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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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‘It felt like a dream’: Students tell cultural stories through dance at 2023 International Fiesta

FASA takes first place, ‘People’s Choice’ and ‘Most Inspiring’ awards in this year’s ‘Circle of Life’-themed competition

The Filipino-American Student Association took home three trophies at this year's International Fiesta, including first place.
The Filipino-American Student Association took home three trophies at this year's International Fiesta, including first place.

By the time doors opened at 5:30 p.m., the CFA’s atrium was packed and any semblance of a line was long gone. Dancers in stunning dress from their respective cultures carried props through the crowd or waved to loved ones from a staircase above. The whole building buzzed with undeniable anticipation.

International Fiesta, UB’s annual dance competition showcasing international clubs and organizations on campus, took place Saturday in the CFA Mainstage Theatre.

The hosts of the night, Askari Medhi and SA assistant director of communication Tendaji Ya’Ukuu, a junior environmental design major, prepared for their big entrance outside the theater doors.

“I’m so excited about all these dances,” Medhi, a junior biomedical engineering major, said. “People were practicing hours and hours every day. Seeing that all come together — it’s gonna be a great experience.”

This contagious excitement had been growing since the event’s theme, “Circle of Life,” was announced months ago. This concept encompasses cultural pride, historic events, and imagining a promising future.

The International Fiesta Itinerary, provided by SA, explains the theme as “a homage to the past for the ancestors that guided us, a look to the future with pride at how far we’ve come, and how much more there is to learn and experience in the world around us.” 

To be considered for first place, dancers had to not only impress the judges with their skill but also with a story told through their performance that illustrates the circle of life. Groups could also choose to forgo the theme and compete for the audience-determined awards of “Most Inspiring” and “People’s Choice.”

The Filipino-American Student Association took home three trophies: “First Place,” “People’s Choice” and “Most Inspiring” at this year’s International Fiesta.

First Place, “People’s Choice” and “Most Inspiring” — Filipino-American Student Association

FASA’s 2023 performance showcased various traditional styles of dance. Sam Urriza, FASA president, said the styles they picked were “Tinikling,” which is one of the national dances of the Philippines involving bamboo sticks, “Eskrima” (a war dance), “Pandanggo sa Ilaw” (the candle dance), “Sayaw sa Bangko” (the bench dance), “Bulaklakan” (a flower dance), the fan dance and “Kapiil sa Munsala” (a scarf dance).

They wove all those styles together to tell the story of the various invasions and terrorist attacks the Philippines has endured throughout history.

Urriza says their group’s performance was highly anticipated following their second-place win at the 2022 International Fiesta.

“I think for those people who did see our performance last year, they were expecting something big,” Urriza, a junior intended nursing major, said. “I think we did provide that.”

Junqi Wu, FASA’s performance cultural chair, described their performance as a “continued story of building resistance and growth.” 

“Our circle of life is the way our ancestors and us today have come together and united under one flag, one national identity after each of these invasions drove off the conquerors, and through that built a stronger cultural identity,” Qi, a junior computer science major, said. 

Second Place — Sri Lankan Student Association

While FASA walked away with the top spot, an incomparable sensation of pure joy and gratitude radiated from a different group in the CFA atrium. The Sri Lankan Student Association laughed and embraced one another as they rejoiced over their underdog success story.

“We literally started this club last spring and within a year we’re at this point where we’re winning second prize at Fiesta,” Shruti Kunadia, club vice president and a sophomore architecture major, said. “There’s so much work that has gone behind this. We have been working since day one when Fiesta was announced, nonstop, day and night. We made our own music, our own costumes, our own choreography, every single thing.”

“Last year when we created this club, we didn’t even think we could get this far. Fiesta was like a dream,” Joshane Fernando, club president and a junior computer science major, chimed in. “And here we are. First time ever performing for Fiesta and we win second place. It’s crazy.”

SLSA’s dance told the story of a woman explaining to her son how she received the scar on her face during a battle. The performance took the audience through Sri Lankan history, from the 1948 Independence Day and how the country dealt with a corrupt president in 2022. The group formed a human pyramid in their final moments on stage, impressing the audience.

“Before the performance, everyone was super tense, but we knew that we had a very creative story, like a very true and creative story,” Nirav Kanadia, a dancer and freshman business major, said. “So more than trying to win we wanted the audience and everyone who was watching to let them know our story and express it creatively.” 

Third Place — Bengali Student Association

The Bengali Student Association hadn’t performed at International Fiesta until this year’s competition.

Their performance told the story of a young couple who were separated when the man was called to fight in a war. He dies in battle, leaving the woman to care for their newborn son. This son grows up to display his own sense of nationalism by representing Bangladesh in the National Cricket League.

Other competing organizations

Buffalo Bhangra opened the show, wowing the audience with a high-energy performance and hyping up the already animated crowd. 

Despite being noncompetitive groups, the Korean Student Association and 8 Count left especially strong impressions on the audience.

“I would love to see other groups participate in the competition,” Kesha Boateng, a senior law and sociology major, said. “The [Korean Student Association’s] K-pop number was phenomenal, and 8 Count went insane. I would love to see them tell a story as well because I think there’s always a story there.”

The second act of the show brought the crowd to their feet. By executing a flawless dance while wearing blindfolds, the Asian American Student Union left viewers picking their jaws up off the floor.

“Dancing blindfolded!” Boateng exclaimed. “Top notch. That is something I would never even anticipate people doing.”

The Organization of Arab Students performed a dance about classism, and Friends of Ukraine combined a wedding dance and military ritual for their performance.

Last year’s winners, the Indian Student Association, returned to the International Fiesta stage with a story about mental health.

When the show finished, audience members battled against inadequate Wi-Fi to cast their votes while the judges quietly deliberated behind the scenes. FASA proved that they were the true fan favorites by winning both the “People’s Choice” and “Most Inspiring” awards in addition to First Place.

Terrence Li, the main lead of the FASA performance and choreographer for the tinikling dance, said that this year’s International Fiesta was his first time performing.

“To win three awards was honestly surreal. When we went onstage and they announced that FASA had won, I just couldn’t believe it,” Li said. “It felt like a dream.”

The Spectrum originally wrongly matched the Tagalog names of dances with their English translations. The section containing "'tinikling' (a war dance), 'escrima' (the candle dance), 'pandanggo sa ilawllaw' (the bench dance), and 'sayaw sa bangko' (a formal flower and scarf dance)," has been changed to "'Tinikling,' which is one of the national dances of the Philippines involving bamboo sticks, 'Eskrima' (a war dance), 'Pandanggo sa Ilaw' (the candle dance), 'Sayaw sa Bangko' (the bench dance), 'Bulaklakan' (a flower dance), the fan dance, and 'Kapiil sa Munsala' (a scarf dance)." We regret this error.

The arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com

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