Local young people, ranging in age from kindergartners from St. Agnes School, to underclassmen at the University of South Dakota, found themselves in a new world at the Muenster University Center Tuesday.
It was here, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., that local residents of all ages learned about the cultures of lands far from the snowy confines of the Vermillion city limits.
The cast of Up With People was in town earlier this week, arriving on the USD campus late Monday afternoon. Cast and crew settled in that evening with host families, and also took up residence in USD dormitories, sororities and fraternities.
Tuesday was a day to give something back to the Vermillion community, but it soon became apparent that the Up With People entourage was having just as much, and perhaps more, fun than the Vermillionites they were entertaining.
On Wednesday night, the international cast gave a public performance at the Vermillion High School Performing Arts Center.
Up With People presented a cultural showcase in the MUC Tuesday. It was a time when visitors of all ages could learn dance steps from different lands, and converse with cast members about the customs, traditions and characteristics of their home countries.
Brandon Serna, and Up With People cast member from Denver, CO, joined other dancers from the international troupe in teaching a few new dance moves to USD students and members of the kindergarten class from St. Agnes School.
"We do salsa dancing, swing dancing – a wide range of different dancing in our show," he said later that afternoon. "I wasn't a dancer before the program, but we have the opportunity to be taught everything from dancing to public speaking, and through being on stage and through our leadership program, you learn how to become comfortable on stage."
This cast of Up With People, known specifically as Cast A 2010, is made up of 80 performers from 17 countries. Thirty members of that group w
ere in Vermillion Tuesday.
Tuesday's cultural showcase at times had the same atmosphere of a busy market. Students were given passports, and challenged to have them signed by Up With People representatives at various tables and booths. The completed passports were placed into a drawing, giving visitors to the showcase the chance to win Up With People recordings and gift cards.
"Thirty of us are here, and we're living on campus," Serna said. "Some of us are living in sororities and fraternities, and about 20 of us are living in dorm rooms. So the (USD) students became flexible and helped by hosting international students. It's been a lot of fun."
Shortly after arriving on campus Monday, and settling in with USD students and host families across the community, the cast of Up With People, "just fell in love with this town," said Liz Davis, the organization's promotion representative.
"It's just been an incredible experience for them," she said. "They are just loving it in Vermillion. Part of what we wanted to do was bring culture here, to bring the world to Vermillion. So, we have 17 countries represented within our cast, and there are 80 people.
"What a great way to bring in all of these different countries, and teach people," Davis said. "We wanted to engage with the USD students, especially since the USD Program Council is our sponsor. Their goal was for us to come in and interact with students."
"A Song for the World," Up With People's latest production, is a two-hour performance featuring both original and popular music. The show performed Wednesday, featured soloists, full cast production numbers, fast-moving choreography and colorful costumes.
Throughout the show, international cast members provided their local audience with a glimpse of their own national traditions and cultures through music and dance with musical stops in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa.
By the end of their five-month world tour, Cast A 2010 will visit two dozen communities throughout the central and western U.S., Mexico, and the Philippines.
"What is so great about our showcase," Davis said Tuesday afternoon, "is we have all of these students coming, and we also invited all of the community. So, we're bringing those two worlds together, and those cultures are mixing with all of the cultures that we've brought as well."
Davis has been in Vermillion for approximately a month, helping make preparations for the cast's arrival earlier this week. It gave her time to learn a bit about the friendly nature of the community's people, but the local outreach experienced by cast members was well beyond her expectations.
"This community is so welcoming, and I had a feeling that a lot of people were going to show because of all the great responses I've been getting from people," she said. "But honestly, the response we've gotten has been more than I even imagined. It's been incredible.
"The (USD) students have been incredible sports, and have been engaging in all of the activities, and the kids are just loving it," Davis said. "We had adults and students and kids in our dance workshops learning how to do Latin dancing and Bollywood dancing, and they've been participating in everything. There's nothing more we could ask for."
Before joining Up With People, many of the cast members had never been on a U.S. college campus.
"They've been able to come here and learn what a fraternity is all about, what a college campus is all about, and what it is like to live in a small town or a farm, just from interacting with the folks here at USD," Davis said. "It's great, and they're loving it.
"There is just as much culture within South Dakota, that you are all giving to us," she said, "just as our cast is sharing their unique cultures with all of you."