April 18, 2024

Student-led Performances Promote Cultural Awareness and Community

In just four minutes, tickets to Rangila, a two-day cultural event in November 2023 organized by the student-led South Asian Society at Georgetown University, sold out. Founded in 1995 with only 10 students, Rangila has since grown to feature over 450 performers in fusion dances and musical acts, becoming the largest charity dance showcase in the United States. Other student-led organizations at Georgetown University such as the Asian American Student Association and the African Society of Georgetown have similarly turned to art to share cultures from around the world and create community.

Dancers at the 2023 cultural event Rangila organized by the South Asian Society
Dancers at the 2023 cultural event Rangila organized by the South Asian Society

Blending South Asian Cultural Traditions through Dance and Music

Last year, Rangila raised over $40,000 for Action Against Hunger, a non-profit organization fighting hunger across South Asia. Besides its philanthropic mission, Rangila offers Georgetown University students the opportunity to form new connections on campus and learn more about South Asian culture through weekly evening rehearsals, social events, and friendly philanthropic competitions. At its core, Rangila has created a community for South Asian students to celebrate their heritage.

Sanaa Mehta (SFS’25), who lived in Mumbai, India for most of her life, served as one of last year’s Rangila coordinators and oversaw the logistics of the event. Feeling very connected to her roots, she was originally nervous about attending Georgetown and being away from South Asian culture, but Rangila helped her to find a community.

“I felt closer to my culture because I was exposed to the diversity of South Asia's traditions and forms of expression through Rangila.”

Mehta is one of many South Asian students who were able to delve deeper into their own culture and learn about others through dances from countries like India, Nepal, and Pakistan, and by blending those dance styles with hip-hop and Latin music. The choreographers of each dance, often knowledgeable about the dance style and its background, would share the significance of specific songs or dance moves throughout the many weeks of late-night practices. After spending so much time together getting ready for the intricate performance, Mehta emphasized that she made “lifelong friends and well-wishes.”

Expressing Diverse Asian American Experiences through Musical Theater

After seeing the talent of their community participating in Rangila and also noticing a gap in representation of Asian American voices in theater, a group of Georgetown students decided to create a musical that reflected the Asian American experience at Georgetown. (No) Pressure, sponsored by the Asian American Student Association, was performed in spring 2023 after the tireless efforts from the directors, songwriters, musicians, designers, and performers who came together to create an original musical and a sense of community among Asian American students. Executive producer Aidan Ng (SFS’25) reflected on the diversity of Asian American experiences expressed through the musical.

“My involvement in (No) Pressure has taught me so much about what ‘Asian American’ means to different people, and how to display both an affirmation of our similarities and a celebration of our differences.”

Because the Asian American identity is not a monolith, Ng welcomed students across the Asian diaspora to contribute their unique perspectives so that the musical reflected a more authentic experience. The result was a musical spectacular that not only entertained audiences, but also provided a creative outlet and sense of community for Asian American students in the arts, Ng explained.

“Even now, a semester later, many of us still keep in touch, asking each other to support our next creative projects, and we look back fondly at the show we put together.”

Showcasing African Cultures

The African Society of Georgetown has also been successful in creating community and expressing African cultures through its annual cultural event Abissa. Abissa is a vibrant display of fashion, dance, theater, and art that highlights African creatives from Georgetown and other Washington, DC-area universities. The pageant-style showcase features students modeling African clothing, performing traditional African dances, and acting in plays that evoke a sense of nostalgia and unity among students. George Abalekpor (SFS’24), president of the African Society of Georgetown, explains why every year students across the African diaspora set aside their textbooks for one night to engage in this lively celebration of African culture and talent within their community.

“African students are spread out across Georgetown’s many schools and are involved in a variety of activities, but come spring, we all come together to put on a show to honor our respective cultures.”

While Abissa is a celebration of African culture, all are welcome to enjoy and learn from the experience and support the community of creatives. Reflecting on the importance of cultural awareness, Abalekpor commented that “through Abissa, I've realized just how important it is that people become more educated on the nuances of African culture, especially at a school like Georgetown that prides itself on being a hub for international affairs.”

Prioritizing Creativity

It can be a challenge to prioritize extracurricular creative projects for many Georgetown students who are notoriously busy chasing after academic and career ambitions. Amid the hustle and bustle, creative outlets such as Rangila, (No) Pressure, and Abissa provide students with opportunities to learn more about their own cultures as well as others and grow their networks of friends and colleagues.