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‘MELA’ brings night of South Asian dance

By Dana Trismen

Section: Arts

December 2, 2011

MELA 2011 was by far the most well-attended event I have seen this semester at Brandeis. I arrived a half-hour early and still had trouble getting seats. People were there to support their friends and were enthusiastic all night long; people were truly invested in the performances. For those who are unaware, MELA is an annual production produced by the South Asian Students’ Association. It is a joyous celebration of the eight nations that compose South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

This year, MELA’s theme was “Pehchaan,” which means “identity.” MELA aims to show others what it means to be associated with South Asian culture. This includes students born in South Asian countries, those whose parents were born in the region and those who simply associate themselves with the culture. It’s truly a labor of love, involving a large amount of effort; everyone, especially the executive board, puts in countless hours to make the show a success.

MELA itself is composed of a variety of events. Although a bulk of the show consisted of cultural dance numbers, there were also spoken word readings, a fashion show and instrumental performances. The dance numbers were fascinating mainly because they incorporated multiple styles of dance, with performances including aspects of classical dance with hip-hop. I was impressed with the choreography, especially in numbers like the Sophomore Dance. There were so many students performing that it was amazing they all fit on stage. Though the hip-hop aspects of the dances were interesting, I enjoyed the classical parts of the dances as well. There is something enthralling about the costumes, colors, bell sounds and arm movements in South Asian dance. The very movement is graceful and is only amplified by the brilliant colors of the costumes.

A very touching performance came from Dean Jamele Adams and Usman Hameedi ’12. This spoken-word piece answered the question of which topics would be discussed if Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi ever met. Adams is famous around campus for the workshop he runs during Orientation titled “This is Our House.” A fan of his diversity workshop, I was not disappointed by his performance here. These two powerhouses of the spoken word gave me chills, especially when they spoke in unison about culture and the world today.

One of the dance numbers with which I was most impressed was performed by Chak de ’Deis, a Bollywood fusion dance team incorporating Bollywood, Bhangra and hip-hop. This group consists of an equal number of men and women, and involved a good amount of dancing in pairs but also many hip-hop moves. I was impressed with their poise, as well as by how professional they were.

The fashion show, choreographed by Natasha Qidwai ’14, was another highlight of the night. Though I normally find gazing at people modeling clothes boring, this was different. For one thing, South Asian clothes are beautiful: They come in a wide pallet of colors and flow smoothly over the body. This fashion show was particularly entertaining because each person was given a pose to enact once they finished walking across the stage. These poses were adorable and usually involved the other person modeling at the same time. I loved the atmosphere of play while also displaying the culture of South Asia through clothing.

This year, the money raised from MELA—tickets were $5 apiece—went to the organization Empower Dalit Women of Nepal (EDWON). A short PowerPoint presentation was made about this charity. EDWON believes the main hope to bring countries out of poverty and to revive whole communities is empowering women. It raises the standards of life for women in Nepal through literary training, support groups, women’s savings groups and formal education for low-caste children. EDWON has seen results: Literacy rates are rising and women are taking more active positions in their communities. This is a trend that hopefully will continue through the funds donated from MELA.

The educational part of MELA was an unexpected but enjoyable aspect of the show. During the years, MELA has become more informative for students. A non-South Asian myself, I appreciated the slides that were shown about the different countries and the styles of dance through which South Asians express themselves. I loved the fusion of culture and dance, and felt as though they were sharing their traditions with me as the viewer. I truly felt the passion these students feel about their country and it inspired me to want to learn more about their culture. Though I am not South-Asian, I am considering participating in MELA next year—it seems like an amazing opportunity to bond with fellow Brandeisians and learn about different cultures.

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