While students from other schools celebrate Martin Luther King Day with a widely celebrated “sleep in” day, Loomis pelicans honoured the legacy of the civil rights leader with a special celebration — a festival of student performances on the afternoon of January 18th. Mesmerised by the dances, filling the room with “oohs” and “wows”, the astonished crowd may wonder, “what does the iPhone thing in the dance mean?” “why was Beaufils ‘shot’ at the end?” In an effort to debunk some of the more abstract meanings of the performances, I hereby assembled a brief list of my interpretations of some highlights of the celebration.
Remember those cool, “boom boom boom” stomps? That was the step dance performed by the Hip-Pop club (aka: the Academy.) According to Sherly Francois ’16, one of the organisers of this performance, “stepping has its beginnings in the early African American slave community as a means of communication and keeping hold of traditional aspects of the denied culture. It served mainly as a link back to African tribal dance, which in many areas was prohibited. Call-and-response folk songs helped the slaves to survive culturally and to spread word about important matters, such as the Underground Railroad.” Explaining why the dancers had military elements in their costumes, Sherly stressed that “Black World War II veterans added in a military march theme to the sounds, while Motown grooves and Hip-Hop energy added more entertainment and increased the appeal of the art form.” Speaking about why the hip pop club performed the step dance, Aisosa Ede-Osifo lend her opinion. “The step dance is such an iconic dance type of young African Americans that it keeps the boys off the street. The complexity of the dance endows this dance the power of discipline. We were trying to convey its seriousness to the audience through our straight face and rhythm.”
PRISM presidents called up the volunteers, students with different skin colors, cultural background and life experiences lined up in the middle of the gym. While the PRISM presidents asked questions such as “have you been called ‘gay’ in a derogatory way” or “have you felt uncomfortable around someone who has a higher socioeconomic status than you”, students stepped forward and backwards, and transformed the unicent line into a spectrum of ladder. Talking about the significance of the walk, PRISM presidents Sydney Steward ’17 and Sherly Francois lend their opinions. “The purpose of this walk is to create awareness of privileges people have based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.” says Sydney Steward, “each question represent some difficulty that one might be experiencing in life. We tried to address these issues on campus without targeting the victims of the issues in a pejorative way.” Sherly, on the other hand, elaborated on the visual effect of the walk. “The walk helps the audience to visualise the social ladder and hindrances of different people in the society. Although some people are further ahead and some behind, it didn’t matter at the end, because all of us ended up in the same place, Loomis,” said Sherly.
As the melody of “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” resonate in the gym, dancers with shining phone screens roamed around the stage. What do the phones represent? Many people have different interpretations of its symbol. “The phone screen, in my opinion, symbolizes the ‘little light’ of each individual,” says Siyeon Kim ’17, one of the members of the first dance. “When these little lights congregate, they produce a bigger light that warm others.” Hannah McCarthy-Potter ’16, on the other hand, interprets the phones in the final scene as media and tools of bystanders. “When the dancers are videotaping people in the middle, their nonchalance represented the prevalent “bystander” mentality of the media. By taking the phone away from the dancers and pushing them into the middle, we propelled these individuals to stop standing on the outside and start taking actions.” When I asked her about the meaning of the dance in which half of the girls were blindfolded, Hannah stressed that as the blind dancers helped dancers on the floor to stand on their feet, “we tried to convey that even though we have our own disabilities, we can still help others.”
So, why are these performances important? Isaac Guzman, one of the Prism presidents, lend us some of his opinion of the celebration. “When I had a school day off, I didn’t think much about [MLK day] other than a holiday. But now I truly understand his legacy and why he was so important,” says Isaac in an interview of the Pelican Podcast. Sydney Steward ’17, another Prism president, also elaborated on the significance of MLK performances in the Podcast interview. “Listening to the opinions and perspective of others are so important,” says Sydney, “We hope that all students of all races feel welcome to the event, and we hope to convey that Martin Luther King day is not only a celebration through the racial lens, but also a humanitarian lens.“
As the old proverb says, “there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand eyes.” Although we might have very different interoperation of the performances, we have all gained a new understanding of Doctor King’s legacy, his ideal, his dream for equality and freedom. Congratulations to all performers, and happy Martin Luther King week!