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Every year, the most anticipated event on the calendar, Festival of Nations (FON), comes to the Townsend Harris stage with a bang. This year, it came with three.
For the first time in the school’s history, FON led over 400 students in 16 different cultural dances. The production was so large that in order to accommodate all the friends and family that came out to support the dancers, it became necessary to include a third, matinee performance on Saturday.
Though the performances took place on Friday and Saturday, the weeks leading up to the cultural festival saw halls full of jingling bangles, vividly colored costumes, and matching t-shirts that promoted the various dances.
The show started off every night the bright colors of Bengali FON, and featured several new groups such as French, Balkan, and Middle Eastern. More popular groups, such as Dhamaka, only got larger.
“I was really excited about having three shows,” said Assistant Principal of Organization, Health and Physical Education Ellen Fee, “because it allowed for more people to view the performances, and I think that although the performers were tired, there was still a lot of energy on Saturday night.”
As for the FON leaders themselves, having to choreograph for, position and keep track of so many dancers proved to be quite demanding. New groups, without the advantage of having seen previous performances, had to be creative and rise to the challenge. “At first it was hard working together with everyone and putting together choreography that everyone would be able to successfully do and feel comfortable doing. In the long run, we all worked together to make an amazing outcome,” said sophomore Diana Jandunandan, leader of French FON, one of the new groups this year.
Senior Joice Im, who was one of the Korean FON leaders, enjoyed preparing for three performances.
“[Having three shows] was, in a way, more tiring and more time consuming but it was very exciting,” she recalled. “I loved the fact that FON didn’t end after just one show– instead, we were able to re-live it two more times. I honestly wouldn’t mind if FON had five shows or more. Also, before each show began, I was able to interact with the members of FON and even had the opportunity to meet new people.”
The performers themselves, especially those who were part of more than one FON, rushed around backstage, with barely any time to exchange hugs or congratulations as they changed costumes and adjusted makeup before their next dance. Senior Lamiyah Kamal was among those breathless dancers. “It wasn’t that hard for me to do three shows,” she commented. “I couldn’t even feel time going by. It was basically just a cycle of performing and then running downstairs to get into my next costume, that I didn’t even really think about anything else.”
After school, any space that could fit two or three students was occupied by a FON leader rehearsing steps. “It was very difficult to find practice space for all the different groups, and also to find everyone fair and equitable stage time practice,” continued Ms. Fee. “It was gracious of the wrestlers to allow the cafeteria to be used as often as it was. We used a lot more hallway space than I remember, especially on the second floor,” she said
When it comes to school events that feature such large groups of people, one would it expect it to be easy for students to feel lost or left out amidst all the chaos. Contrary to this, however, the groups gave some of the more shy students opportunities to be part of the production, without having to be front and center. “I like big groups because it allows more students to be in the back row that might not feel comfortable dancing in smaller productions, and I like the idea of so many students being involved in something more energetic and positive, “ commented Ms. Fee.
Alexander Burzynski, an alumnus from the Class of 2014, agreed, saying, “In this year’s FON there were more people, it was more exciting, everyone was into it. It was great to see more cultures represented.”
“Being my first year in FON I didn’t expect to feel so welcomed or to have such a sense of commitment to putting on an amazing performance,” said sophomore Vinod Raghunath.
“I enjoyed being able to celebrate my country and making new Filipino friends,” said freshman Renaenia Pangan. “FON made me feel more welcome into the Townsend family. I got to be a part of something big here and I got to know more people. As someone who is not good at dancing it really boosted my confidence to dance in front of people. Plus FON made me look forward to school and made me even happier to be in Townsend.”