Spring Lake Park High School’s Asian Club members caught the eyes of students last week when they partnered up and presented a traditional Hmong dance during lunch hour.
May is Asian Heritage Month and what better way to share cultures than to perform a nation’s traditional dance?
Some students in the audience watched with rapt attention, while others videotaped with their iPads.
Fourteen Asian students May 10 performed a Hmong dance choreographed by twin sisters Nhia Kao Yang and Lia Yang, both members of the club and seniors.
They presented the dance during three lunch periods in front of a plethora of flags from different countries as a backdrop in the school’s cafeteria.
“The best part was everyone was willing to participate and have fun,” said Nhia, vice president of the Asian Club. “We’re not looking for perfect here.”
Stories told via dance
Dancing in their stocking-feet, the boys wore black pants, white shirts and a red sash – cummerbund style – while the girls wore black tops and white skirts with red sashes draped around their waists. The girls danced barefoot.
The Yang sisters at first rehearsed the boys and girls separately, Lia teaching the boys and Nhia teaching the girls. For music, they joined two recorded Hmong songs back to back for the more than four minute presentation. The idea was to tell two stories through dance. One of a Hmong village, the other a love song, a couples dance.
The later scenario centered on a poor boy courting a girl. Twice in the dance, the boys pulled a dollar bill from their pockets and gave them to the girls, but the girls tossed the bills on the floor.
The idea was the girls were willing to love them regardless of whether they had money or not.
When the twins found themselves short of boy dancers, they recruited help from the school’s Break Dancing Club.
Ninth-grader Tony Pham was one of the B boys, as they call themselves, to volunteer. Pham enjoys trying new things and learning about different cultures, he said. So, briefly, he changed his rapid-paced, back-spinning-on-the-floor-style dance moves to those of graceful Hmong dance moves.
“It’s more like upbeat slow dancing,” he said of the experience.
The dancers met in rehearsal about two to three times a week after school, two to three hours at a time, for about a month.
“The best part was when everyone was happily doing it,” said twin Lia, secretary of the Asian Club. “When everyone was having fun doing their best and experiencing a new culture.”
The performance was met with an enthusiastic round of applause from the student diners.
In its third year at Spring Lake Park High School, the Asian Club has about 30 members, with 20 who attend regularly.
“It has evolved,” said advisor Dan Nelson. “It’s gotten stronger. It gives them purpose. Makes them more connected. They feel a strong sense of belonging.”
The group hangs out, chats and has fun. Among activities, they ran a fundraiser during Valentine’s day to raise money for a field trip, possibly to Valley Fair or Brunswick Bowl. They have enjoyed a movie night and have learned origami, the art of paper folding.
The group is a mix of Vietnamese, Hmong, Korean, Filipino, Pakistani and African American students.
“It’s really about building community and cultural awareness at Spring Lake Park High School,” Nelson said.
The number of Asian students in District 16 totals 126, just under 10 percent of SLP High School’s student population of 1,343.
Districtwide, the total of Asian students is 697 out of 5,300 students or slightly more than 13 percent, according to Nelson.
The student-led Asian Club meets Mondays after school in Spring Lake Park High School’s upstairs multipurpose room for about 90 minutes. For more information, contact Dan Nelson at 763-786-5571.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]