A virtual FON premiers on Google Slides

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The Festival of Nations (FON) is a way for Townsend Harris High School students to learn about and appreciate their peers’ cultures. In the past, students led cultural dances and collaborated to create a large, diverse showcase, held during the first few days of March. Typically, there would be two or three final performances where friends, families, and relatives would come and watch what the students had worked tirelessly on for the past few months. Given the current circumstances however, the school decided to hold its first-ever virtual FON as a replacement for the two-day on-stage performances.

I’ve worked with leaders since January to collaborate to see how we can recreate the FON experience, pandemic-style.  We tried to find a way that all groups would be recognized even if they didn’t have the means to choreograph a video.  The google slide presentation seemed like a good compromise.  We added trivia, dance descriptions, professional examples of dances (video links), and past FON videos from THHS,” said Assistant Principal Ellen Fee. Some FON groups did choose to include new choreography, editing members into a group dance.

With this new virtual format came challenges for student leaders. “There were countless factors that we were unfamiliar with, such as teaching choreography through Zoom, finding an effective way to communicate, and ultimately, just plenty of technical skills to learn,” said junior Fiona Zheng, leader of Chinese Modern FON.

To me it was similar to watching Hamilton last July.  It was great to watch it from my living room, but it wasn’t the same as being in the theatre.  It was great to be able to rewind it, and watch it over again and again, but it’s not the same watching it by yourself,” said Ms. Fee.

Junior Wilson Chu said, “My favorite part about virtual FON is being able to learn a dance and watching it back with my friends. I’ve never learned a dance choreography before so this was a fun experience. I did enjoy being in FON because I got to experience something new. I also liked how the dance leaders were very kind when giving feedback on our dances.” 

Junior Julia Jinu, leader of Indian Classical FON, said, “With the current circumstances, having a virtual FON is a wonderful way to honor what we had in past years. Although making slides and dancing in front of your camera won’t equate to the thrill of dancing on stage, it’s better than not having FON at all.”

Many students missed the in person sense of community that they had cherished from previous events. Junior Angelina Kretz, leader of Caribbean FON, said, “I know that they are doing the best they can given the circumstances in having a virtual FON, but I personally believe that it clearly doesn’t elicit the same effect and is a stark contrast with in-person FON.”

“What draws people to FON is the amiable atmosphere: struggling through dances together, dressing up in costumes, and learning various cultural dances. Unfortunately, these nostalgic moments were definitely missing from virtual FON,” said Senior Vivian Chen, leader of Korean FON.

Nonetheless, with an in-person show impossible, Ms. Fee said the virtual option still offers clear strengths given the current context. “Seeing peers outside of the Zoom classroom performing and demonstrating cultural dances is such a breath of fresh air.  And it deepens our sense of community to see people in another light,” said Ms. Fee.

The FON 2021 slideshow premiered on April 30.