February 14, 2013 | Myrna Anderson

This year's Rangeela directors reflect on mastering footwork, dancing with fans and leading the show.

Raquel Garza learned the traditional Mexican Dance, the one she will be leading at Rangeela, when she was three years old. The dance has a few tricky parts—“the footsteps and the transition of the footwork and the shirt movement,” Garza said—but now it comes naturally to her. And because it comes naturally to her, it’s a challenge breaking down the steps for the other dancers.

Esther Kwak ’06, on the other hand, didn’t learn the traditional Korean fan dance until she was 17. Born in the U.S. and raised in the Congo, Kwak learned the dance while helping out with a high school cultural show. It’s a tricky one to master, she said: “Your hands get all scratched up with the fans, and you develop muscles where you didn’t know you had muscles.”

Currently a Calvin grad student in education, Kwak is the co-director, with senior Ariangela Davis, of this year’s edition of Rangeela: Calvin’s annual international student variety show. The show will be held this year at 8 p.m., Friday–Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23.

Learning and teaching

As a Calvin undergrad, Kwak performed in Rangeela (Hindi for “colorful”) for four consecutive years—and in many different kinds of acts. “We see such a variety of talents and skills,” she said of the student performers. Some, like Garza, learn the songs and dances when they’re little. Some, like Kwak, learn them when they’re older as a way to gain insight on their cultural heritage. And some Rangeela performers learn and perform acts that are not from their native lands—as a way of bridging cultural boundaries.

“The most popular, the ones that people like to sign up for, are the African dance, the Caribbean dance, the Indian dance,” said Kwak. “These dances don’t seem too hard to learn.”

The theme for this year’s show is “Study Abroad,” and it features acts from Peru, Indonesia, the Caribbean, Africa, Korea, India, Mexico, China and the Navajo nation. “We’re saying, ‘You don’t have to go off-campus to study abroad. You can stay at Calvin,” Kwak said. While some editions of Rangeela spotlight current trends in cultural expression, “Study Abroad” will stick pretty close to tradition, Kwak said:

“I think as a student, I liked the fusion, the modern, the dances that are happening now in Korea and now in Africa, but at the same time I think that because of that modern-ness, we’re losing our traditions,” she said. Davis appreciates the way Rangeela can adapt to honor both past and future: “It’s so beautiful to see people perform things that are richly traditional,” she said. “It’s as if they are saying, ‘This is where I come from,’ and then, when it’s something modern, it’s as if they are saying ‘Look at how it has shaped me, and this is where I am going.’”  

In addition to the songs, dances and skits, this year’s show will feature seven emcees who will introduce video clips about the history and meaning of the various acts. Rangeela 2013 will also feature an African fashion show.

Starting early

Throughout the school year, the Rangeela committee has kept a vigilant directorial eye on the cultural mix. Preparations for the show started in May of 2012, when the International Student Association Committee (ISAC) chooses Rangeela directors. The directors and ISAC met three times over the summer to discuss the theme and direction of the show. At the end of October, performers offered act proposals for Rangeela. Rehearsals started and continued until Christmas break. “Interim is the busiest time for everybody to be meeting, learning, practicing,” Kwak said. During the first two weeks of the second semester, the committee members visit all of the rehearsals to see that everything is on track.

“It’s definitely a challenge to get a bunch of really busy people together in the same place at the same time and create something amazing,” said Davis. “Managing time, keeping track of practice spaces, budgets, trying to support the act leaders in realizing their visions, sending lots and lots of e-mails, takes a lot of energy. Add that to working a job, classes, studying, and keeping grades up—and sleeping: We have to remember to sleep. It’s very intimidating, but also incredibly rewarding.”

As in previous years, Kwan said, the challenges are different with every act: “For the Indonesian act, it’s doing movements with plates and getting the instruments to ring in perfect harmony. For the African act, it’s getting everyone to practice at the same time,” Kwak said. “And for the Mexican act, it’s managing not to laugh during the dance.”

Tickets for Rangeela are available at the Calvin Box Office. They are $8 for adults and $5 for students.

Recent stories