When first-year Josephine Carino made the decision to apply to the University of Chicago, she readied herself to edit and re-edit the numerous essays explaining why she felt the University was the perfect school for her. What she didn’t realize was that less than a year after being accepted to the University, she would be dancing the hokey pokey with Dean of Admissions Ted O’Neill.
Carino and approximately 400 other students danced together early Monday morning to the rhythm of O’Neill’s singing in the opening session of the University’s annual week-long winter festival Kuviasungnerk/Kangeiko (Kuvia), which will introduce students to calisthenics, karate, and swing dancing during the wee hours of every day this week.
“I think it’s nice, because [O’Neill] is the one who let us in [to the College],” Carino said of the dance. “It was good to see him acting goofy, because admissions is such a stressful process.”
Wendy Gonzalez, chair of the Council on University Programming (COUP), said that each Kuvia session begins with general stretches and exercises led by different members of the University faculty. Each day different RSO dance and martial arts groups will also lead student exercises.
On Monday students learned the sun salutation yoga position. Students will practice the position throughout the week in preparation for Friday morning’s yoga routine at the Point, which simulates “waking up the sun,” Gonzalez explained.
“It’s a nice opportunity…for people to try out some different things that they may not otherwise have a chance to do,” Gonzalez added. “I had never played rugby before, but last year I got to learn the basics [from the University rugby team].”
Associate Dean Jean Treese said Kuvia is an outgrowth of a University-sponsored orientation program that used to send students away for a weekend winter retreat in Greenbay, Wi. The program was terminated after poor weather conditions ruined the tradition.
Sociology professor Don Levine, former dean of students, proposed that the University should instead host a winter festival on campus to replace the Greenbay retreat. Levine requested that the new program contain “Kangeiko,” a form of Japanese martial arts practiced by samurai in wintertime, Treese said. The first session of Kuvia was held in the winter of 1983.
During Kuvia’s session the following year, the College asked students to submit essays describing what they thought “Kuvia” meant. Contest winner David Siegel jokingly posited that Friedrich Nietzsche said “kuviasungnerk” described someone who “could overcome the both the Oriental tendency to lose oneself in internal contemplation, and the Occidental danger of losing oneself…by contemplating nothing.”
Another student suggested that kuviasungnerk was Nordic for “buy me a drink, sailor!”
But Treese says she picked the name because of its relation to the Inuit word for “pursuit of happiness.”
“It’s used to describe the time of year when the fish are plentiful so people can party…and have fun,” she said.
Treese said that over the years, the University, in conjunction with COUP, which has taken over the planning and running of the festival, has invited student groups and athletes to lead the morning exercises. In previous years, cheerleaders, members of the football team, and the frisbee club have contributed to the festival.
At the end of the week, COUP will award students who endure the five-day ordeal with a coveted Kuvia t-shirt in the Shoreland lobby after the Friday salute to the sun.
“I probably would have gone running anyway this morning, at around 9:00 a.m.,” said second-year Mike Swiatkowski. “But I’m just doing it for fun, and for the shirt.”
COUP also will present a $100 prize to the house with the highest ratio of house member participation.
Dodd-Mead house has won the prize for the past 11 years, according to house member Daniel McCartney, and is itching to win it again. Out of 55 Dodd-Mead house members, over 30 showed up for the first day’s workout, McCartney said.
“I figured if I’m going to be sleep deprived anyway, I might as well do [Kuvia],” McCartney said.
In the past Alper house has taken second place, Gonzalez said. But this year Alper is eager to keep Dodd-Mead on its toes, as evidenced by its similarly large turnout. One member of Alper guessed that about 25 house members participated on Monday.
For students who are still recovering from the previous night’s problem sets when Kuvia devotees arrive at the Henry Crown fieldhouse at 6:00 a.m., COUP has scheduled a series of activities later in the day. These sessions range from Monday night’s dance marathon in Hutchinson Commons to fireside chats with faculty in the Alumni House. Gonzalez, who selected the faculty speakers this year, said she chose Ted Cohen and David Bevington based on their reputations and the history they share with the University.
While many early-morning enthusiasts consider Kuvia’s culminating moment to be Friday’s 7 a.m. salute to the sun at Promontory Point, others say Kuvia would not be complete without the much-anticipated naked Polar Bear Run through the quads at 3:30 in the afternoon later that day. The run will be followed by a bonfire and s’mores celebration in the Hutch courtyard, Gonzalez said.
Regardless of students’ reasons for participating, Gonzalez said Kuvia fosters unity among students, faculty, and houses.
“Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you just hole up in your room,” she added. “And you definitely feel accomplished at the end of the week.”