Arts & Culture

‘Poler Bears for Polar Bears’ raises funds for environmental justice

Student group performances range from hip-hop to traditional Okinawan dance

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Taking an incredibly novel approach to fighting climate change, the Poler Bears, Brown’s pole dancing troupe, hosted “Poler Bears for Polar Bears,” a fundraiser for the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island March 10 in Alumnae Hall. In addition to pole dancing, the night also featured performances that ranged from hip-hop to traditional Okinawan dance. All the money collected will be donated directly to EJLRI.

“We had been toying for a while with the idea of having an event called ‘Poler Bears for the Polar Bears,’” said Sonya Gurwitt ’17, a member of the troupe. Poler Bears originally wanted to fundraise for organizations involved in wildlife protection, she said. Citing political events and potential environmental policy changes in Washington, Poler Bears “decided we didn’t want to have a benefit show for polar bears because there are so many people in Rhode Island that need it a lot more,” Gurwitt said. The group chose to support a local organization that could directly help marginalized members of the Providence community, Gurwitt added.

Nia Galloway ’18, another member of the Poler Bears, described the EJLRI as an organization that does “a lot of community building projects and (focuses) on empowering individuals who are normally left out these discussions about environmentalism.” Gurwitt also noted the organization has worked with Brown students in the past, making the collaboration easier to arrange. It was “important that (the Poler Bears) did an event to connect students with the Providence community and issues that directly affect them,” Gallway added. The Poler Bears hoped the fundraiser would be successful in helping marginalized communities who would be more adversely affected by climate change. Sophie Sandweiss ’19, a member of the Poler Bears, said she liked the “broad outreach” the organization has in the Rhode Island community.

Various student groups performed at the event, including Attitude Dance Co., Gendo Taiko, Mezcla Latinx Dance Troupe, Brown Aerial Arts Society, GBX Dance Crew, Amira Belly Dance Co. and Fusion Dance Company. Jimena Terrazas ’19, co-director of Mezcla troupe, said the group “admires the Poler Bears as dancers and was very excited to collaborate with them.” She added that, though fighting climate change was not the initial reason Mezcla signed on to the event, members later became passionate about the cause.

“(Environmental justice) is not really our area, but we advocate for minorities, and they will be affected more by climate change,” she said. Mezcla’s contingent performed an upbeat and provocative routine to Beyoncé’s “Dance for You,” drawing cheers from the excited crowd.

Fusion Dance Company also performed a short routine that featured 14 dancers and was set to “Show Me” by Alina Baraz. The group also has “always been political and connected to social issues,” said Nora Ellmann ’17, Fusion’s co-manager. Ellmann said the group “hasn’t worked specifically on environmental justice before but find(s) it very important.” She described their performance as “fun” and “sensual.”

Gendo Taiko performed a traditional Okinawan dance choreographed by Frances Nakachi. It featured two background musicians and four dancers, led by Stephanie Adaniya ’20. Marley Kirton ’17, director of Gendo Taiko, said the group usually performs traditional music pieces, but chose to perform a dance to stay in line with the event’s theme.

The fundraiser also featured nine separate performances by the Poler Bears, who acrobatically climbed, twirled and flipped around the two poles placed onstage. Though the crowd was continuously engaged and cheering, Betty Peng’s ’17 performance, “F— and Leave,” set to “Company” by Tinashe, received a notable standing ovation. Gurwitt also evoked cheers from the crowd, performing a unique routine in a circular hoop suspended from the ceiling, using it as a platform for acrobatic swings and flips.

The performance filled Alumnae Hall to capacity, forcing an overflow crowd to stand in the back. “Our goal for Brown was to put on this show and have everybody here enjoy the various talented dancers,” Sandweiss said.