UB’s international clubs and cultural organizations will take the stage this Saturday for International Fiesta, an annual dance competition held at the Center for the Arts. The event, sponsored by the Student Association and UB’s International Council, will showcase the talents and cultures of the university community.
Leading up to the event, the teams are hard at work planning, choreographing and fine-tuning their performances. Three of the participating organizations — Buffalo Bhangra, Asian American Student Union Vibe and the Latin American Student Association — gave The Spectrum an exclusive look into their rehearsal process ahead of Saturday’s celebration.
Buffalo Bhangra, a UB dance team that performs a popular form of Punjabi folk dancing, spend their weeknights practicing in an unassuming, carpeted classroom in the Natural Sciences Complex.
Dancers fly across the floor, weaving through each other seamlessly as they practice their high-energy routine, which will open the show on Saturday. Tasked with setting the stage for the rest of the night, the Bhangra dancers say they feel some pressure, but the atmosphere in the room is decidedly positive.
“Yeah, it’s stressful,” Siddarth Suresh, a freshman public health major, said. “But at the same time, I have so much fun when I come to practice.” Co-captains Avantika Sridhar and Priyanka Tondamantham direct the dancers through an upbeat, energetic routine, the camaraderie among the team is impossible to ignore.
“We’re a family. We all help each other out. It’s not competitive,” Sridhar, a sophomore political science major, said.
Having spent most of her life dancing, choreography comes easily to Sridhar. But it’s not just about teaching the steps — it’s about connection, both among the dancers and with the audience.
“The one thing that I found very helpful while learning dance is being able to relate to what you’re about to perform,” Sridhar explained. “Instead of just showing the steps, saying why it’s important that you do it a certain way.’”
Though the Bhangra team is participating only in the exhibition category, the dancers hope to win the audience choice award.
“[We want the audience] to get themselves amped up because we set the stage for the rest of the performances,” Riya Mariya Alex, a sophomore biology major, said. “So it’s just a way for them to glue their eyes to our performance.”
In a quiet dance studio tucked away in the labyrinth of Alumni Arena’s winding hallways, AASU Vibe refines their choreography. Almost in line with the title of their contemporary hip hop track, “Silence (feat. Khalid)” by Marshmello, the dancers listen to dance captain and junior psychology major Yukie Sun’s instruction.
Even though the group is doing exhibition as opposed to competing for the International Fiesta champion title, there is still pressure on AASU Vibe to repeat the success of their predecessors — mainly winning the People’s Choice — audience-voted award for a second year in a row.
Even though AASU Vibe covets their previously earned title, their dancing centers on family and friendship rather than trophies and adoration.
“I feel like it’s a family away from home — I know it’s cheesy,” Sun said. “When I first transferred here, I had no friends and I saw AASU Vibe on Instagram. I was like, ‘Oh, dance has been something that I’ve been working with… let me join them.’”
Junior neuroscience and music major Susanna Huang, who’s danced with the group since her freshman year and returned to the group after a semester away, echoes the sentiment. Seeing the club perform without her last semester brought back memories of the adrenaline rush of Hell Week — the final stretch of arduous rehearsals before a show — and a passion for dance she feared she had lost. International Fiesta is Huang’s long-overdue homecoming.
“We never judge each other. Even if we just want to be alone, we somehow come together as a group,” Huang said. “Even if there are times when we want to be alone, we just kind of get there for each other.”
Their inventive number involving the wearing and removal of blindfolds, speaks to the immigrant and first-generation Asian-American experience, covering everything from academic pressure and familial expectations to societal stereotypes and burnout. Sun, herself having immigrated to the US from China at age 9, hopes that the audience will meet AASU Vibe’s message with open arms and minds.
“I hope they get the message,” Helen Pond, a junior biology major, said. “And I hope that we just leave them speechless and with chills.”
A rehearsal with LASA on day three of Hell Week is a departure from the usual chaos and tension one would expect. Instead, walking into the SU Theater, onlookers would be greeted by joyful exclamations, enthusiastic cheering and a show-stopping salsa number.
LASA members get critiques from dance liaison, team captain and head choreographer Nicole Baez before taping their heels to avoid a fall on the slippery stage. The club works to find what can take their performance to the next level.
“It’s not bad, it’s alright,” Baez, a junior health and human services major, tells her dancers. “It needs more oomph.”
Finding that extra oomph isn’t the only thing on Baez’s mind. As she works to take the group’s dancing to new heights, she also juggles the everyday demands and responsibilities of leading a 47-person group. Having risen from dancer to liaison in only 10 months with LASA, Baez describes the rapid transition as “an out-of-body experience.”
Dancers new and old to LASA feel the love and mutual respect that the group cultivates. Senior communication major Kathleen Leite, a four-year LASA dancing veteran, embraces the shared culture and community found through choreography, storytelling and late-night rehearsals.
“It can be hard to kind of find self-identity around campus,” Leite said. “And so with LASA, I’m able to find people who might have grown up the same as me or are first-generation students just like myself, and [having grown up] knowing the same language is also something that’s super special.”
Sofia Alvarez, a sophomore math education major and first-year LASA dancer, shares her feelings of anticipation in regard to the narrative LASA plans to create.
“The preparation has been a bit tiring, but very worth it,” Alvarez said. “I think our story is so powerful, and I’m very excited to share that with the audience.”
Meret Kelsey is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meret Kelsey is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.
Alex Novak is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.