Connetquot High School transformed into an around-the-world celebration on Saturday, with each class representing various cultures on their homecoming floats. The theme was "Cultural Celebrations Around the World," and the senior class chose Rio de Janeiro for the occasion, showing off brightly colored feathers, flashy beads and exotic animals to honor the city’s Carnival festivities.
Senior class President Matthew Downing, 17, said he did his research leading up to the float build.
“I looked up a lot of pictures of what they have at Carnival celebrations,” he said. “We looked for colorful things — birds, people dancing, exotic outfits.”
Downing said the majority of the senior class was hoping to end up with Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as the basis for the float. “We figured it would just be a big party, and that’s what we ended up having,” he said with a smile.
The “party” preparation actually began over the summer when senior Emily Monahan, 17, got to work creating a Rio-inspired dance for her class to perform for the homecoming competition. Each year, the classes are judged on pep rally games and activities, their floats and their skits following the parade.
Monahan has been dancing at Island Dance Academy in Oakdale for 14 years and studies everything from ballet to tap to hip-hop. Since 10th grade, she has led her class in choreographing the dances for the homecoming skits.
“It’s a lot of samba and a lot of arm movements, and everybody’s so great," Monahan said. "We have a lot of fun with the dance. I looked up how to do the samba [and] a bunch of carnival moves . . . And it all came together.”
Before the parade kicked off down Seventh Street in Bohemia, the class practiced their moves with Monahan front and center. Full of energy with lots of grand arm movements and intricate steps, Monahan led the way, stopping in the center to samba with a partner and ending the routine by being flipped in the air and lifted up onto her classmate’s shoulders.
“We have some strong guys dancing, so I was like [we] might as well use them!” Monahan said with a laugh.
She said that teaching her classmates the four-minute routine was exciting for her.
“It’s hard choreographing a bunch of people that haven’t danced before, but they picked up so quickly and they’re a great group of people to work with,” she said.
The float was a sight to behold, with large, wooden masquerade masks and toucans painted with care, and plenty of sparkles. Downing said the painting was the most challenging part of the building process, which took two weeks to complete.
“If you look around, there’s little, specific details on it and making sure that you didn’t screw up those little things . . . We got lucky, and everything else came out really well,” he said.
As the parade began, Downing couldn’t keep his eyes off of the senior class float.
“’I’m so proud of everyone,” he said. “Two weeks, and we put this together. It’s pretty impressive, if you ask me.”
For Monahan, the festivities were bittersweet.
“It’s really sad that it’s the last time that I’ll be dancing with [the senior class], but I’m excited," she said.
Monahan added that she loved seeing the float come together while she worked hard on the dance routine. "We have some great artists that have done beautiful work on this," she said. "They did a great job."
Downing said that while he focused on building the float, about 30 seniors came together to bring the Carnival "party" to life, whether they were painting, dancing, or picking out the props and colors.
"It was a group effort," he said with a smile.