In the fall of 2021, a group of four students performed a Mexican dance for BYU-Idaho’s Cultural Night. More than two years later, the same group brings together students across cultural lines — all through the power of dance.
Adlih Orozco and Efran Becerra are the co-founders of the Rexburg-based, international dance group called AMELAT. What started two years ago as four members has now grown to 50 students representing more than five cultures from across the world.
Over the semester, group members of AMELAT learn several kinds of cultural dances to perform at Cultural Night. This semester included dances from India, Paraguay, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
The group does not always have members who are from the culture they are dancing. To ensure accuracy in their representation, they reach out to members of the community.
“AMELAT makes sure that every time we represent different countries we are making sure to actually put in the work and (check) that we’re doing everything right,” said Jasper Naripogu, a dancer on the team majoring in data science. “We want the flag to be perfect, we maintain all the rules and regulations that you need to. These are cultures we are talking about and it should not be misrepresented.”
Catherine Purushottam, the leader of the India branch of AMELAT, said cultural accuracy was one of the reasons she was drawn to the dance group.
“It is one thing to promote a belief, and it’s a separate thing to actually believe and practice a belief, and I think they do that,” Purushottam said.
AMELAT, which is short for “American Latino,” has roots in Hispanic countries, but the members of the group want to expand to as many countries and cultures as possible.
“We want to be a group that represents the whole world and allows people to share where they’re from,” said Celeste Popoca, the leader of the Paraguay branch and a sophomore studying computer engineering.
AMELAT focuses on creating a space for all students to feel comfortable and confident.
“Here at BYU-I there are a lot of international students,” said Paula Belen Canar Espin, the leader of the Dominican Republic branch and a sophomore studying exercise physiology. “You change cultures, countries, languages, and it’s a little bit hard for everybody. Sometimes we don’t find a safe place. Sometimes we don’t have friends or someone to rely on. AMELAT’s main purpose is to include everyone and welcome them.”
The leaders of the different branches are responsible for choreographing and teaching all the dances that AMELAT performs in the semester. In preparation for Cultural Night, AMELAT practices up to three times a week. For now, they only perform once a semester, but Orozco hopes that they will soon have opportunities to travel and do their own show.
Purushottam says everyone in AMELAT has a similar goal: to do the hard work necessary to perform well. According to Purushottam, most people who join are not dance majors but anyone can belong with the group as long as they are willing to learn.
“Everybody from every culture is welcome,” Orozco said. “We’ve received tons of people that don’t know how to dance and after a semester they knew how to dance tons of dances.”
Members of AMELAT are allowed to participate in as many dances as they want, so long as they show up for practice. This means that members of the India branch can be found dancing bachata and vice versa.
For many of the members of AMELAT, dancing has a deeper, spiritual meaning than just physical exercise. Each practice begins with a prayer and a short spiritual thought. Orozco describes dance as an art form that is not just an expression of your emotions, but your spirit as well.
“We are inspired by the church leaders to keep acquiring knowledge, hobbies[,] and talents, and share them with the world,” Espin said.
Orozco reflected on what her hopes were for the team when they first started back in 2021:
“We thought, ‘hopefully we can make a good group where everyone can feel united and you can share different cultures and dances, and we did.”
To learn more about AMELAT contact them through Instagram.