There came a point in 1995, Anne Zaki’s first year at Calvin, when she decided that she was moving on. Zaki—a Cairoborn Egyptian student who was educated at an international school in Vancouver—had come to Calvin expecting a little more global awareness and a lot more community: “There really wasn’t a lot for the internationals to do together … ,” she said. “The few internationals who hung out together became very clique-y.” She decided to leave, but before she did, Zaki shared her critique of Calvin culture with two college staffers.
“They heard me well,” she recalled, “and they just basically said, ‘Well, that school that you went to was basically supposed to make you into a world leader, right … ? Well, this is your world. Make it better.’”
As she ruminated on that challenge, Zaki remembered “One World,” a cultural show that was a mainstay at the international school. The show featured dances and skits from all over the world: “I really liked the impact of it,” she said, “so I stole it."
Zaki pitched the show to Linda Bosch, then Calvin’s international student adviser, who helped her organize a student committee to plan the event. A student from India who worked on that committee gave the new show a name: Rangeela, Hindi for “colorful.” “The meaning … seemed quite fitting,” Zaki said.
She organized the show in its first year and helped choreograph much of its content, drawing on her high-school performing experience. “Gradually,” she said, “people came alongside with their own dances.” Bosch provided encouragement and lots of help with logistics—things like finding a place to rent multiple pairs of rubber boots for an African gum boot dance, for instance.
The first Rangeela debuted on the Fine Arts Center (FAC) stage on Saturday, Feb. 22, 1996. The evening’s offerings included dances from Vietnam, Africa, India, Argentina and Egypt, plus a Filipino machut song, a Tae Kwon Do demonstration, a Hungarian piano solo, a Bangoli song, a Pakistani video and the gum boot dance. The show also featured two emcees and an international fashion show, now Rangeela signatures.
“We had no idea how many people would come,” Bosch said. (One student warned her that she had printed too many programs.) The debut edition of Rangeela drew a crowd of between 500 and 600. In its second year, Rangeela nearly filled the FAC. In its third year, it sold out. Now in its 15th year, the show continues to sell out both performances and the Thursday dress rehearsal as well.
The early Rangeelas had a thrown-together feel, admitted Bosch, and Zaki agreed: “The challenge for every year is that you’re working with many different cultures, each culture with its own idea of time or deadlines … ,” she said. Also, sometimes the casting was a little off: “So you have the skit, and the young man who meets the parents is an African, speaking like an Indian,” she said.
“These are not professionals,” Zaki continued. “You know, they’re just having fun and trying to leave an impact on their campus, on their community. You expect things to go wrong. It’s a student-led show … . And then there are dances like that Korean fan dance, which is nothing less than professional.”
This year’s Rangeela featured dances from Africa, Indonesia, China, Korea, India, Polynesia, Colombia, Asia, Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Native America. “There are many stories that come from Rangeela, stories of cultures coming together,” said Zaki, who graduated from Calvin in 1999 and Calvin Theological Seminary in 2009. “It puts Calvin on the map in the community."