Zoe Berg

After two years, Asian American cultural groups at Yale, including South Asian Society, or SAS; Chinese American Student Association, or CASA; KASAMA: The Filipino Club at Yale and Korean American Students at Yale, or KASY, began resuming traditional cultural shows and other annual festivities this year. 

Because of COVID-19 restrictions and complications, however, groups had to adapt to put on the in-person shows that students have not been able to experience for the past two years. 

“Working with Yale admin…[was] particularly challenging because we were the first group to use Woolsey to such a large capacity both semesters,” said SAS cultural chair Isha Brahmbhatt ’24.

SAS hosts two main cultural shows each year: Roshni in the fall and Dhamaal in the spring. The events feature South Asian dance, with performances from Yale South Asian dance groups Rangeela, Kalaa, Jashan Bhangra and MonstRAASity.

While Roshni only includes performances by Yale groups and students, Dhamaal has traditionally been an intercollegiate event, with dance and acapella groups from other colleges coming to Yale to perform along with Yale groups. In previous years, SAS has hosted groups from Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Duke and Boston University for Dhamaal, although the universities invited changes from year to year.

This year, however, COVID-19 restrictions did not allow for SAS to host groups from other colleges, so Dhamaal presented only the four dance teams from Yale, according to Anushka Nijhawan ’24, who serves as SAS’s cultural chair along with Brahmbhatt.

Brahmbhatt said that they changed the format of Dhamaal this year to include a talent show for the first time in the show’s history.

“We had a few singers … a stand-up act that related to South Asian comedy, spoken word poetry and a variety of other artistic forms of South Asian expression [in the talent show],” Brahmbhatt said. 

Nijhawan and Brahmbhatt outlined the challenges COVID-19 brought in planning Dhamaal, which took place this year on March 11 at Woolsey Hall.

“[The show is] usually uncapped…[or] capped to 1000 people so we get a lot of turnout,” said Nijhawan. “But COVID-19 restrictions didn’t allow us to get more than 250 people inside the hall this time.”

Brahmbhatt mentioned the difficulties of securing facilities in preparation for the show. 

“Typically we are able to rent out Woolsey ahead of time to rehearse. We’re able to find spaces for the class acts practice or things like that … all that was limited,” she said.

Brahmbhatt also brought up the difficulties of masking during the show. “Everyone was forced to be masked which proved to be a challenge, especially for dancers who are doing something more heavy,” she said. “Luckily for this talent show in the spring we were able to have it so that the singers didn’t have to wear masks.”

Members of other cultural groups shared Nijhawan’s and Brahmbhatt’s challenges. Hedy Tung ‘24, co-president of CASA, spoke about the logistical difficulties of COVID-19 in planning Lunar Ball — CASA’s annual formal celebrating Lunar New Year — which took place on April 22 at Great Wall Restaurant, and their upcoming CASA cultural show, set for April 30 from 7-9 p.m. at 53 Wall St. Auditorium.

“With Lunar Ball venue changes, space capacity restrictions, all of that played a huge factor especially with funding from the UOFC,” Tung said. “There were a lot more restrictions with that so we had to play around with charging tickets, possibly not charging tickets… [it was] complicated since we wanted to make sure that logistics were most favorable for attendees but also make sure that these events were still feasible for our club to hold.” 

“In terms of the cultural show [COVID-19] is equally an issue,” Tung added. “With a lot of the old auditoriums they are not allowing students to hold events there which really restricts us because we were thinking of 100-150 capacity auditoriums, but there only so many spaces and with a lot of other shows and acapella groups performances, it’s very difficult for us to navigate that.”

KASAMA Co-President Resty Fufunan ’24 ran into a similar issue when trying to book facilities for Barrio, a cultural show that highlights modern and traditional Filipino culture with traditional dances, clothing, and performances of modern and traditional songs. Barrio took place on April 24 at the Hopper Cabaret. 

“Our traditional venue has been Rosenfeld Hall but now it’s a COVID-19 testing site,” he said. “So we’ve had to scramble to find a similar venue which has been a really hard thing to do because there isn’t something that’s just the right size. This year we’re holding it in the [Hopper] Cabaret, [which is] smaller than what we’re usually accustomed to but [was] one of the only spots available.”

Matthew Cheng ’23, co-president of KASY, spoke about the logistical difficulties in putting on their annual KASY cultural show when some of their board members tested positive for COVID-19. “[The week before the show] two of our board members got COVID-19 but luckily both tested out in time for our show,” he said. “The board skit also had to be revised after a board member tested positive.”

Though COVID-19 has made organizational efforts of the shows more difficult, students are nonetheless happy to put on the shows. Cheng talked about the excitement surrounding this year’s KASY cultural show, which took place on April 22 at SSS. The show was the first in-person KASY Cultural Show since 2019, as the show was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and KASY put forth an online version in 2021. 

“Because only one of the four [current] classes has experienced a cultural show, we really want to make this one memorable since it’ll determine how the first years, sophomores and juniors remember [the] cultural show,” said Cheng. “We want to make sure that this show leaves a lasting impression and that it continues the strong tradition of cultural shows that has been integral to KASY for many years.”

This year’s KASY cultural show featured three class dances, performances from the K-Pop dance group Movement and acapella group Hangarak, masked singer performances and a skit by the KASY board members.

Claire Lee serves as Co-Editor in Chief of Yale Daily News Magazine. Originally from San Diego, California, she is a senior in Pauli Murray College majoring in English and Economics. She has previously served as Managing Editor and Associate Editor of Magazine.