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Cultural celebration

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Posted: Monday, February 26, 2007 10:00 pm

Crowded onto the bleachers in Tokay High's John Giannoni Gymnasium, more than a thousand students experienced the annual International Assembly, a 45-minute presentation of cultural dance, costumes, music and interpretive speech.

Students knew what to expect as they took their seats in The Jungle and sang the national anthem. The lineup has included similar performances since its inception more than 10 years ago, an in-your-face, high-energy lesson in diversity.

"It's to show the school how many cultures are here at Tokay," said freshman Emily Matlock, 14.

Opening the show was a hip-hop dance number, with heart-thumping, foot-stamping beats, by Susan Shambers' dance classes.

Standing tall in a green and gray striped suit, Joseph Smith, a senior, gave a passionate interpretation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I think what they're going to see and hear is that all people are equal, no matter what you've been through," said Smith, a member of the speech and debate team. He said he knew at age 7 that Dr. King was his hero and thus started speaking at church gatherings.

"The message of this speech is that racism should not be here, and if we all work together we can make it go away," said Smith.

Rally coordinator Silvia Palos, 16, junior class vice president, said she was looking forward to the hour-long evening program. It was at 7 p.m., and included salsa, meringue, Pakistani, Cambodian and Indian dances.

Student government adviser Joe Johnson said the annual assembly involved more than 100 students in all grades.

Wrapped in an orange and white kimono with a repeating cloud design, senior Michiye Cabral stood in the center of the gym. She stood still, her feet closely together in wooden geta or platform footwear, giving the impression she was floating above The Jungle's floor.

Her performance partner Lauren Kanegawa, was similarly decked out with a light green, white and black kimono. Kanegawa knelt in front of a koto, a wooden, five-foot-long stringed instrument she's learning to play as part of her senior project.

Cabral has done traditional Japanese dance since age 7. Music teacher Aiko Mikami and Kanegawa led Cabral through a delicate tune, as she gently waved and fluttered two peach fans.

Tokay high students perform a Tahitian dance Monday afternoon during the International Assembly at the school's gym to promote cultural diversity. (Brian Feulner/News-Sentinel)

The last performance of the afternoon was the Tahitian dance. More than two dozen barefoot females clad in short black wrap skirts and teal bikini tops were joined by a dozen barefoot males wearing black loincloths.

Many of them had drawn-on black tattoos on their legs. Soon they moved their hips to the intense drumming beats, first the girls, with graceful and quick movements, then the guys, who jumped back and forth, slapping their legs and waving their arms in a modernized ritual war dance.

Chin Pham, 18, a senior, taught the Tahitian routine to classmates for her senior project. She said she got involved with the International Assembly as a freshman as part of Tokay's Leo's Tribe of the Pacific, and later with the Na Hoku Mai Kanoelani troupe from Stockton.

"Students (can) have an idea of what other cultures are about," said Pham.

Contact reporter Kendyce Manguchei at kendycem@lodinews.com.

First published: Tuesday, February 27, 2007

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