Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)


March 24, 2004:

Party over here
Spring chickens seem to do it best


Purim Chicken

Rabbi Eitan and Gitty Webb, the forces behind Princeton University's Chabad on Campus, organized a party on Sunday, March 7, at Tower Club. Sunday was Purim, the holiday that commemorates the failure of a plot to kill the Jews of Persia. On Purim it is required of Jews to listen to the Megillah — the book of Esther — and to give charity to the needy. Jews are also obligated to partake of a special festive meal and to drink until they cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" — the villain of the Purim story — and " blessed be Mordechai," one of its heroes. Religious opinion differs as to what degree of drunkenness the Talmud mandates. There was beer on hand so that those of age could find out for themselves. Gitty cooked all the food, a sumptuous kosher feast that featured hamentaschen, triangle-shape pastries filled with fruit jam or chocolate that are traditional to the holiday.

Some of the attendees were dressed in costume. Gitty was dressed as a cowgirl, and Rabbi Eitan wore chaps and an enormous orange foam cowboy hat. Leibel, the Webbs'two-year-old son, wore a fuzzy cow costume.

Matisyahu, a Jewish reggae band comprising four members, played two sets. At one time Matisyahu was just a reggae band, but the frontman, after falling in with the Dead Head crowd and following the psychedelic band Phish across the country, became religious. The rest of the group went along for the ride, and Matisyahu became a Jewish band, which is not to say that it became your average bar mitzvah band. With a cross of Bob Marley and religious lyrics "Torah food for my brain let it rain ’til I drown, thunder! Let the blessings come down!"the group is impossible to pigeonhole.

In attendance were two of Gitty's sisters and a group of the Webbs' friends, one of whom was dressed in a chicken costume, complete with rubber claws that strapped onto the back of his shoes. The chicken was a marvelous dancer, leaping around the room and encouraging others to dance. At one point he grabbed a nervous-looking man in a tall black hat and pulled him out onto the middle of the floor. The two jigged and high-kicked, feathered head and black cap nearing the ceiling, while the crowd clapped.

Tower members, drawn away from dinner by the music, stopped and gaped; Jewish students, catching sight of the dancing chicken, wondered if this were really Purim. It was arguably the most counterculture thing that has happened on the Princeton campus, surpassing Terrace initiations my sophomore year, when the club was covered with trash bags and chocolate sauce and everyone was made to crawl through on their bellies.

The chicken took his head off when Matisyahu took a break between sets. Under the chicken head was a skullcap.

Odalisque Rocks

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were the performance dates for Raks Odalisque's fourth annual spring dance show. Princeton's only Middle Eastern dance troupe, which began as a weekly belly dancing class at Dillon Gym, was founded in 2000. One of its early performances occurred in 2000 at the Near Eastern Studies Arabic banquet, in a small room on the second floor of Jones Hall, where the three dancers who performed were energetically pursued by an enthusiastic Syrian graduate student.

Raks Odalisque has come a long way in four years, and now boasts a membership of twenty-odd dancers. It also has some hangers-on, namely other dance groups trying to capitalize on the exposure bought by . . . well, midriff exposure. At the Raks Odalisque performance on Friday night, two guest groups performed — Naacho, a South Asian group, whose members danced to an intentionally cheesy number inspired by India's Bollywood movies, and Flamenco Puro, a Spanish dance troupe, in their full heel-stomping, shawl-twitching glory.

A Raks Odalisque performance is equal parts dance recital and fashion show. The dancers appeared in new costumes for each number, bringing to mind Elizabeth Taylor's sartorial switcharoo in Cleopatra. The typical Raks Odalisque outfit consisted of a low-slung skirt or harem pants, paired with a sparkly, sequined bra top.

"I wish my girlfriend would buy one of those," a voice behind me said.

"What girlfriend?" Another voice replied.

Raks Odalisque applied some contemporary touches to a traditional medium, transforming Justin Timberlake's song "What You Got" into a rousing belly dancing number. In a move that would have been fitting given the recent misbehavior of the artist — Mr. Timberlake was Janet Jackson's accomplice in the Super Bowl breast fiasco — one of the dancers' sequined tops almost popped off during the Saturday performance.

"It was hanging on by a string. If it had come off, it would have been disastrous." she later said about the incident.

"I think everyone would have loved it," her roommate said.

"I wouldn't have loved it," the dancer's boyfriend grumbled.

’80's Night, D-Bar Style

Princeton has gotten a lot of mileage out of the 1980s. If it's not Eurotrash Night at Ivy or Red-Light/Green-Light at Colonial (those interested in a quick-and-tawdry hook-up wear green, those who can be persuaded wear yellow, and no one wears red), another club is resurrecting the decade of bad fashion and worse music.

One Friday, the D-Bar put its own spin on the 1980s. Graduate students and a fair number of Terrace undergraduates — hoping that a friendly preceptor or apathetic Bar Czar would let them in — lined up to have their IDs checked. The room leading into the bar, which on less-busy nights houses a Ms. Packman videogame and a couple of foosball tables, was cleared for dancing. Bottles of lukewarm beer, piled in plastic tubs, marinated in their melted ice baths. The line to the real bar was long, so long that the fatigued bartender refused to make martinis: "Have a beer. You don't want a beer? Get lost."

Most of the graduate students were dressed up for the decade, or maybe they weren't — it's always hard to tell with grad students, whose sartorial selections always lag a few seasons — or decades — behind. There were, alas, no mohawks, but there were plenty of studded dog collars worn as necklaces.

The musical selections were predictable "You Shook Me All Night Long," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and loud. Over the din, a British student on loan from Oxford recounted his experiences the night before:

"I spent the night in the junior slums."

"You mean with a girl? An undergraduate?"

"No, on the floor."

"What happened?"

"I don't know, I just got tired and wanted to sleep. This morning I had to walk back to the Graduate College in a tuxedo. Everyone was looking at me and saying, "Oohhhh, Walk of Shame!" But I had nothing to be ashamed of. I didn't do anything."

"But you passed out on the floor of some girl's room!"

"Three girls. It was a triple."

People danced, or tried to. It's been said before, but graduate students can't dance. Not that the undergraduates are much better — the Chasidic Dancing Chicken puts everyone to shame.


You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu