Planet NU event features multicultural song, dance

Elaine Helm

Belly dancers shared the stage with members of a Buddhist study group Wednesday night in front of about 75 students and family members at the Planet NU multicultural show.

Eleven student groups participated in the event’s fourth year at McCormick Auditorium, sponsored for the first time by Northwestern’s Multicultural Center and the Office of Student Affairs.

This year’s event drew belly dancers from Alianza and Middle Eastern Students Association, performers from the Buddhist study group, pop bands from Hong Kong Student Association and Thai Club, dancers from Nayo and the Filipino Student Association, a storyteller from Jewish Theater Ensemble and martial artists from Taekwondo Club.

Enthusiastic audience members jumped onstage with flowers for Hong Kong Student Association band members after their performance. Another student in the audience held up a sign reading “Go Huy the Ham” for lead singer Huy Trinh, a Weinberg senior.

Before Filipino Student Association dancers performed with 12-foot bamboo poles called tinikling, one group member cracked a joke to lighten the mood.

“Sorry we were late,” said Maria-Theresa Cumba, a Speech junior. “We were running on Filipino time.”

Cumba’s sister, May Rock, 33, and her parents attended the event. Coming from relatively homogenous Morris, Ill., Rock said she was glad to see multiple cultures showcased in the same venue.

“It’s nice to see young kids representing their own heritage,” she said.

Jennifer Skobin, representing the Jewish Theater Ensemble, told a story how when she was in first grade her teacher made her miss out on a hunt for chocolate Easter eggs – and taught the class about Passover instead.

“It didn’t help my social life at all, but it was definitely the first time I felt proud to be Jewish,” said Skobin, a Speech junior.

Several audience members praised two dance groups, the belly dancers and the new group NU Social Dance, for their energy and talent.

“I was really impressed by the belly dancers, especially the one in the middle,” said Elena Graciosa of Speech junior Tatiana Schnurr. Graciosa’s son Joe performed with the Filipino Student Association. Graciosa and her husband drove from Burlington, Wis., to see the show.

Emcees Amina Merchant and Saira Alimohamed founded the event in 2000 to promote cultural awareness.

“We felt there was a need for a show or event to bring all the groups together so everyone could appreciate the cultural diversity on campus,” said Merchant, an Education senior.

Student Affairs pledged funding for the event, which is now held twice a year, after Mary Desler, assistant vice president for student affairs, asked organizers to hold the event during Family Weekend in October. About 150 people attended that event, and Desler pledged her support for the future, Alimohamed and Merchant said.