May 31, 2020
Members of a traditional Khmer dance group teach students a traditional Cambodian dance during the Diversity Dance Workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 10. (Alejandro Soto/The Collegian)

Diversity in dance celebrated during Homecoming Week

Fresno State students got into the swing of things during Tuesday’s Diversity Dance Workshop, and event that was part of Homecoming Week..

Hosted by the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, the workshop allowed students to learn different cultural dances and step to the rhythm of new traditions.

The event was the third dance workshop put on by the CCGC, and it included lessons in swing dancing, Khmer dancing and Filipino dancing.

Student coordinators Nwachukwu Oputa and Tamae Clarke planned and supervised the event. The first time Oputa implemented a dance workshop was last fall.

“We are always trying to do different events that have cross-cultural interaction and having different cultures learn about each other and experience different things,” Oputa said. “I love to dance, and I was like, ‘How cool would it be if we had different cultures dancing or teaching us their different styles of dance?’”

The first dance taught to the attendees was swing dancing, led by the Fresno State Swing Club’s president Shoji Hishida and vice president Megan Kalomiris. They taught the crowd the six-step, which allowed for a lead and a follow as the moves were broken down into spins and footwork.

Next, the United Khmer Cultural Preservation, a non-profit cultural education group, taught traditional Khmer dancing.

“Traditional Khmer dancing originated in Cambodia to represent the Khmer culture,” said Alexis Nou Pow, a dancer from the preservation group.

Nou Pow and the other dancers taught both traditional and folk Khmer dancing. While traditional dancing is more formal, folk presents the country life, she said. She stressed the importance of flexed hands and straight posture while dancing.

“To be able to teach it is a new experience,” Nou Pow said. “It was nice to see people interested in our culture since it’s beginning to diminish in the society.”

The Filipino dance, called Pandaggo sa Ilaw, or Dance of Lights, was taught by Fresno State’s Magkaisa Filipino Club.

The dancers explained to the crowd not to show their palms while dancing, since they believe it represents the soul. The Dance of Lights usually includes glasses with candles, but the instructors pantomimed the glasses during this event with one dancer pretending to balance the glass on his face.

Freshman Bre’Asha Shepard attended the event with her boyfriend, Jamal Brown, after hearing about the event in an email.

“I was messing up a lot, but it was fun,” Shepard said.  “I thought it was really great, and it was funny, and I think it brought me out of my shell a little bit.”

Brown said that he is a more experienced dancer with a background in ballet, hip hop, krump, b-boy and other genres. He said he was interested in learning the meaning behind cultural dances.

“I heard the word ‘dance,’ and I have a very big passion for dance and [Shepard] knew that, so she told me about it, and so I came,” Brown said. “It is awesome. I’ve actually never done anything like this before, to see other cultures dance.”

Oputa and Clarke said that they wanted students to feel a sense of inclusion while observing and engaging in other cultures.

“Just seeing the students engaging and having fun was probably the best aspect,” Clarke said. “The fact that it is Homecoming and we could be able to promote diversity within Homecoming [Week] so different groups could learn about different cultures in a creative, fun way [was] really enjoyable for me, personally.”

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