Capoeira, soca, Bollywood-style dance, Chinese fan dances. Though none of the performers at the University of Maine’s annual International Dance Showcase are trained professionals, the mostly student-led group of dancers will perform all those dance styles and more at this year’s event.
The dance showcase regularly fills the Collins Center to capacity twice in one day, and has done so most years in its 13-year history. Two performances are planned for 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.
The International Dance Showcase features members of UMaine’s large, diverse international student and faculty community alongside members of other international communities around the state.
More than 100 local and statewide performers representing 12 different dance traditions from around the globe will participate in a nearly two hour long performance.
Sarah Joughin, associate director of the Office of International Programs at UMaine and one of the lead organizers of the event, said that she had no idea the dance showcase would become as popular as it was when it first started in 2005.
“This was all student driven. Students came to me and said they wanted something in the spring semester, to compliment what we do in the fall, which is Culture Fest,” said Joughin, referring to the fall food and culture festival held at the New Balance Recreation Center on campus. “It really was popular right from the get go. Every year it gets bigger and bigger.”
The dance traditions represented in the showcase span the globe from Vietnam to Iran to Brazil, drawing mostly from UMaine’s broad array of international students and students from different ethnic backgrounds.
For the students, it’s not just a chance to show off their dance skills and the traditions of their home countries — it’s also a chance to get to know each other outside of the classroom or dormitory.
Jodaliza Feliz, a third year student originally from New York, will perform a Caribbean-inspired dance piece with a group of fellow students, drawing on elements of soca, reggaeton and Haitian dance in their performance. She’s made lots of friends in the three years she’s participated.
“The practice is the best part. Getting close to people. Seeing something go from zero to 100,” said Feliz. “It’s a melting pot of different people. And even after practicing and the show, we stay friends. And it’s just really cool to see what everybody brings to the table. It makes you feel like you’re part of a community.”
Prateek Kunwar, an adjunct mathematics instructor from New Delhi, India, who finished his graduate degree at UMaine last December. Kunwar was initially little nervous about dancing on stage — he’d never actually done it before — but he’s now in his third year performing. This year he and a group of Indian students will perform a high energy Indian dance routine, a dance style that’s a perennial part of the showcase, and also a crowd favorite.
“I had never danced before and I took up the opportunity to be out of my comfort zone,” said Kunwar. “I was also excited about bringing a part of my home and my culture to my friends here.”
Dance is one of the most universal of art forms. No matter which country you come from, the human body stays the same.
“I think dance is so dynamic, and I think everyone can relate to it. And this really offers such an amazing variety — where else in the area can you see such a diverse array of dance traditions in one place?” said Joughin. “And honestly, a lot of performing arts around here can be really prohibitively expensive for families. This is free. You can bring your kids and expose them to culture.”
Most years there are also performers from outside of the UMaine community — performers from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor have made the trek to Orono to participate, various UMaine alumni have come back to perform some years, and this year, Bangor Ballet will perform as well.
Lily Crain, who teaches Chinese at Bangor High School and is involved with Maine China Network, a Bangor-based organization dedicated to strengthening ties between Maine and China, will perform a Chinese fan dance at the showcase. After performing at the Culture Fest this past fall, she decided to bite the bullet and perform at the showcase this year.
“I haven’t been on a stage dancing in like 14 years. It’s a little scary,” said Crain. “You don’t see this kind of dancing here very often, though you see it in China a lot. You get to see a lot of things you wouldn’t normally see at events like this.”
Joughin said she’s always struck by how joyful the showcase is each year, for performers and audience alike — and with an uncertain political climate in the U.S. and headlines touting increased animosity towards immigrants, that sense of joy and celebration of diversity is more important now than ever.
“I think since November there’s been a great deal of uncertainty. Nobody knows how things are going to change,” said Joughin. “I think some students get worried about how people look at them. For them, this showcase is really a chance for them to shine and show off their culture and their home countries. It really shows off the best of what diversity is all about. It’s a really joyful event.”
Kunwar has discovered that he’s got a knack for dance — and more importantly, that it fosters a sense of community among his fellow students, international or otherwise.
“It is beautiful to see people from all countries take out time from their busy academic schedule and put together an awesome show,” said Kunwar. “Since my first performance, I have discovered how much I love dancing and I look forward to this event each year — it gives me a inexplicable sense of joy and happiness to go out and perform.”
There will be two performances of the International Dance Showcase on Saturday, Feb. 18: at 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m., at the Collins Center for the Arts. The event is free, but seats are given out on a first come, first-served basis. Literacy Volunteers of America will be on hand to accept donations at the performance, and UMaine’s Honors College Student Council will be collecting clothing donations for refugees in Syria and Palestine.