Fiesta Asia Street Fair: A Cultural Treat in Capital City

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Bhangra flashmob on the Avenue of the Presidents in Washington, set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the US Capitol ! Khushboo Rami (center) of Doonya led the dance. At left is Shruthi Mukund and at right is Shreya Navile of the Natyabhoomi School of Indian Dance

Myriad Cultures, Traditions Come to the Fore in Fiesta Asia Street Fair

Geeta Goindi

WASHINGTON, DC, May 2013 – The Fiesta Asia Street Fair, held on the Avenue of the Presidents for the eighth consecutive year, highlighted the vibrant, rich and colorful culture of Asia, the world’s largest and most populous continent.

The eagerly awaited festival is an observance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and underscores the tremendous achievements of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. It is the signature celebration of Asia Heritage Foundation which organizes a similar fiesta in Silver Spring, MD, a film festival at the West End Cinema in Washington and Fiesta Asia Planet Family at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo.

Wuiping Yap, Executive Director of the Asia Heritage Foundation, told us, at INDIA THIS WEEK, that “this is a Pan Asian event. We do a lot of other programs in-house as well as partner with other organizations in town”, she said.

Among the Asian nations participating in the 2013 Fiesta Asia Street Fair on May 18 were India, Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Tajikistan, Philippines, Taiwan and Tibet. The Fair featured myriad performances on five stages as follows: the eastern cultural stage; emerging stars stage; martial arts area; Middle Eastern stage; and western music stage.

The intermittent rain may have affected the turnout this year, but the performances more than made up for the damp weather! Set against the magnificent backdrop of the US Capitol, the offerings on the eastern stage enthralled festival-goers!

Indian cultural performances, with their color and vibrancy and seeped in rich tradition, were a highlight at the Fair. Talented students of the Natyabhoomi School of Indian Dance presented a Bharatanatyam performance which was a tribute to Lord Ganesha – the Preserver, Protector, with whose blessings all good things begin! Natyabhoomi, based in Maryland, is led and directed by siblings Deepti and Shruthi Mukund and specializes in the Mysore style of Bharatanatyam. It goes to their credit that Deepti and Shruthi are so active in promoting this Indian classical dance style to diverse audiences here in America.

“Fiesta Asia is my pet cause”, Shruthi told us. “I have been associated with Fiesta Asia from its inception”, eight years ago, she said. “It’s really nice how the festival brings out the best in every Asian country. Kudos to Wuiping Yap who does this tirelessly year after year, along with her faithful volunteers – Tini Dinh, Mike Flavia, Grace Valera, Jesse, Sifu – and many more! Each year, the festival gets bigger and better and hopefully, there will be more things to look forward to in coming years”.

Students of the Kuchipudi Dance Academy (KDA), founded by Lakshmi Babu, performed on the emerging stars and eastern cultural stages at Fiesta Asia. KDA is an artistic institution that enables students to develop an interest in the Kuchipudi dance form through classroom instruction and nurtures this interest through public performances.

Shreya Naville and Trisha Miglani, co-founders and co-directors of the Raaga Dance Company were in full form entertaining the audience with their fast-paced moves set to Bollywood numbers. Raaga, based in Maryland, was established in 2012 by Shreya and Trisha, 16-year-old students at Winston Churchill High School, in Potomac. Classes are offered in the Bollywood fusion style which Trisha and Shreya explained to us is a mix of Bollywood, salsa and belly dancing.

Doonya dancers performed the energetic Bhangra choreographed by Chaitali Baviskar, followed by Khushboo Rami leading a Bhangra-style flash mob inviting festival-goers to join, much to their delight. It was quite a sight to see the participants dance against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the US capitol.

Mrs. Vatsala Mehra, founder and director of the Balaji Music Academy and a renowned ghazal and Sufi singer, told us that her students “are singing Bollywood songs, more so racy numbers so that the crowd can join in and dance with them as well”.

Established 11 years ago in McLean, VA, Balaji Music Academy is the only school of its kind dedicated solely to Indian vocal music. Mrs. Mehra stressed, “I teach the students classical music first, and then I teach them Bollywood.. After that, they learn Karaoke so they can perform in festivals like this, and at weddings and graduations. It gives them a lot of confidence when they are on stage singing by themselves”.

Students of the Academy were performing at Fiesta Asia for the fourth year in a row. “It is so much fun”, said Mrs. Mehra. “The atmosphere is so vibrant”.

A first at Fiesta Asia was the Emerging Stars Contest guided by Shruthi Mukund. The contest was open to children and youth, ages 5 to 17, who were afforded an opportunity to showcase their skills in singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, comedy, acting, magic and martial arts. First place winners of the contest were as follows: Group 1 – Kaylana Padre; Group 2 – Isha Yardi, a student of KDA; and Group 3 – Raaga.

Celebrating the power of community, the festival offered manifold attractions: a cultural parade; coloring, face painting for kids; henna artist; lantern-making; Asian name writing and Origami. Interactive dance activities included lessons in Bhangra Mania, Indian folk dance, tinikling bamboo dance, belly dance, Filipino Line dancing and Hawaiian Hula. Food stalls featured cuisine from India, Nepal, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Among the participating organizations in the Fiesta Asia Street Fair were: AA Lead which provides mentoring and other services to low-income Asian American students; Domestic Violence Resource Project; Asian Fortune newspaper; Danh Yoga; Migrant Heritage Commission; Professionals in the City; Kollaboration DC; Karabakh Foundation; and the Taiwanese American Association.

Given its size and diversity, there is an ancient saying that Asia “is more a cultural concept” rather than a homogeneous physical entity. Events like the Fiesta Asia Street Fair remind us of this adage!

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Students of the Natyabhoomi School of Indian Dance performing Bharatanatyam at the annual Fiesta Asia Street Fair set against the majestic backdrop of the US Capitol in the heart of Washington
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