Multiculturalism vs. Internationalism: Ten Years of TAAL

By Fallon Gallagher

As I walk down the halls of the classic building, I typically groan at the putrid shade of the Hath’s walls, until right before the admissions office, where my eyes are caught by a change in color – multiple wood panels titled Edna Dawley Strnad (’42) Fellowship in Creativity.  These large panels contain a list of every Strnad Fellow; a select few with an asterisk signifying a two-year project. So, would five asterisks signify a decade long project? If yes, Preeti Gill (’05) would have them next to her name.

When she first created her Strnad, Gill envisioned a multicultural event that would provide ongoing resources for the Joti Sawhny (’92) Memorial Fund, created in honor of this alumna who passed away in 2003. TAAL premiered as a product in December of 2003 and has occurred nearly every year since. Its proceeds support diversity-related programs at Hathaway Brown, such as the India trip in 2007 and the Barcelona dance trip in 2011.  Riya Jagetia (‘14), one of this year’s TAAL student event coordinator, remarked, “I think it speaks to the power of one person to start something that becomes central to a community and endures the test of time.”

TAAL took a timeout in 2012 in order to prepare for the tenth anniversary in 2013. Many different things have transpired over the past decade since it was first established. But, to what extent were these preparations amplifying TAAL’s original goal, and to what extent were they conflicting with Gill’s intentions? Jagetia reminisced, “I’ve seen the production freshman, sophomore, and senior year… and I’ve noticed that each year is completely different; there have been international dancers, students from the HB community, dances choreographed for the ensemble by a local artist, African gum book dance, Irish dance, different types of classical Indian dance, Bollywood dance, and the list goes on. Basically, it’s an amalgamation of whatever can be brought to the stage in the short time we have.” Dhiksha Balaji (’14), who sang in TAAL both this year and in 2011, was surprised by “how huge TAAL was this year… the whole auditorium was packed.”

This year, Gill, Joti Sawhny’s sister Achinta, as well as Gill’s professional dance company Blue13, danced in the event. Gill’s involvement as well as the tenth anniversary definitely prompted this surge in audience. However, it also led TAAL to only perform Indian dancing. Some members in the community were offended by this lack of diversity. Megan Callanan (‘14), who previously Irish danced in TAAL as a freshman was confused as to why she could not participate this year. Although she noted how exciting it was that the festival involved a successful HB alumna, “[she did] not think the event needed to be only focused on Indian dance and culture”, as TAAL has multicultural roots. When asked whether she thought it was right that TAAL was still advertised as a “multicultural event”, Callanan responded, “No, it is advertised as a multicultural event, but only Indian culture was allowed to be showcased this year, so I would say it is now ‘monocultural’”. Callanan was also perplexed as to why “pictures of [her] dancing were used as advertisement this year.” Since 2003, TAAL has been able to represent 20 different countries :

1. India (North, West, Central, East)

2. Spain

3. Germany

4. Ireland

5. Greece

6. Italy

7. Turkey

8. Egypt

9. Japan

10. China

11. South Korea

12. Senegal

13. Ghana

14. South Africa

15. Tibet

16. Lebanon

17. Mali

18. Guinea

19. Ivory Coast

20. Pakistan

However, Jagetia poses a different perspective about TAAL’s cultural status: “TAAL this year was obviously very Indian-dance heavy, but we still had to include Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Raas, Bollywood, Bhangra, and fusion dance that tapped into modern, ballet, and Bollywood styles. I would call it a multicultural event in that its purpose has been and will continue to be to promote diversity in the community, though in past years it has brought more international diversity through Irish, African, and various Southeast Asian dance forms.” Jagetia raises an interesting distinction. The word choice “multicultural” is significant because it literally means many cultures, and despite a surface of a merely Indian event, TAAL technically still involved a variety of culture. For example, although other nationalities were excluded from the event, there were many Indian sub-cultures included, which is really important to recognize.

Let’s think about it this way: I am an American; every student at HB is an American. However, we are all different; we have different backgrounds, whether they relate to out ethnicity, race, gender, religious preference, etc. Indian citizens are different in this way as well.  I think it is important that we, as members of this diverse community, pause to notice the distinction between multicultural and international. Although it was not as international as it has been in the past, TAAL 2013 was still a multicultural event and a great opportunity for members of both the HB and Greater Cleveland community to learn more about one of the world’s largest cultures. If TAAL continues to remain solely Indian in the future, there might be a new opportunity for a student to create another internationally focused dance performance to complement TAAL, just as Gill did when she designed her Strnad ten years ago. TAAL was incredibly successful this year and I look forward to another decade of multicultural dance. See photos from the event below.