The culture of Carnaval

| Scene Reporter

Student Life Archives
What started out as a fun idea involving a small group of Washington University students has expanded into a full-blown tradition, the cultural phenomenon known as Carnaval. Put on by the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), Carnaval features a wide variety of cultural dances, such as salsa and belly dancing, along with an informational skit about some of the misrepresentations and concerns of the culture.

The upcoming production marks the 11th year of the show, and its growth is evident just by looking at the changes in venue: Carnaval has moved from Brookings to the Gargoyle to, most recently, the Edison Theatre.

Despite the exponential rise in both popularity and the number of performers, the main attraction of the event has stayed true to its educational purpose: the dances.

“The dances are the most involved with the whole campus,” sophomore and Carnaval Co-Chair Edward Poyo said. “[They] are our biggest outreach to show people our culture and the different things that we do.”

While the dances are indeed the biggest draw for most people, the other half of the show, the skit, remains important. Within the skit, ALAS can emphasize the message they want to send to audience members each year, such as exploring and exposing stereotypes of the culture and relating these to other cultures. This year’s show, according to Poyo, specifically focuses on issues Wash. U. students can connect with.

“One of the things in this year’s theme is class differences, which we sort of touched on last year, but this year, it’s slightly bigger,” Poyo said. “The main character [of the skit] lives in the slums in Brazil, and she is trying to fight for her people, who get taken advantage of by the upper class and rich politicians. Wash. U. is pretty diverse, so, by being aware of class differences there, you [can] think about where you came from, what you do, what you spend your time on, and who you help.”

Carnaval hopes to ignite more community involvement among students after they reflect on the skit. A recent example of such service comes from within this year’s Carnaval cast, where one group of dancers took the initiative to go to nearby middle schools and teach the students their dance routine. That way, the students could enjoy some exercise and have fun in an unusual fashion.

Carnaval continues this theme through its collaboration with the Niños y Cambios program this year. The group tutors Hispanic elementary and high school students in the St. Louis community for whom English is a second language. The program also works toward its main goal of providing scholarships for the students to go to college.

“We wanted to do something more St. Louis-based [this year]; that way if people wanted to get involved, they would know that we are trying to change things here too and work with groups here,” Poyo said.

Tickets for Carnaval are on sale now for $10 at the Edison Theatre box office. Showtimes are Friday, April 9 and Saturday, April 10 at 7 p.m.