PREVIEW: Getting ready for the first in-person FON since 2020

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The music blasts in the auditorium, echoing throughout. The costumes whirl as dancers spin in perfect sync on the stage. The world seems to narrow until nothing remains but a colorful display of culture, tradition, and friendship. The audience cheers and applauds as the performers finally present their work that they spent countless hours toward planning, choreographing, and practicing over the past few months. These are just some of the long awaited traditions returning in Townsend Harris’ Festival of Nations on March 4 and 5, its first live performances in two years. The 2022 production has generated both excitement and new experiences for FON leaders and members under the challenges of the pandemic.

The annual Festival of Nations, also known as FON, is an annual event that celebrates diversity, culture, and community. Each year, FON leaders are tasked with choreographing dances, coordinating costumes, and organizing performances that are fully expressive of the unique beauty of their respective cultures. Last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, FON could not be held in person. Instead, a slideshow was created that reminisced upon past performances and discussed the different ethnicities typically represented by FON groups.

Several FON leaders have expressed their excitement for this year’s in-person experience. Junior Tijon Dembo, an African American FON leader, said, “FON… is one of those traditions we look forward to at Townsend Harris. It’s a great way to make new friends and explore different cultures and just have a place to be after school.”

Many performers are also grateful that this year’s FON will finally take place in-person.“I’m super excited to be back this year,” Emilia Jankowicz, a junior and a member of Polish FON, said. “Before FON started, I thought that the process and practices would be very different from how [they were] pre-pandemic, but Ms. Fee and FON leaders and the THHS community in general have been making sure that an amazing performance gets put together while still maintaining COVID safety procedures.”

However, some leaders said that the year off led to the emergence of new challenges, making it difficult for organizers to gain traction and recruit members. “After COVID and coming back, I think another challenge is trying to get the freshmen and the sophomores… to come join,” said Caribbean FON leader and senior Angelina Kretz “For freshmen, it’s their first year and it’s in person after being in a pandemic, [so] I think [it’s] harder for them to connect with all the extracurriculars that we have, especially with FON.” 

On the other hand, numerous Harrisites who are new to this tradition are excited and hold appreciation for this cultural celebration. Freshman Nicole Wikiera, a member of African American FON, said, “I love the atmosphere and the acceptance even if you’re not a good dancer.”

Sophomore Shranaya Kumar, a member of Bollywood FON, said, “I’ve always loved Indian dance, so finally being able to be a part of [FON] and learn the different techniques is like a dream.”

In addition, new FON groups have been introduced this year, such as Chinese water sleeves FON, part of the Chinese Silk FON performance. Like many other groups, it has held multiple fundraisers to overcome financial difficulties and fund a performance that accurately demonstrates its culture. Junior Sean Zhou, a Chinese water sleeve FON leader, said that although fundraising has become less profitable due to factors such as the administration’s introduction of pandemic-induced safety measures and other expenses, “COVID hasn’t discouraged people from buying.”

Executing FON in person and in a post-pandemic environment has proved difficult in other ways as well. During Omicron’s peak in late December, leaders were faced with keeping their members safe while simultaneously holding productive auditions and practices. Senior Gabriela Quizhpi, a Hispanic Modern and Traditional FON leader, said, “Our traditional FON is very partner oriented… We were told to hold off on partner practices when Omicron was beginning to surge, but as it was a big part of our FON, we fell a bit behind.”

Given the dwindling state of the pandemic, many students are confident that COVID-19 will not further impact FON performances in significant ways. “When Omicron started hitting… I got worried because I was scared they would cancel [FON], but things got better and I’m glad it looks like we’re going to be able to perform,” said junior Camila Zarama, a member of the Traditional and Modern Hispanic FONs.

Additionally, many Harrisites are excited to watch the first FON show in two years. Math teacher Abid Choudhury said, “FON is… one of my favorite things about this school. I definitely will be [at the performance].” 

Sophomore Kaia Lain said, “People always hype [FON] up and they talk about how it’s a Townsend Harris experience, so I’m really excited to go see what it’s all about in person for the first time. I’m also excited to see my friends in it and hype them up in the audience. ”

The vaccination mandate remains in place for both leaders and performers, but not spectators. In an email sent to the student body, assistant principal Ellen Fee said that all spectators will, however, be required to complete the DOE health screening in order to attend the performances.