Arab Fest celebrates diversity, showcases Middle Eastern cultures

Over the weekend, the Arab American Club of Knoxville and the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee held its fourth annual Arab Fest on pedestrian walkway.

The two day festival showcased food, dancing, crafts and various demonstrations of Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

Erin Darby, assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at UT, is the co-coordinator of the event.

“It began when my students came back from their study abroad tour [in Jordan] in 2013, and they were frustrated that they didn’t have the ability to share their experience with the rest of the UT community,” Darby said. “So, between UT and the Arab American Club of Knoxville, what was a tiny, little baby idea sort of jumped forth into this crazy festival, and it’s gotten bigger every year.”

“It’s basically a way to share the best of Arab culture, not just with UT students but the whole community,” Darby said.

There were several booths lining the circle of pedestrian walkway. Authentic Middle Eastern food from Yassin’s Falafel House, Mirage and other individuals were available to attendees. People could also smoke hookah, get a henna tattoo or purchase authentic beaded home decor and clothes.

In the middle of all of the vendors was a stage for people to sing, dance and play Arab music. On Friday, there was a musician playing a doumbek, which is a style of Middle Eastern drum. Students were encouraged to come up and learn the Arab group folk dance dabke. There were plenty of smiles in the chain of individuals dancing around to the music both days of the festival.

Among guests at the event was the City of Knoxville Mayor, Madeline Rogero. When speaking to the attendees of the festival, Mayor Rogero admitted to this being her first year attending the festival.

“I love coming to our ethnic festivals in our city,” Rogero said. “Thanks to UT, and Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge National Lab and a lot of our businesses here we are a very diverse city and I think it’s really important that we celebrate the diversity we have here.”

Some students like junior Jasmine Parks attended the event as a volunteer for extra credit.

“I just love cultural things,” Jasmine said. “Professor Darby asked that we all come out, and I did, and it is a lot of fun.”

For future Arab Fests, Darby would like to see more people come out and learn about Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

If you have any interest in being involved with or helping plan future Arab Fests, you can email Darby at

Featured image by Nima Kasraie, obtained through Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

UT dancer trains to become Rockette

Written by Danielle Clark

University of Tennessee junior Claire Wolking attended her first intensive training camp with the Radio City Rockette dancers at 17-years-old. Five years later, after realizing her passion, she finds herself practicing between classes and often flying to New York to fulfill her dream of becoming a Rockette.

She began her dance hobby at the age of four when her mom signed her up for dance classes in her hometown of Evansville, Ind.. Her mother enrolled her after hearing about the classes from a neighbor with a daughter in the dance program. It was at that point she developed a love for the sport, but it was not until much later that she would realize the significance of her passion.

“If only my mom knew what she was getting into,” Wolking said. “I was hooked immediately.”

The hobby immediately became her favorite past time, but Wolking said she never really considered dance as a full-time career. She always assumed it would just be an after-school hobby that she enjoyed with friends.

It was not until her sophomore year of high school that family members mentioned the idea of a career in professional dance to her.

“I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and my family said that I should be a Rockette,” Wolking said. “I guess that’s what happens when you’re 16 and 5’10.’”
From that moment on, Wolking began researching her options in the professional sport of dance. She discovered that the Rockettes host multiple intensive training sessions and auditions each year to develop women that dream of dancing for the company.

Shortly after discovering the Rockette development program Wolking enrolled in her first summer intensive camp at the age of 17.

According to her, that is the moment that changed her life and showed her that “it is a completely different style that tests your strength, coordination and ability to work as a team.”

She said experience changed the way she thought about and practiced dance and made her more aware of the physical aspect of the sport.

It also introduced her to several women who shared a common goal that helped build up each other’s talents.

“Dancing alongside seventeen other girls in Radio City Music Hall rehearsal halls is one of the most empowering feelings. I wanted to return immediately after I left,” she said.

Wolking continues to attend multiple intensives each year, where she works with many of the girls she has become friends with along the way.

This past fall she began her first round of auditions for the Rockette’s Christmas show. She did not make it to the finals, but refused to let her dream end there.

“It was a great experience, and I’m not giving up on the dream,” Wolking said. “Now I just need to continue practicing and keep auditioning.”

When Wolking is not in class or studying, she devotes her time to practicing for the next audition or intensive to further her dream of being a professional dancer. She auditioned for BOSS, the campus dance company during her freshman year. She made it and still competes and dances with the group. Besides participating in BOSS, she also takes ballet classes at a local dance studio.

During her travels to New York she met a professional dance teacher that she began training with to further develop her skills.

Wolking said she travels back to New York often to meet with her and work on her fitness and technique. Her teacher made her truly realize the importance of physical fitness. She now spends part of her free time at the gym working to improve her body.

Besides dancing and training at the gym, Wolking has also used her talents to choreograph several dance competitions for her sorority. She enjoys working with others to share her love for dance.

Wolking said that if her dream comes true and she were to be selected for the Rockettes, she would stay as long her they would have her. She said she knows that she will eventually have to retire from professional dance, and at that point she hopes to utilize her business degree.

For the meantime, she continues to reach for her goal of being in the kick line in the “Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.”

Photos courtesy of Danielle Clark

Edited by Taylor Owens

UT Ballroom Dance Team to present Halloween dance showcase

On Nov. 1 the UT Ballroom Dance Team will host “Spooky Soiree,” a Halloween Dance Showcase,  in the University Center Ballroom.  Both students and non-students are encouraged to attend the showcase. Tickets are on sale for $5 for students and $10 for non-students.  The money raised during the event will help the club go to the Ballroom Collegiate Nationals in Columbus, Ohio later in the month.

Guests will be treated to Halloween themed dance performances by the ballroom team, performance team and the intermediate and advanced dance classes.  There will also be a performance by the UT founded BOSS dance company.  There is no need for prior dance experience because guests will be taught by the dancers themselves.

“The event will have the showcase portion,” said Michaela Robbins, UT Ballroom Dance Team President. “Then there will be a short 30 minute lesson in one of the ballroom or Latin style dances, then we will have general dancing for the remainder of the evening.”

Also near the end of the night there will be a prize given for the winners of the costume contest for best male and female costumes.

For more information on the “Spooky Soiree” Halloween Dance Showcase, click here.

Edited by Jessica Carr