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Students take pride in expressions of heritage

A traditional Dabkah dance, multi-national fashion show and the tango were only a few of the cultural activities performed by students in hopes of enlightening and entertaining audience members at Culturefest '99 Saturday.

A lot of heart, energy and fancy footwork went into this day devoted to representing students' individual ethnicities and learning about other cultures. Culturefest, which featured students from many different ethnic groups on Grounds, filled the third floor of Newcomb Hall from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. This year's theme was "Hands Across the World," and was sponsored by the Parents Program, the Blue Moon Diner and Maharajah restaurant.

University President John T. Casteen III provided the opening remarks for the day's events, explaining that cultural enrichment supplements education beyond the classroom.

Casteen said the very first Culturefest, held over a decade ago, was just a small gathering of international students who had no other way to demonstrate their different cultures.

He said in addition to diversity, "life here is basically about education."

Residents of Mosaic House, who co-sponsored the event, followed Casteen's speech. They performed a skit about the planning of and motivation behind Culturefest.

In the next hour and a half, 13 different organizations danced, sang or played songs on the guitar from their native countries. The performances were as diverse as the nations they represented.

From the colorful, festive "Flower Dance" by the Organization of Young Filipino Americans, to the spirited "Sailor's Dance" by the Hellenic Society, a wide variety of props and costumes adorned the performances.

The Arab Student Organization performed a traditional Dabkah dance, native to certain regions of the countries represented. Later, the Vietnamese Student Association demonstrated a hat dance, while the Armenian Cultural Society introduced students to a traditional "Wedding Dance."

A spicy tango and a guitar duet performed by the Argentinean Society had people tapping their toes and straining in their seats to see the action. Then the "Lion Dance" by the Chinese Students Association had children smiling as a gigantic, embroidered creation pranced around the stage. The dance had audience members in the front rows scurrying as the lion spewed forth the lettuce it "ate."

The Indian Student Association performed a dance from the Punjabi region, while the Pakistani Student League, the Persian Cultural Society and La Sociedad Latina demonstrated some of their culture's traditional dances.

Baha'i Club also sang songs of peace and understanding in both Arabic and English.

Culturefest "shows a union of cultures with the same language. It has nothing to do with religion or politics; just uniting a culture," fourth-year Engineering student Mohammad Al-Sadek said.

Immediately after the entertainment portion of the afternoon was a fashion show. Eleven organizations displayed their native clothing to the beat of traditional music.

Some of the clothing on display at the show had more functional purposes while others were garments worn only on special occasions.

Just as there was variety in dancing and music among the cultures, there was also a difference in clothing. Some items were silk or satin; some, stiff cotton. A few of the pieces had lavish embroidering, while others had intricate prints.

There were sequins, buttons, high collars and plummeting necklines. In addition, there were sheer and iridescent fabrics not seen every day.

One of the most noticeable features of Culturefest was the interaction between groups. Hoots of support and applause of appreciation from the audience continued throughout the day's festivities.

The students involved in the show seemed to capture the meaning of Culturefest.

"Culturefest is nice because the people are close," Al-Sadek said. "It gives us a chance to share our culture with other people."

Al-Sadek, who performed with the both the Arab Student Organization and the Armenian Cultural Society, exemplified the spirit of the event. He cheered for all of the groups that danced or sang.

In addition, Al-Sadek is not Armenian. He said he just wanted to be a part of their organization and that this is his second year participating in Culturefest.

Culturefest traditionally takes place during Parent's Weekend. As in other years, this gave all mothers and fathers a chance to see what the University's diverse student body has to offer. However, it also gave parents an opportunity to share their knowledge of different cultures. Families sang along to various songs during the performances, and little children were dancing in the aisles.

Even audience members not part of the various organizations felt the energy and excitement of Culturefest.

Second-year College graduate student Sarah Watson, who studies Italian Literature and teaches Italian 201, attended the event for the second year in a row.

"I really think it is an excellent opportunity for everyone on Grounds to experience another culture, as well as the diversity out there," Watson said.

Watson attended William & Mary as an undergraduate and said she was involved with various cultural groups as a student. As much as she loved her school, she said much less opportunity existed to experience different cultures because different groups of people were not represented by any specific organization.

"U.Va. is one of the most diverse schools in Virginia, I think," she said. "I think it is great they have Culturefest. William & Mary just did not have some of these organizations, like the Armenian, Pakistani and Persian groups."

Culturefest planners, who began preparations in September, said they began organizing the event by contacting various groups in an effort to find participants and coordinated with the groups weekly.

Lori Goldstein, fourth-year College student and Culturefest co-chairwoman, said there were numerous behind-the-scenes and logistical elements to Culturefest. Goldstein said these included pre-event rehearsals and publicity efforts, but in the end she said she felt the event was a success.

"I think everyone had a good time, and it served its purpose," she said.

Besides dancing and the fashion show, Culturefest had events that allowed attendants to interact with participants. Videos from different countries, books, displays and international foods, sat along side an origami table where children of all ages could try their hand at this ancient art form.

Attendants, participants and organizers of Culturefest '99 agreed the event was a success, both in terms of meeting its education and entertainment goals.

"It was a huge success," said Doxa Economidou, third-year College student and Culturefest co-chairwoman. "We never expected it to work out so well"