Culture cha-cha

Learning about another culture can sometimes be as time consuming as studying a new language, cooking a new food dish and traveling to a new country – or it can be as easy as one, two, three, kick.

GW dance groups such as the Chinese Performing Arts Troupe, GW Bhangra, GW Ballroom and the GWU Tango Club are some of the student organizations bringing cultures to life around campus with the tap of a shoe and the beat of a drum.

Junior Steph Ng did not know much about the lion dance, the dragon dance or the Chinese yo-yo when she joined the Chinese Troupe her freshman year. Now, Ng is the group’s head coordinator and has conquered Chinese dance techniques such as the art of moving with a fan or a ribbon.

The Chinese Troupe was established in 2000 to share Chinese folk dance and performing arts with the GW and Foggy Bottom communities.

Ng said that members do not have to be Chinese or have any knowledge of the culture before joining. Some of the 23 members are experienced Chinese dancers and others simply want to learn more about Chinese culture.

“The common ground is just interest and an open attitude. Everyone is welcome,” Ng said. Harsh Malhi, the team captain of GW Bhangra, said that instead of joining the dance group to learn a new culture, he signed up to learn more about his own culture.

Malhi said seeing his family members perform the traditional dance of the Punjab region at weddings sparked his interest in learning the folk dance.

Bhangra is a fusion of singing and music composed of unique instruments and is performed by dancers wearing traditional Punjab clothes.

Men usually wear a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist, a long Indian-styled shirt and a turban. Women also have a customary wardrobe, wearing a traditional Punjab dress as well as several layers of cloth around the neck.

Despite Malhi’s personal connection to Punjab, he said that not every member has to have as much experience.

“Anybody can come and we’ll teach them and if you have rhythm you can join,” he said.

Members of the GW Ballroom glide their way through many more cultures than dance groups like GW Bhangra, by learning a variety of moves from the Latin American cha-cha to the American swing dance.

Freshman Elly Harrington said she has learned other dances including the rumba, swing, jive, waltz, tango, quickstep and the foxtrot since joining GW Ballroom.

“I like the music and the rhythm, and faster dances are easier,” Harrington said, adding that the cha-cha is her favorite.

GW Ballroom, which was founded in 1993, does more than just hold dance practices. Members make an effort to enter into five or more competitions a year and to organize several campus-wide social events.

Other dance groups, such as the GWU Tango Club, are less centered on the student body. The club, which began last year, includes members from the GW staff as well as from outside the GW community.

Just like the other clubs, GWU Tango is designed for anyone with an interest in learning the Argentinean dance, regardless of their previous experience with the culture or the dance, said sophomore Mary Jenkins, the club’s public relations chair.

Jenkins said that the amount of participants varies from week to week so the club makes it is easy for beginners to pick up the techniques.

“Argentine tango is a social dance, like swing and salsa, so we dance this for fun and socializing and not for competition.”

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