Thursday, May 10, 2012
A great golden dragon bobs and weaves before an awestruck crowd. The beat of Chinese drums keeps the time of the graceful dance. Costumed people with poles glide beneath the satin dragon skin, moving in unison to give life and spirit to the mythical beast.
The lunar new year is calendar pages away – and the folks giving this dragon life might not be from China – but as students at Monterey’s Defense Language Institute they have the cultural IQ to rock the dragon like they were born in Beijing.
The dragon dance is a perennial favorite at Language Day, an event staged at DLI for more than three decades. But Language Day 2012 marks the first time since the introduction of heightened post-9/11 security that the event will be open to the public. (Students from the community’s various schools were invited to Language Day during the interim.)
Language Day is a celebration of foreign language and culture education. In a city sometimes called the Language Capital of the World – where powerhouse institutions like DLI and Monterey Institute of International Studies are surrounded by businesses like Language Line Services, which provides around-the-clock interpretation services in 170 languages – the event should spark great interest.
“As a part of that community, we want to open it up to the community,” says DLI spokesman Brian Lamar. “Monterey is so rich in foreign language speakers – the density of language diversity in the city is amazing, and DLI contributes to that.”
The event also marks a rare occasion for the public to be on base and see what’s behind the imposing fence. The event covers DLI’s recreational grounds, which are nearly the size of six baseball fields. Visitors can tour classrooms where DLI students spend six hours a day, five days a week immersed in a program so intense they leave more proficient than most language majors at four-year universities – after just six to 18 months.
A main performance stage anchors the event. Entertainment includes Hindi folk dance, Russian choral music, an Arabic fashion show and more, while other parts of the Upper Presidio will hold language demonstrations and mock oral proficiency interviews for visitors to get a firsthand look at crucial pieces of the training puzzle.
Twenty-five languages – and all four branches of the military – are represented at DLI, from the familiar sounds of French, German and Spanish to the obscure tones of Pashto and Dari (the official languages of Afghanistan), tongues like Korean and Mandarin and several varieties of Arabic. All are featured at Language Day; teachers and students will conduct most of the cultural performances.
The Chinese dragon will be joined by the colorful and popular Korean fan dance and demonstrations of traditional Japanese martial arts. Other styles of dance like whirling Turkish folk and Tang Dynasty feather dance, a French miniplay, and Chinese and Iraqi poetry recitals will keep crowds entertained.
Project Manager Stanley Bell says attendance for the event when it was open by invitation only and targeted local schools was about 3,500. He expects about 7,000 to turn out now that it’s again open to everyone.
One of the many performances will be a Bon Odori, a dance traditionally done during Japan’s summer festival season. Filipino tinikling dance pits groups of barefoot dancers against the rhythm created by two people beating, sliding and tapping bamboo poles on the ground. The dancers hop and step between the poles in time with the beat.
Plenty of delicious cuisine will augment the scene. Nearly 40 vendors will serve dishes from the far east to the near west and just about every place in between. Look for good eats like sushi, bratwurst, and Korean barbecue.
Noel Unite, a DLI staff action specialist, offers a sound game plan to soak up as much of the borderline-overwhelming stimulus as possible: Check out the language demos that interest you first, as tickets and space are limited. Then take in the demos and performances. Finally, round the day off with a trip to the vendors (or stop between activities to stay fueled).
One more tip: Look out for the kebab. Unite says he’s a big fan.
LANGUAGE DAY 2012 happens 10am-3pm Friday, May 11, at Presidio of Monterey, 1759 Lewis Road, Monterey. Park at Lower Presidio, a shuttle will be provided to the event inside the base. Admission is free. 242-7472.