Ethnic dance troop combines culture with boppin’ jams

Over 160 people entered city hall auditorium last Saturday, Feb. 4, prepared to spend an evening celebrating the commonalties between cultures around the globe. On Saturday, Gateway Dance Theatre, a dancing troop located in Des Moines, preformed a fusion dance program in Ames. The program involved nine dancers who preformed many dances combining traditional Indian movements with African cultural dances, as well as sounds from the Caribbean. The dance theater was formed in 1972 by Indian classical dancer Penny Furgerson and her husband, the late Lee Furgerson. Penny, an Indian, and Lee, an African American, felt a need to expand intercultural relationships by helping others to realize that all people love and celebrate in similar ways. Drawing inspiration from Katherine Dunham, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin American Dance theatre, the two jumped at the opportunity to spread cultural understanding. The fusion dance troop integrates African-American, Caribbean, Asian, and various Indian dance styles into its programs. Ames High junior Haema Nilakanta, one of the troop’s younger members, feels that participating in the troop has truly been a rewarding experience. “I’ve been dancing Bharatanatyam, a southern Indian classical dance style, for 10 years, but this has really been a different experience for me,” she said. For Nilakanta, the dance theatre has given her a sense of her roots, while at the same time filling her with a strong sense of unity with all people. “I love being able to connect with my own culture, while finding commonalties with other cultures at the same time,” she said. “On top of that, the people involved with the troop are just amazing. Even thouth its a lot of work, I love doing it. It’s really a lot of fun.” Not only is the troop rewarding to participate in, but it’s also quite an experience just to watch. “It’s one of those thing were I am just at awe at what the dancers can do,” junior Ambika Athreya said. She went on to say that although she has grown up to have a rather particular taste when it comes to the arts, she found herself being impressed by the Gateway Dance Troop’s performance. “The music, the costumes, the dancing, it was all amazing,” Athreya said. “It was such a tastefully done performance.”