With ribbons twirling, drums beating, fans opening, and music playing, the students of RHS just performed for the school in our annual Asian Fest. Consisting of a total of fifteen different performances representing five Asian countries, Asian Fest is an opportunity for the students of Ridgewood High School to showcase their unique cultures.
Asian Fest was founded in the 1980s by Helen Aslanides, a former history teacher at Ridgewood High School. Despite the small number of performers in its first years, Asian Fest has grown to be one of the biggest organizations at Ridgewood High School. Ms. Kirtane, a former participant in Asian Fest when she was a student, now oversees the entire event.
So what exactly is Asian Fest? It is a performance based club organized into five different countries: Korea, Japan, China, Philippines, and India. Within each country, there are several different culturally specific performances. Korea, with the most participants, reflecting the population of Ridgewood, consists of Korean Modern, Korean skit, taekwondo, kumdo, and the Korean Fan Dance. China performs the Chinese Lion Dance, Chinese Traditional (with ribbons and fans), and the Chinese yoyo. Japan has its famous fisherman dance, along with wadaiko drumming and Asian Fest’s newest act, J-pop. India consists of bharatanatyam, Indian Traditional, and Indian Modern. The Philippines are represented by Filipino tinikling.
Although Mrs. Kirtane supervises the event, much of the planning is done by students. Four upperclassmen, called the umbrella leaders, oversee Asian Fest and are responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly. Each country is represented by an average of two country leaders who take care of funds and are responsible for communicating with parents and setting the guidelines for their country. Within each country, there are performance leaders who act as instructors and organizers. Participants are taught by their peers, making Asian Fest a more comfortable place for students to join.
However, the extravagant performances showcased by RHS students do not come easily. Leaders begin preparing early in the year, and starting in December each performance rehearses at least once a week. Students participating in multiple performances have to manage their time carefully to avoid being absent for more than the maximum amount of times. Infamously named “Hell Week,” the week leading up to Asian Fest is filled with daily practices, some which end at 9:00 pm. Despite the notorious amount of time Asian Fest requires, each practice creates memorable moments with friends. “There’s a lot of organized chaos but you get to enjoy it with friends and because practices run late we eat dinner at the school,” says Allison Chang, who is an umbrella leader, the country leader of China, and the performance leader of Chinese Traditional. “I’m glad that I joined Asian Fest freshman year because I was able to make many friends in all grades and I still stay in touch with some of the performers who already graduated.”
Although Asian Fest is composed primarily of students from Asian backgrounds, one does not have to be Asian to join. “Asian Festival is about teaching those who are unfamiliar to Asian culture so a performer doesn’t necessarily have to be Asian to join; it could be someone who’s not Asian but simply has an interest in Asian culture, so people shouldn’t feel intimidated by joining us,” Allison states.
With fifteen diverse performances, five different countries, and numerous student participants, Asian Fest is one of the biggest celebrations at RHS. “It’s one of those unforgettable high school experiences that everyone should have,” says Samuel Han, a country leader of Korea, “I definitely wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Graphics: Christine Gaenslen