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True Life: I’m on a South Asian Dance Team

by Priya MukhopadhyayStony Brook University

Many of us South Asians have been dancing since we can remember.  We may have joined a dance class by choice or been forced into one because our parents felt like it was a proper and worthy pastime for a “well mannered and cultured South Asian child” but regardless of our reasons for joining, dancing is a HUGE deal in the South Asian world.  Just like any other hobby, some individuals stick with it and others leave it in their past.  For those of us who live and breathe dance, college opens up opportunities galore for pursuing this passion and we are thrust into the drama and happenings of the wide world of nationally competing dance teams

When I started applying for college, I researched the South Asian dance teams at the schools I was interested in.  Dance aficionados know that when we “research” dance teams we spend hours watching YouTube videos and engaging in a clicking frenzy through the myriad of related videos and comments from various national dance competitions including Philly Fest, Best of the Best, Muquabala, and Nach Vention, just to name a few and hoping that once we get in, we’ll be contributing our own two cents and basking in the glory of winning first place at one of these revered competitions.  For many dancers, the college’s official South Asian dance team and placement record is the determining factor during admissions decisions for college.

Upon entering Stony Brook University, I stalked the Thillana (SBU’s official South Asian Dance Team during my freshman year) Facebook group page and waited for audition dates anxiously.  Making it on Thillana is when I got my first taste of being on a South Asian dance team.

In the beginning, practices were fun and members joked around; this was fleeting, however.  Once the team decided to compete, dancing was no longer fun and games as we signed away our social lives, free time, sleep, and handed overour souls to the cutthroat competition world.

Themes, props, costumes, routine, choreography, stunts, points, judges, mix, formation, synchronization, lines, posture, placement, practice, from the top, was our vocabulary at rehearsals leading up to competition day.  Coming up with our theme was the first step.  SBU Thillana has a history of coming up with profound themes that strayed from the stereotypical Bollywood love story, and my year we decided on a theme of “war.” Once we had our theme, it was time to decide on songs, find someone to make our mix, and come up with the initial choreography for our routine, which was tweaked and changed into almost a completely different routine by the end of the rehearsal weeks.

We filled out piles of paperwork to register during our breaks (if you could call them breaks!), filmed our audition video, glued and cut costumes, brainstormed stunts and ways to improve our routine and props to use, and ran the routine millions of times.  We made countless mall runs throughout the 5 boroughs of New York to get the perfect costume and props, and filled out numerous vouchers to get all the stuff we needed. Practices lasted until 5 AM and the lack of sleep, sore bodies, and tension put everyone on edge.  Scowls replaced our smiles, grunts replaced our bubbly conversations, bruises covered our tired bodies as we dragged ourselves to practice every day.

We loathed the day when we had to perform our routine for the Thillana Alumni who had placed during their year and waited to get any sign of approval from them.  We knew we weren’t perfect but we had some hope that our hard work was paying off.  We expected a “good job” at the very least but sadly and to our surprise, it seemed to us that approval never came.

We felt broken, but we still had hope.  The team developed into a family and we tried our best in hopes of simply placing during competition.   We all got into fights and individuals threatened to quit but our members knew better than to let our family down.  We sucked it up and kept going because after we made it this far, it was competition or bust.

Coming: Part 2 of True Life: I’m on a South Asian Dance Team

Feature Image Source: provided by author