Fiesta Asia Street Fair Draws Scores to Nation’s Capital

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Ananya (left) and Soumya Mishra, sisters and students of the Natananjali School of Dance founded by Lakshmi Swaminathan, performing a Bharatanatyam dance dedicated to Lord Shiva at the Fiesta Asia Street Fair in Washington, DC

Viva La Fiesta Asia: Showcasing Rich Culture in Capital

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, May 19, 2012 – Under a pristine blue sky on a summer-like day in the nation’s capital, thousands of people converged on the Avenue of the Presidents to partake in the Fiesta Asia Street Fair. For the seventh consecutive year, this festival was held to celebrate the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month that is chock-a-block with events recognizing the tremendous achievements of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

The Fair is the signature celebration of the Asia Heritage Foundation which organizes a similar fiesta in Silver Spring, MD, a film festival at the West End Cinema in Washington, Passport DC around the World Embassy Tour and Fiesta Asia Planet Family at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo. Organizers estimated that some 20,000 people attended the all-day event on Saturday, set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the US Capitol building.

Speaking to INDIA THIS WEEK, Wuiping Yap, Executive Director of the Asia Heritage Foundation, stressed 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.

The festival was a team effort displaying an uncanny ability to project a shared universe and it had its memorable moments!

Wuiping informed us that the Fair featured over 90 different performances on five stages as follows: the eastern cultural performance stage; Middle East belly dance stage; martial arts demo; western music stage; acoustic lounge and live auditions for an Asian American talent show, akin to American Idol, which will be presented by Kollaboration DC, come September.

Indian cultural performances, with their color and vibrancy and seeped in rich tradition, were a highlight at the Fair and included: Bharatanatyam by students of Nrityananda and Natananjali dance schools; sprightly moves by Doonya Bollywood Dance and Fitness; classical dances by students of Natyabhoomi and the Kuchipudi Dance Academy; and popular Bollywood songs by talented students of the Balaji Music Academy. Doonya instructors – Kajal Desai, Jeannie Baumann, Soma Kalb and Suhasini Yashodar Attawar – captivated the audience by leading a flash mob on the chartbuster ‘Chammak Challo’. Several festival-goers joined this impromptu Bollywood dance in sheer delight!

Soumya Mishra and her sister Ananya, both students of the Natananajali School of Dance, founded by Lakshmi Swaminathan and based here in Bethesda, performed a Bharatanatyam dance with commendable precision. Lakshmi explained that “the dance is known as the Shiva Ananda Thandavam which describes Lord Shiva’s thandavam dance and the impact it has: how Shiva is omnipresent, omnipotent; and how His dance is so powerful”.

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”. On stage, there were eight students, ranging in age from 8 to 15 years, who sang such peppy songs as ‘Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye’ (Qurbani), ‘Ainvayi Ainvayi’ (Band Baaja Baaraat), ‘Sajna jee wari wari’ (Honeymoon Travels) and ‘Aahun Aahun’ (Love Aaj Kal).

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 third year in a row. “It is so much fun”, said Mrs. Mehra. “The atmosphere is so vibrant”.

Celebrating the power of community, the Fair offered manifold attractions: a cultural parade; coloring, story-telling, face painting for kids; magician; henna artist; lantern-making; lessons in Indian folk dance, Tinikling bamboo dance, Israeli folk dance and Hawaiian hula; a drums demo; cooking tips on Nepalese, Indonesian, Korean, Filipino and Burmese food.

It’s interesting to note that the festival opened on a spiritual note with Yoga in the morning for a refreshing ‘Lotus Hour’. Given the rich traditions of Asia, and India where Yoga was founded, it was an appropriate beginning to a celebration that is growing in popularity with each passing year.

Among the participating organizations in Fiesta Asia were: AALEAD which provides mentoring and other services to low-income Asian American students; Domestic Violence Resource Project; Danh Yoga; the Korean Heritage Foundation; Organization of Chinese Americans – DC Chapter; National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington, DC; Migrant Heritage Foundation; Taiwan Benevolent Association; and the Taiwanese American Association.

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Doonya dance instructors performed at the Fiesta Asia Street Fair held in the nation’s capital. Seen from left to right are: Suhasini Yashodar Attawar, Kajal Desai, Soma Kalb and Jeannie Baumann
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Students of the Balaji Music Academy with their Guru and teacher Mrs. Vatsala Mehra, renowned ghazal and Sufi singer, at the Fiesta Asia Street Fair in Washington, DC
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