, clapping. He was obviously proud of the dancers, especially those that participated in the Nepalese dance. He told me he was elated by the Nepali representation in this year’s show. He expressed his love for dance saying, “When I lived in the House, I was dancing all the time. My dance partners were from Denmark and Brazil. Where we came from didn’t matter, we danced as one.” He is now married to a Guatemalan and has a daughter. He referred to how he has passed the tradition of dancing to his bi-cultural daughter saying, “I dance with my daughter all the time at home. In fact, the song the students performed to is one of our favorites. Immediately she heard the song, she ran to me yelling, ‘Daddy, Daddy, our song!’”

It is a shame that I could not interview all the dancers as I enjoyed all the dances. There was the German dance performed by Ida Sunnaborg and Nicolaus Grunhag, the Puerto Rican salsa by Angal Warren and Michael Cannady, the K pop dance led by Jiameng “Jenny” Li and Yimei Dong and the Crew dance led by Josemanuel Mendez and Cheyenne Wolfe. There were also non-dance performances like the Japanese sword display, the silent play and a beautiful poem delivered by Flor Gordillo. Tofunmi Olayinka performed a very beautiful Yoruba medley and Savannah Ervin gave a speech on the UN. In conclusion, dance really is a very rich aspect of culture and I was glad that I experienced this cultural exchange at the International House’s annual UN Day Tea.

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