Award-winning dancer Souzana performs an Egyptian-style belly dance during the International Dance Gala on April 28. The gala was the finale of Eugene's first-ever National Dance Week, which brought dancers from all over the world to the city. (Evelyn Vannezza // The Torch)

As spectators entered the Ragozzino Hall at Lane Community College on Sunday, April 29, they were greeted by a message on the background of the stage reading “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body,” a quote by Martha Graham as a recognition of her contribution to dance arts. Graham was an American modern dancer with a career that spanned over 70 years and whose technique reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

Anticipation quietly grew around the grand finale of Eugene’s Inaugural National Dance Week, which included dance classes, workshops, lessons, labs and even a dance celebration in Kesey Square on Saturday. This was the first annual event to showcase dances from around the world with a world class lineup.

As Colette Ramirez took the stage to introduce the event, the crowd roared for the coming spectacle. She imparted to the crowd that dance can be a form of building trust and kindness among diverse groups, as it brings out the richness and depth of having diversity in the community.

The visual effects taking place in the background of this production show a plane leaving Eugene, Oregon and landing in Havana, Cuba, where they rotate through photos of the local markets, culture and dancers.

Two dancers with radiant smiles danced their way to the center of the stage, carrying an easy effortless step, joined by two more couples, the crowd howled in support. Going from an improvised number to a choreographed and intricate number as a group elicit a loud cheer from the crowd.

The stage went dark, the plane landed in Spain. Next on stage was Martita Santiago who led the crowd into a loud “Hola” greeting. The stoic Mona Lisa smiles on the faces of the powerful four ladies on stage added to the allure and intricacy of the dance led by Santiago as the matriarch.

Chela Marx, Eyrika Monroe and Kaya Skye, dancers with Eugene Flamenco Arts, perform a traditional flamenco dance at the International Dance Gala. (Evelyn Vannezza // The Torch)

As the cheers and howls from the crowd intensified, genuine broad smiles crept into their stoic semblance. Santiago took the stage alone once again, she built momentum from the crowd, culminating in the first standing ovation of the night.

The stage went dark once more and the world map transports the audience to Johannesburg, Africa. On the screen an African proverb appears “If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.”

In the darkness of that stage, Michael Moloi vocalized birds, wind, animals, and nature before letting out a blood-curdling scream. As the stage lit back up, he went into a series of complex movements, and depicted a poem with his body. He revealed to the crowd then that it was a story of the diamond and gold industrialization and the effects that it had on his people and the land.

Michael Moloi, dressed in traditional African garb, sits on a hand drum while explaining the orgin of his interpretive dance. Moloi’s dance told the story of diamonds and gold in South African and the impact of industrialization on his people. (Evelyn Vannezza // The Torch)

The next flight was to Egypt, and Souzana made her appearance on stage with a dazzling outfit to match her smile and onstage charisma. She performed two mesmerizing numbers, one with a veil the other without which highlighted her stunning belly dancing skills.

On to India, from the dark came a jingle as the lights turned on, a woman began her rhythmic dance. As the music grew to a crescendo, so did her movements. The room went dark again and one dancer became three, their exotic movements were in near perfect synchronicity.

Next was Bali, performed by LCC faculty lead, Bonnie Simoa, which kicked off with a silhouette slowly coming into view, with slow subtle but deliberate movements. The lights turn on and her movements are almost imperceivable. Both music and dancer have a sudden surge and the graceful dancer bursts into action. The pattern repeats for the rest of the dance, the dancer kneeling, using subtle hand, finger, head and body movements followed by a sudden short bursts of dancing around the stage, incorporating other bodily movements.

LCC dance instructor Bonnie Simoa performs an excerpt from the Gambuh, a 400-year old Balinese dance drama. (Lana French // The Torch)

The next plane landed in Hawaii, bringing onto the stage seven little girls who elicited a collective aww from the crowd. Their dance was graceful; each of them putting in their best effort. The crowd roared when the number concluded.

Next on stage were eight older girls who did a lively number with beautiful props decorated with red flowers. They were no less spectacular than any of the previous performers. The Hawaii portion of the show concluded with four sophisticated older women, dancing to a soft song.

Oklahoma was the last destination, drawing gasps from the crowd. Darin Henry took the stage wearing one of the most stunning outfits of the evening, an outfit made by his mother and aunt. The music started and he took off with big movements, the children in the front row jump to their feet, clapping in rhything to the music and moving to the beat themselves. His presence as commanding as his performance was extraordinary. With ease, and yet incredible energy, he performed three powwow dances.

The rest of the performers joined him on stage and made their way into the crowd, walking up the stairs and standing in the middle of their applause. After all the acknowledgements, Simoa announced that someone was going to be the first recipient of the Cultural Luminary Award which was given to acknowledge her contribution and her dedication to the arts within the community. By Santiago’s stunned reaction, she had no idea this was coming. She was asked to come up on stage, alongside her family and everyone present from her dance company, Flamenco Chico.