After the stresses of the global pandemic, an opportunity was presented to share unique cultures with one another and to cheer on brothers and sisters of the BYU–Hawaii ohana from all over the world. The nine chapters that presented their dances at Culture Night 2021 were met with enthusiasm from cheers and smiles from the crowd. The gratitude from the students and faculty participating in the event was unmistakable.
Vice President of Student Life Jonathan Kalaonalani Kau said at the event that for President John S.K. Kauwe III, this was a momentous occasion because it was his first Culture Night. Additionally, Culture Night 2021 was the first large-scale event hosted by BYUH since the beginning of the pandemic.
Determined to be an essential activity, the event was chaperoned by the Hawaii Police Department to ensure proper COVID-19 safety protocols were followed. More than 600 live audience members were in attendance and were required to sit in assigned seats and refrained from screaming while keeping their face masks on at all times. A livestream of the event was also broadcast on the BYUH YouTube channel.
The Hawaii Club was the first to perform. The club members danced the hula in simple costumes of black skirts and pants, white shirts, colorful patterned belts and kukui nut leis. The Hawaii Club Vice President Piliahloha Haverly, said they danced to songs picked to broaden the horizons of the club and audience members alike.
Both songs were a tribute to the nearby town of Hauula and its landmarks, such as Sacred Falls. For the first song, only female members of the club danced. They were joined by the men for the rest of the performance. Everyone was smiling widely as they danced and communicated the importance, culture and history Hauula holds for its residents.
After the Hawaii Club finished, the Cambodia Club members took the stage. In their introduction, they invited anyone, regardless of national origin, to join the Cambodia Club to learn, share and love each other as a family. “We are all the same no matter where we come from,” Cambodia Club President Amreth Phirun asserted.
They proceeded to present a four-part performance in which the first three parts were traditional folk dances and the fourth was an energetic pop-culture dance.
The Cambodia Club dances placed emphasis on individual dancers and their hand gestures, Phirun said, which conveyed the meaning of the dance.
Their costumes were white and gold with either long skirts or colorful pants, topped with elaborate gold headdresses, belts, necklaces and bangles. Props were used throughout the traditional dances, which were: the blessing dance, the apsara dance and the ken dance. Finally, during the pop-culture dance, the audience clapped along to the beat as Cambodian flags waved at the back of the stage behind the dancers.
The Great India Club members also invited students to participate in their club activities in the upcoming semesters. The choreography reflected the diversity of India, they said in their introduction video, by selecting four different dances from four different corners of India, three folk dances and one classical dance.
Indian dance has far more to offer than just Bollywood, said the India Club President Vidya Purushottam, because the dances tell stories and share history. The happiness and excitement of the dancers was infectious as they ran onstage with colorful, flowing outfits. The women wore face and hand makeup. They danced to the upbeat music and displayed the Indian flag at the end of their performance.
The Ballroom Dance Club was the only club to come to Culture Night without representing a specific country. The club members instead represented the diversity and shared passions of the BYUH student body, which consists of both domestic and international students.
The Ballroom Club Vice President Abigail Smith said with an active group chat and weekly Zoom meetings, the Ballroom Dance Club was a gathering point for many brand new freshmen. However, some new club members were unable to perform in Culture Night because they haven’t made it to campus yet. Those who did perform showed off a lively performance based off of old-school American dances.
The all-female troupe was dressed in black shirts and bright red skirts and danced to electric swing and pop song remixes.
Fifth up was the Mongolia Club, which was described as a supportive and tight-knit ohana by Mongolian Club President Jaagii Battulga. They danced to a song titled “The Rising Sun,” which told the story of separated lovers. The title of the song comes from the idea that no matter how long and dark the night is, the sun will always rise in the morning.
Because students have experienced being separated from loved ones for long periods of time during the pandemic, the choreographer, Narantsatsral Ganzorigt, said the Mongolia Club wished to express hope and joy to the audience and share the message that everything will be okay.
Their costumes were patterned and embroidered, the women wore bright colors and the men were outfitted in fur.
The Kiribati Club followed with a two-part dance performance that incorporated both modern and traditional elements. The members of the Kiribati Club consider this club their home and a place to share their culture even when Kiribati is 1,000 miles away, said Club President Angelina Kum Kee.
With female club members in black grass-styled skirts and male club members in woven wraps, they imitated the motions of the frigate bird, the national symbol of Kiribati.
After the traditional dance, they cut to a slideshow of pictures of Kiribati and changed their costumes to black shirts and bright red lavalavas for the second part of their performance. During this dance, they mixed traditional Kiribati style with other schools of dance from around the world. They capped off their performance with waving the Kiribati flag.
The China Club went next during Culture Night with a traditional performance with a modern feel.
Paying homage to the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, said the choreographer, Joy Tang, their dance was a delicate balance between two different styles of dance.
The performance started with a live music solo performed on the zheng, a 2,500-year-old Chinese instrument with an ethereal sound. Afterwards, dancers in traditional pink and red flowing dresses, called hanfu, took to the stage to perform a classic dance. They then changed costumes into casual Western-style clothes to dance again to the same song, but with more explosively energetic movements. At the end, they showed their country’s flag.
Next up, was the Philippines Club, the biggest club at BYUH, said the club’s introduction video. With their dance, Club President Gerome Romero said they hoped to send a message of hope and resilience. They included a touching tribute to Filipino healthcare workers who stood on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.
With white shirts, black pants and white shoes, the Philippines Club was eye-catching as they danced in celebration of their country. They waved colorful scarves and the Philippines flag at the end of their performance.
Last, but certainly not least, the Samoa Club put on a performance highlighting the strength and courage that carried people through the challenges of 2020 to 2021. Their dance was preceded by an emotional announcement from Samoa Club President Jannah Fogavai of how the taualuga would be the last dance of Culture Night 2021, but not the last of times spent together as friends and peers.
Fogavai highlighted the importance of faith and trust in Heavenly Father combined with hard work and preparation. The women in the club wore long yellow and blue patterned skirts, white necklaces and feather hairpieces. The men were mostly shirtless and dressed in traditional clothes.
For the men’s segment of the dance, they delivered a powerful performance with jumping, dancing and clapping. Finally, Fogavai came out in traditional regalia, complete with a tuiga headdress and performed a taualuga. The excitement and joy of both the club and audience members was thick in the air.
When the dance was over, the audience was thanked for their love and support by Culture Night organizers.
See more photos on Ke Alaka'i's Facebook page.