Each year, a huge amount of people come together to put on the biggest annual celebration at Clark – The International Gala. Gala is a celebration of cultures and countries, ethnicities and eccentricities. Put together by the International Students Association (ISA), the experience is different for each person, but everyone is still united in spirit!
This article is an interview which provides a well-rounded perspective of the Gala Experience. I interviewed the following people: Saadman Islam (Clark ’19), Arianna Brugnola (Clark ’18), Beti Phifer-Houseman (Clark ’17), and Jenna Caskie (Clark ’16).
I asked them what Gala means to them. These people also provide a good mix of being participants, performers and ISA members.
1. How has the Gala experience been for you thus far? How is it different from last year?
Saadman: As a first-year, all I can say is that the Gala experience has been, so far, everything wonderful. I’ve met so many people and made so many more friends. I recommend everyone in Clark to at least participate in Gala once in their 4-5 years studying here.
Arianna: Being in the higher E-board for ISA, Gala has been an engaging and hectic experience so far. Every year I am amazed by how we manage to put together such a big and followed event. We have a lot of responsibilities, and the workload is at times overwhelming. But it’s also the most exciting time of the year for all of us.
Beti: As always, participating in Gala is a hectic yet fun experience. This year I’m dancing in three countries, which is more than last year, and it has been more challenging to balance time commitments, but still just as much fun.
Jenna: Gala is always a fun and rewarding experience, and I’m so glad that I decided to be a part of it all four years that I’ve been at Clark! This is my second year as captain of the Ballroom Team and therefore it is my second year as a choreographer. Last year we danced for Austria and this year we are dancing for the Iberian Peninsula. I think the best thing about being able to choreograph for Gala is getting to learn about the background and culture of the country you are performing for so deeply…and it’s a lot of fun getting to see your creation come to life onstage! This year is a little different because I think everyone has been feeling the pressure of getting their dances completed and making them performance ready, more so than usual. I think everyone, at least from what I’ve seen, started rehearsals later than usual. BUT, everyone loves Gala, and everyone who is part of Gala (whether it be the performers, choreographers, or the amazing members of ISA) is committed to making this event amazing, and because of this the dances still look incredible! Although there may have been more stress this year than in past years, the performances are not lacking in quality at all and every one of them still looks beautiful!
2. What do you think is the Gala Effect for you?
Saadman: For me, the Gala Effect would be everything from making connections, learning new dance techniques, and indulging into the difference in culture and qualities that we all share to make a fun event that we all enjoy being a part of. Haha, that was quite a long sentence. What I meant was I love everything from start to finish and while I can’t point to a particular feature, I think an important part of Gala is representing all the different nations that has shaped us to be who we are. We try to channel our love for different countries by dancing for them.
Arianna: For me the Gala Effect symbolizes my ability to leave a print in this world and be a part of a bigger change. This year especially, we used the reputation of Gala to publicize three NGOs that operate in Worcester. This makes me hopeful that through my work I not only be able to put together a night of entertainment for the Clark Community, but will also help these organizations in their amazing work.
Beti: For me the Gala Effect embodies a time to celebrate and get a little glimpse into the rich culture that Clark’s student body contains. It is so much fun to be surrounded by so many different types of languages and groups of people. The Gala Effect definitely brings out people’s cultural pride and appreciation, which is an amazing experience to be a part of.
Jenna: I really love the theme that ISA picked this year because I think it really reflects the way that Gala influences everyone involved in the production! Every single person involved in Gala is significant and without them the show wouldn’t be the same. Not only that, but I think one of the things that makes Gala as amazing as it is, is that it is such a huge display of comradery, commitment, and cultural acceptance and appreciation by such a large number of Clarkies, and I think that this is something that Clark should be infinitely proud of! The fact that we can all come together and work together to pull off this performance every year is something that makes me proud to be a student at this school!
3. How do you feel dancing with people whose culture is very different from yours?
Saadman: It is one of the greatest joys in the world. I think every culture is beautiful in its own way and I wish I could learn to dance for them all! Cultural diversity is one of the many reasons why I came to college here in the states. I must say, it is very rewarding and definitely a privilege I’m grateful for.
Arianna: For me, dancing with clothes, music and dance steps that are culturally diverse is a little like traveling. I love learning new styles, and the fact that they are from places that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet makes it even more interesting.
Beti: I love it! I think that while Gala is an opportunity to celebrate one’s culture, it is just as important to learn about and participate in other cultures. It allows you to get as close and personal with different cultures as possible without actually going to those countries, which is an amazing cross-cultural learning experience.
Jenna: I love this aspect of Gala because I believe that the whole point of this event is to learn about other cultures and to cultivate an appreciation of other people that might be different from you. Acceptance is so important in our world today, and what better way to learn to appreciate and accept other cultures than to immerse yourself in them and take the opportunities to meet new people who can teach you something new about someplace you’ve never experienced? I have danced for Bangladesh for two years in a row and because of that experience I have learned a lot about a culture I was previously unfamiliar with, and I have met a wonderful group of new friends who I might otherwise not have gotten to know! I don’t believe differences in culture should keep people apart, and I don’t think they should stop people from wanting to dance for a country that is not their own. I think a successful Gala is one where we have many people from different cultures dancing together because that shows that we are truly working together, as a whole, to celebrate each other’s cultures!
4. How many countries are you performing for? What kind of time commitment do you have to provide?
Saadman: Honestly, I haven’t kept count but if I did, it would sum up to be a LOT. If you’re not a fast learner and can be awkward with the moves at times like me, you will need to put in a lot of effort. It also depends on what role you’re playing. If you’re the lead or the choreographer, it would probably take a lot more time off your schedule. But then again, you get out as much as you put in so in the end, it’s not homework and we all do it because we love to and it’s super fun!
Arianna: This year I am performing for 3 countries: India, Sri Lanka and Caribbean Region. It is a big commitment because every dance meets for an average of 3 hour per week and performers are expected to come to every practice, even if it’s not always possible.
Beti: I am dancing in three countries. I have had at least one practice per day, if not more. Sometimes, the countries have practices at the same time, in which case I try to split my time as equally as possible. It definitely takes up a lot of time, but in a way it forces you to manage your time more efficiently because you are so busy.
Jenna: This year I am only dancing for two countries (choreographer for one and performer for another), purely because of the time commitment! As part of the ballroom team, dancing for the Iberian Peninsula this year, we had our practices on Tuesday nights for two hours. Since we have experience all working together already, it was easier to organize than I think some of the other countries are. Bangladesh (in which I am just a performer) was a little more difficult only because everyone has different schedules, so trying to meet multiple times a week was difficult. However, everything always comes together in the end because everyone is committed to making the performance as wonderful as possible!
Gala 2016 was a wonderful event, and everyone enjoyed it thoroughly! Click on this link to watch the full video!