Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 14, 2024

Music, dance and heritage on display in 2023 Culture Show

By HELENA GIFFORD | May 4, 2023

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STEVEN SIMPSON / PHOTO EDITOR

Blue Jay Bhangra shares Bhangra and Punjabi culture at the annual Culture Show.

The first night of Culture Show has always been one of my favorite days of the semester. As the semester winds down, that familiar, heady mix of exam stress, despair and sleep deprivation begins to set in. And yet, the Culture Show never fails to make me forget all of that. For two electric hours, I’m completely absorbed in seeing what all the incredible cultural groups on campus have spent the semester preparing, learning about different styles of music and dance and being humbled by Hopkins students’ commitment to carrying tradition forward into our campus today.

As I took my seat in Shriver Hall, I was amazed at how many people were there on a Thursday night on the last week of classes. It was more students than I’d ever seen in Shriver Hall before, and the crowd was buzzing. Presented by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the theme for this year was “Waves Unbroken.” As the lights dimmed, the sound of waves breaking on the shore filled the auditorium. A little ironic, considering the night’s theme, but I enjoyed the soundscape. 

The first group on stage was the Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe, telling the story of three lions fighting against two human warriors. The lions were fantastic, a fun combination of sparkly, humorous and menacing. The two warrior characters were incredible martial artists, twirling staffs and contorting their bodies into flips. The female warrior wielded her staff so fiercely that splinters and chunks of wood flew off whenever it struck the ground. It was a wonderful visual spectacle and a piece of storytelling that really set the tone for the rest of the night.

There were three different acapella groups that performed in the first act. The first of these, the Melanotes, specialize in music of the African diaspora and African American tradition. They sang one slower song with beautiful, warm tones and tight harmonies. It was beautiful, and as I listened, I settled down into my seat and felt my shoulders relax. Their second song was more modern and upbeat, with sweet high harmonies from the group of three soloists. 

The second acapella group was Adoremus, the Christian-interest group, who sang a rendition of “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli. The third acapella group was the Humming Jays, the Korean-interest group, who sang a pair of songs, one from Korean pop music and another from Western pop music. 

This first act also contained two dance performances, the first from JOSH, the female and non-binary Bollywood fusion dance team. Their set was based on the movie Oceans 8, portraying a jewelry heist through dance.

The second dance performance was by a crowd-favorite group, Temps D’Afrique (TDA), the African dance team. They performed a set that showcased the different eras of Afrobeat music. In the performance, one dancer played a no-nonsense teacher character, while the rest played a group of schoolchildren. 

I loved this setup because it gave a chance for TDA to explain past styles through the teacher’s mouth, while the schoolchildren added banter, playfulness and a modern style. I’d never really listened to Afrobeat before, but after hearing it and seeing how much fun the performers were having with the dances, it’s definitely going on my daily Spotify rotation.

During the intermission, there was a performance by two drag queens, Elektra G and Stealya-Manz Blue. The crowd loved them, as they came off the stage to interact with members of the audience. Aside from just being a lot of fun, it was a nice way to bring queer culture into the show, a reminder that culture can be much broader than just heritage. 

After the interlude, the Indian classical dance team Shakti performed a set that told the story of the birth of Krishna. This set was one of the more serious in tone that night and was technically superb. The combination of the candlelight and the sound of the bells that they wore transported me to another time and place. In that atmosphere, they acted out the story elegantly and dramatically. The audience was utterly entranced, and the fluidity of the dancers’ movements in and out of geometric patterns elicited genuine awe from the crowd.

There was a dramatic change in tone with the next performance from ¡Baila!, the beautiful and stunning Latin dance group. This performance included the dance styles salsa, samba, cha-cha and reggaeton. Some parts of the performance showcased couples and other huge ensembles, but there was a festive sense of community and connection throughout it all. The crowd was singing and clapping along to the music, and I wanted nothing more than to get out of my seat and dance along.

After the dance performance, the Gospel Choir came on stage. From the first note they sang, the power of their voices blew everyone away. It was noticeably different than any of the other singing groups that night, filling the hall with sound and joy. The piano accompanist was also fantastic. When they finished, they earned the only standing ovation of the night.

This was followed by another change in pace with a performance from the Lan Yun Blue Orchids, the Chinese classical dance group. This set featured dances with slower, flowing movements. Some of their dancers used traditional Chinese round fans to cover their faces and add flourishes to their movements with classical elegance. 

The penultimate performance was from Kranti, the South Asian fusion acapella team. They performed two songs, with each song consisting of a matched pair of South Asian and Western music. The soloists were great, and the South Asian parts were especially skillfully performed, weaving through intricate vocal lines with crystal clarity.

And finally, the Culture Show ended with a dance set from the ever-popular Blue Jay Bhangra, showing off Punjabi culture. They came on with a bang (literally), energetically moving across the stage while flourishing their Sapps. Set to modern music with a pumping bass, the whole set was a feast for the eyes and ears. The staffs, the sound of the Sapps and the dancers in vibrant coloured dresses leaping and beaming on the stage created a dazzling experience.

After Blue Jay Bhangra’s performance, the audience rapidly filed out of Shriver Hall to catch the firework show. Elektra G and Stealya-Manz Blue came back to give a final performance, but unfortunately, very few people stuck around to watch. I felt guilty about leaving early, but everyone else was doing it and the prospect of missing the firework show was just too much.

The culture show was a huge success. I think that when a lot of immigrants come to America, they worry that their children will become disconnected from the culture that they grew up with. But if they came to the show in Shriver Hall that night, they would realize that cultural heritage is alive and well in young people today. In every performance, I saw the performers show incredible passion and take ownership of their cultural backgrounds. 

Many of the groups had performers from both within and outside of those cultures, showing that people are interested and passionate in taking part in unfamiliar traditions. I was definitely taken on a journey that night and got to learn so much about the world, as well as see all the incredible diversity and talent that our student body has to offer. I’d definitely recommend attending the Culture Show every year, it’s guaranteed to be a good time!


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