On Saturday night, students and community members kicked off December by attending Noche de Melodia, Ritmo Latino’s seventh annual benefit performance and dinner for the Berkshire Immigrant Center. Greylock was filled to capacity, as people began standing along the periphery when seating was taken.
Felecia Farrell ’14 and Felicia-Wrae Morgan ’15 came on stage to welcome the audience to the performance and to introduce Brooke Mead, the program director of the Berkshire Immigrant Center (BIC). Mead described the organization’s role in the region: Dedicated to assisting people make adjustments to a new land and helping them put down roots, the BIC supports the immigrant community of Berkshire County. The BIC has served over 9800 clients from 86 countries since its inception in 1997. Mead explained how fundraising from Ritmo Latino’s events has helped the center withstand budget cuts over the years. Closing with a quote from JFK, Mead pointed to the BIC’s crucial role in protecting the cultural diversity of the area.
Ritmo opened its performance, a combination of dancing and description of services for auction, with a salsa choreographed by the newest members of the group. This dance – which featured Jennifer Akotoh ’15, Moses Flash ’15, Marcela Osorio ’15, Edgar Vega ’16, Batjin Boldbat ’15, Kat Nunez ’16, Venson Williams ’16 and Center for Development Economics student Maria Sobalvarro – marked the first time Ritmo had presented salsa at this event.
Next came the sensual tango, performed by Viviana Benjumea ’13, Kat Nunez ’16, Alice Sady ’13, Jelani Medford ’14, Theo Pippins ’14 and Dan Sullivan ’13. The couples moved across the floor fluidly, incorporating the floor into their sexy interaction. The audience ate up this interchange between the male and female dancers, punctuating particularly suggestive moves with exclamations and clapping.
The merengue followed the steamy tango, giving Akotoh, Sullivan, Farrell, Sady, Williams, Alex Deaderick ’15, Mmaserame Gaefele ’15, Don Polite ’13, Jabulani Blyden ’13 and Jen Monge ’13 a chance to show off their moves. Set to a song with an infectious beat, the dancers kept a high level of energy in their quick-paced merengue. This accelerated rhythm eventually gave way to a slower beat as the music and tone of the dance changed. This languid, more overtly sexual part of the merengue complemented the happy, almost marching beat of the previous half.
After the merengue came the spicy bachata. Benjumea, Medford, Morgan, Pippins, Vega, Flash, Francisca Moraga ’14, Eilin Perez ’14, Jackie Rodriguez ’15 and Laura Villafranco ’13 took the stage and waited for the music to cue their dance. The slow tempo of the song cast a spell over the audience as the couples dipped, twirled and moved in sync. The incredible allusive power of the chemistry between the dancers left the audience feeling the sparks of the implied sexual tension.
The rueda served as the finale for this night of irresistible dances. Choreographed by the Ritmo Latino Oldies, the rueda centered movement around a circle. Performed by Benjumea, Medford, Moraga, Polite, Sullivan, Blyden, Monge, Perez, Rodriguez and Madison Weist ’15, the circle of the rueda rotated as the dancers alternated moving forward and backward. The music pulsed with energy as the audience cheered on the dancers with shouts and claps.
Between dances, members of Ritmo came onstage to describe what services they were auctioning. Each dancer hyped their service, offering their talents for the benefit of the BIC. The audience engaged with the dancers as they described their offers, cheering on friends and clapping. Offers included dates, poetry, a singing gram, bachata dance lessons, a Sankofa workshop, workout sessions, baking and room cleaning for the remainder of the semester.
At the close of the show Rodriguez and Benjumea came onstage to both explain the rest of the evening and bid the audience adieu. After the dance performance, the two explained, attendees would have an opportunity to experience more of the culture of Ritmo Latino by attending a dinner and the after party. Most importantly, Rodriguez explained, the dinner was an opportunity for attendees to share a meal and gather as a community. The ladies thanked the audience for supporting the event, marking the end of the performances during Noche de Melodia.
The dinner provided by local Pittsfield restaurant La Fogata included delicious Colombian dishes. Available to ticketed attendees, the meal brought together people from all throughout Berkshire county in celebration of Latino culture. At its core, Noche de Melodia was indeed a celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage, made especially poignant by its embrace of the immigrant population in Williamstown and the surrounding area.