Student Development halts cultural night dancing, club leaders unhappy

Leonardo Laroque and others perform an encore of their pre-show dance to "Love and Loyalty" by Wale at last year's BCU Night. Saturday, February 25, 2023. (Photo by Adam De Lisser)

Southern Adventist University cultural clubs, such as Black Christian Union (BCU), Latin American Club (LAC) and Asian Club, will not be allowed to feature dances this year at their annual cultural nights, according to Dennis Negrón, vice president for Student Development. 

Negrón said in an interview with the Accent that he feels these events have moved away from being cultural nights and have begun focusing too heavily on dance. As a result, events and dances in recent years began to look similar to one another, in his opinion.  Negrón made the decision to prohibit dancing this year because he wants to see more creativity like he has in the past. 

“It is not a ban,” Negrón said. “[We’re] taking a year off; it’s more like a pause.” 

Student Development informed cultural club leaders, which includes the club presidents and sponsors, about the modification in April. 

Ethan Dee, senior health science major and president of Asian Club, said he first heard rumors of a dance ban early last school year.

“It wasn’t until the end of the year, when Dennis Negrón gathered us and confirmed the news, that I realized there would be no dancing allowed at any of the upcoming cultural nights.” Dee said. 

According to Negrón, this is not the first time the university has taken a break from featuring dance during cultural nights. For a couple years during Gordon Bietz’s presidency, cultural club leaders decided to hit pause on dancing, according to Laurie Stankavich, associate professor of English and Asian Club sponsor. 

“I remember there was a very good spirit — a spirit of unity, of being on the same team, and wanting to work together to make the cultural nights as equal and as fair as possible on this parameter,” Stankavich said. 

In 2016, Dave Smith became the president of Southern, and students asked for a change. 

“The student leaders [of the cultural clubs] came to me and asked, ‘What are the chances that we could bring cultural dancing back?’” Negrón said. “So, after talking with the president, cultural dancing came back, in moderation.” 

According to Negrón, the decision for this year’s change came from the Student Development office; there were no external or internal pressures. 

“This is coming only from the Student Development office,” Negrón said, “not Dr. Shaw, not donors and not board members.”

Student Disappointment

When Kirsten Saint-Aime, junior clinical psychology major and BCU Night director, heard about the decision, she said she felt disappointed. 

“I feel like Southern is trying to be an advocate for diversity,” Saint-Aime said, “but … is stifling the cultures found in its diversity.” 

Saint-Aime said she and Tenci Reid, senior broadcast journalism major and BCU president, tried to compromise and ask for approval to incorporate one certain dance to showcase culture and history, but they were denied. 

Rebecca Vega, senior education major and LAC Night director, said implementing the change has not been easy. 

“I had to rewrite the whole show,” Vega said. “It has made things more challenging for sure.”

 Vega believes cutting dance will reduce student participation in the cultural events. Seniors who wanted to be in a cultural dance for their last year will not be able to and opportunities to showcase traditional dress will decrease, according to Vega. 

“Cutting dance out completely has significantly decreased the amount of student participation I can have in the show.” Vega said. “ … Sadly, a lot less students will be able to participate overall since we now can only include acting and live music.”

Vega said she supports the push for creativity, however. 

“I love the idea of pushing us [leaders] to be more creative, but when it comes down to it, the night, for me, is more about the participation and unity in diversity than it is about making a more sophisticated production,” Vega said.

For Dee, dance was not only about culture but also about community. 

“[Dance] had a unique ability to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones, and the camaraderie of hyping up friends on stage, regardless of their skill level, was a cherished experience,” Dee said. “The [thought] of losing all of this left a bitter taste in my mouth.”

Reid said she thought it would have been better to limit the number of dances or limit the time they took rather than remove them entirely. 

“As an African American and Hispanic person, I think dance is a huge part of my culture,” Reid said. “So I definitely don’t believe it should be cut completely.”

Vega said dance is one of the things that helped connect her to her parents’ home countries as a first-generation immigrant child. Dance was an integral part of understanding her culture, just like food and music, she said. 

“Sure, I can make a fun, great show without using dance, but something will be missing,” Vega said. “Why must we take away one part of our culture to showcase more of the other parts? Why not showcase all of it?”

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