Fifth Annual Ability Ball soars with roaring talent

Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER
Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER

Every year, the Ability Ball strives to address concerns and battle stereotypes of students with disabilities. This year, the fifth Ability Ball hosted by the Student Disability Union took place in HUB 355. As I approached the hall and went into the room, I saw dancers and organizations of all trades gathered about in their respective groups —  some dancing idly while some more earnest in practice.

Right before the start of event, Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox made a surprise visit to the event. Wilcox gave words of thanks to all of the attendees and briefly went into his past of being a speech pathologist in his youth. He went on to say how the job enabled him to work with people of varying disabilities, so he understands firsthand the plight of all these young organizations.

Terrence Stewart, one of the main coordinators of the Ability Ball, mirrored the chancellor’s claims and thanked everyone in the audience for coming. He wants the Student Disability Union to persist because of the wonderful impact it has on individuals by giving them a voice. “We wanted to focus on our abilities — rather than our disabilities,” Stewart stated. Being one of the co-founders he was extremely proud that the event has made it to its fifth year.

The first act of the night was Kushal Sonawala, who started the event by serenading the audience with three songs. “Good Times” by Chic topped off his setlist and people joined together in claps and chuckles due to his charming personality and fearless nature. Before singing, he warned the attendees of his “good falsetto voice” which got people into the song before he even uttered a word.

In stark contrast to Sonawala’s songs of innocence and fun, Legacies Dance Company took center stage to showcase a dance about police brutality. The leader of the crew, Alilita Watkins, introduced the team and its mission to bring back the meaning of dance being a medium to express social and personal emotions. Dancing to the King of Pop’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us” was an interesting and alluring approach to tackling the serious topic. They jived, milly rocked and rippled their way around the stage in a wonderfully clean fashion to express the grief of the lives claimed and affected by police brutality.

One of the other event coordinators, David Vuong, kept the audience entertained by singing a medley of songs while reading lyrics off of his iPhone. Among them was Selena’s “Como la Flor.”

Following Vuong’s intermission, Stewart seized opportunity to recite a poem he had written about the struggles and hardships he faced growing up in poverty and without a father figure. But everything he experienced was simply a means for him to turn his life around and give back to the community he desperately wants to thrive. It was a beautiful poem that had me and others trying to hold back tears. To end the intermission and continue the show, he honored one of the other coordinators, Sunjay Smith, with a customized T-shirt that commemorated the event.

DJ Quad, from a west LA rap group called “Fifth Battalion” was up next and it was clear that he wanted to spice things up a bit with his set. He performed a myriad of songs from his wide-spanning career — many of them having social commentary about police brutality and the misfortunes of growing up in impoverished LA areas. People waved their arms to his West Coast-oriented sound and cheered in support of his talent and vigor.

Keeping up with the theme of rap, Yunjae Shin, who referred to himself as “Korean Jesus,” entered the fray, and he continued to wow the audience with his songs. Many of them were celebrations of life. His onstage persona was very authentic and the way he bounced around the room was a testament to his innate ability to perform.

Smith, with Stewart as an aide to help translate, spoke about the treatment of people with disabilities in the media. “People with disabilities can be freedom fighters,” Smith stated with a smile on his face.

Smith makes his own content on social media to counter the unfair representation in mainstream media. He presented a podcast from his YouTube show, which showed him interviewing someone with a background in computer analysis. “Sunjay the Great” was informative and taught me that social media can be a viable way to promote change in the world.

The event was almost nearing its end but not without the Not So Sharp a cappella group performing their medley of songs. They were true consummate performers and were perfectly in sync and even added an interesting element of beatboxing to their renditions of “I Was Made For Loving You” by Tori Kelly and “Shine” by Jeff Williams. The audience was really amazed by their wonderful harmony and stage presence.

The penultimate performer, Roshan Akula, waltzed to the front to show his talent of guessing the day of the week of random days in history, or the future. Someone gave him the date of July 26, 1996 and he was able to tabulate that it was on a Friday. He told the amazing and bewildered crowd that he had definite algorithms and equations to account for leap years and other technicalities.

Finally at its end, Rhythm and Brains, a student club, sent two of its members up to perform wonderful renditions of a Spanish song “Chocolate” by Jesse and Joy, and “Angel” by Leona Lewis.
Following the conclusion of their performance, Stewart took to the stage and thanked everyone who had stayed after the shows predicted finishing time. Going to this event was such an eye-opening experience and I was very pleased to interact and meet with passionate people who have such a positive outlook on the world. The Student Disability Union achieved another milestone with this event.

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