Dressed to impress: First-ever ISO Gala

A flood of Concordia students fill the Centrum, prepared to show off their best looks and enjoy the performances planned for the evening. On Mar. 12, the International Student Organization held the ISO Gala for the first time ever. 

The room has been decorated with all the glitz and glamor expected from such an event, with a red carpet stretching all the way from the stage to the sound booth. Chinese lanterns hang on strings drawn across from balcony to balcony, and pop music in various languages streams from the speakers. 

The night’s theme is “Dress to Impress,” which is evident in the attire of the attendees. Hair has been braided, curled, straightened and weaved, and the air is filled with the smell of perfumes and colognes. Dresses, suits and rompers are all on display in bold florals and sparkling sequins. 

“Everyone’s dressed so nice,” says Zimy Le, a counselor for ISO, as she wrung her hands and gestured humbly towards her jeans. “It feels like prom, and I didn’t do prom.”  

Karen Miranda and Bryan Zamora Montero perform a Costa Rican national folklore dance. | Paul Sternhagen

The hall rings with laughter and chatter as attendees eat fruit and sweets from the snack bar — the Gala marks the first major campus event this semester where masks are optional for both performers and attendees.  

The lights dim as the crowd of students begin to move from the snack bar to their seats, and Bliss Tungnung, the president of ISO, takes the stage, prompting cheers and applause from the audience. 

Al Sterling and the Cobb Dance Club perform a K-Pop dance routine. | Paul Sternhagen

“Last year, the ISO board members held a discussion on how we could add some fun on campus because of, you know, the coronavirus,” says Tungnung, “and this idea came to our minds of an event for Concordia students where they could all dress up in clothing that makes them feel like a celebrity.” 

The event is not only focused on fancy dress, however. The rest of the night is a combination of awards and performances, separated by playful roasts of attendees and performers by members of ISO. 

Hanna Walica performs martial arts. | Paul Sternhagen

“The roasts were not to offend, but to show that this is an event about us,” says Nasratullah Elham, one of several masters of ceremonies. “No faculty has really been involved in this. It’s an event for students and by students.”  

The awards reflect this, having been chosen by students through access to a Google Form before the event. The categories range from Most Reliable to Best Dressed. For every category, a photo of the nominee appears on a screen along with their name and country of origin. 

Susham Bhujel and Bliss Tungnung, right, voted Best Couple. | Paul Sternhagen

“We hope this award ceremony will motivate more people to lend a helping hand to the current and upcoming International students here at Concordia,” says Tungnung. 

Emotions run high with each award given. Some nominees take the opportunity to say a few short words to the audience. 

“It’s been a short four years,” says Amina Fatkhulloeva, who was awarded Senior of the Year. “Please enjoy every moment, because it all passes so quickly.”  

Ashley Shepkorir accepts the Best Outfit award from Andrew Muthoni. | Paul Sternhagen

Outside of awards, there are performances by both clubs and individuals. Performances ranged from music by the Saxophone Club and soloists to multicultural dances and martial arts displays. 

After all the performances and awards, the room darkens and the music is turned up loud. The stage opens up for everyone, attendees and performers alike, to dance and sing – unmasked for the first time in months.

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