Culture Shock’ Creates Dialogue Through Dance

At its best, dance builds bridges between cultures, creating dialogues between multinational traditions of movement. It can link together societies, as well as tell stories about what sets them apart. This past Friday, the International Club at Boston College hosted “Culture Shock,” a dance showcase with performances from four of BC’s dance teams: Vietnamese Students Association (VSA), Full Swing, Masti, and VIP. The unifying thread of the show was the idea of melding cultures. Each team represented a different style of dance, often one unique to a certain country or ethnic identity.

The show kicked off with members from VSA dancing the “Lotus Dance,” a cultural display meant to represent the beauty and form of the lotus flower. In Vietnamese culture, the lotus flower represents long life, health, honor, and good luck. The lotus flower grows from the murky darkness of the pond floor up, breaking through to the surface of the water toward the sun. It is well anchored, moving freely with the currents without being uprooted. Wearing loose red dresses, the dancers imitated the movements of the flower as they twirled, carrying large paper flowers in each hand.

In a 180-degree turn, “Culture Shock” moved from the gardens of Vietnam to the U.S. in the ’30s with a performance by the Full Swing, BC’s swing dance group. Formerly known as the Swing Kids, this small team was established as an organization at BC in 1998. The pace and style of “Culture Shock” was drastically different from the dance before it, yet, it was equally entertaining. Despite the sudden change, the two pieces flowed nicely together. Full Swing’s set was marked by a feel-good, nostalgic vibe. The dancers were obviously having fun, and that positive energy resonated well with the audience. There was infectious joy in Full Swing’s performance, lifting the spirits of Gasson 100. It is not hard to see why the Swing movement gained so much popularity during the Great Depression.

The South Asian Student Association’s dance group Masti followed Full Swing, transporting the audience from the swing clubs of the 1930s to modern-day India with Masti’s style of dance, which merges the cultural charm of traditional Indian dance with a more modern style of movement. Masti’s performance was heavily influenced by Bollywood’s big, energetic dancing spectacles-movement is an important part of India’s media culture, and Masti brought that identity to Gasson. Last weekend, Masti won top honors in the cultural category of the Annual Showdown dance competition, and that energy carried over to Friday’s show. Masti’s musical selection smoothly transitioned between beats and styles-some were more heavily influenced by Western music, some much more traditional. “Culture Shock” showed off many ethnic dance traditions, but part of the concept of the showcase was to show how these styles have become interconnected in a globalized market of ideas. The hybrid style of Masti celebrated South Asian culture, while at the same time demonstrating how interconnected world dance has grown to be in recent years.

Leaping over continents, “Culture Shock” took the audience to Latin America for the final act of the night. Vida de Intensa Pasion (VIP) once again brought together the old and the new, bringing pop culture in the United States into the context of traditional Latin dance. Starting with more conventional Spanish dance music, the performance eventually transitioned into a remix of Rihanna’s “Say My Name.” The remix brought many of the musical elements found in Latin music together with the vocal work of the Barbadian-American singer. This engaging final act brought the night’s theme of cultural fusion to the forefront, showing how culturally specialized styles of motion can be set to Top-40 hits.

This cleverly titled event, “Culture Shock,” brought a new meaning to the expression. Despite jumping back and forth between distinct and geographically separated styles, the evening demonstrated a sense of unity between the cultures. Engaging the audience with this dialogue of cultures, the four acts featured in “Culture Shock” provided a compelling mix of talents. The show was a reminder of the cultural mosaic at BC and the multicultural foundation of modern dance.