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Tufts’ Indian dance groups bring diverse history, culture to campus

Dancers compete in style-specific circuits

Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 09:02

While many students burrow down in the first months of the spring semester, burying themselves in books and bowls of Carm stir-fry, members of Tufts’ Indian dance groups will head to the gym and the stage in the coming weeks. Though perhaps lesser known than organizations like Sarabande or Spirt of Color, members of these dance troupes are working hard to polish their performances and gain recognition both on and off campus this spring.


Diverse dance culture on campus

Among the over 300 student groups and organizations offered on the Hill, Tufts is home to four distinct Indian dance groups: Tufts Bhangra, Tufts Garba, Tufts Tamasha and Tufts Pulse. All of these groups specialize in different performance styles, with each on carving out a specific niche for themselves and representing a unique element of Indian dance culture — which is itself extremely varied. For members of the Tufts community who may not yet be acquainted with them, here are a few words of introduction:

Founded in 2001, Tufts Bhangra is a co-ed team and the oldest of the four groups. Bhangra originated as a folkdance of the Punjab region of Northern India. It was traditionally performed as a way to celebrate the harvest, taking its name from bhang (hemp), one of the region’s most important crops. According to current tri-captain Derek Kallarackal, a junior, Bhangra is now known for its athletic and fun style.

Tufts Garba Team, which began in 2002, also features male and female dancers in their group. Also a folkdance, Garba was born in Gujarat, a state in northwestern India. Today it is sometimes performed with the use of dandiya sticks, which dancers incorporate into the performance by tossing or tapping them together.

Tamasha, formed in 2008, is an all-female dance group and the only one that fuses together different dance forms. The Tamasha women integrate Bollywood, hip-hop and other styles into their performance pieces. The name “Tamasha” also refers to a type of Marathi theater, developed in Maharashtra, in western India, which combines dancing and singing, and focuses on female performers.

The newest of the groups, Pulse — founded in 2010 — is also an all-women team with a repertoire that includes the eight classical dance styles of India. The team alternates its focus between these styles; this year they are performing Kathak, which began in northern India, and Kuchipudi, which is popular in southern India.

Working the competition circuit

Though distinct in their styles, all four groups practice, perform and compete extensively, both at Tufts and off campus. Teams participate in competitions between other performance groups of the same (or similar) styles.

Kallarackal noted that the culture of competition among Indian dance groups has become popular in the U.S.

“[There are] collegiate [Bhangra] teams and there are independent teams,” Kallarackal said. “It’s a pretty big community.”

In dance contests, groups can be evaluated on a wide range of criteria — and these criteria can vary depending on the competition circuit. Bhangra dancers, for instance, are judged on uniformity and technique, but are also evaluated for stunts, audience interaction and expression, elements that may not be emphasized in other circuits.

According to Kallarackal, “Interacting with your teammates while you’re dancing and showing the audience and the crowd that you’re having fun” may be as important for Bhangra dancers as the precise formations they rehearse.

“If you see someone in the audience when you’re doing a move and you interact with them, that’s something that the judges look for, Kallarackal said. “[It] shows that you’re a good dancer.”

Tufts Bhangra travels next weekend to compete at Bhangra Fever 5, a prestigious competition held this year in Binghamton, N.Y.  While competing frequently means gaining experience and recognition for team members, it also requires a high level of dedication.

In order to participate in these competitions, Kallarackal said, teams have to submit a video of a three-minute long performance and hope — based on the audition tape — to be admitted to the competition. Once accepted, however, the work has only just begun. Kallarackal estimates that team members spent six hours a week in practice, a time commitment that has increased this semester in preparation for Bhangra Fever 5 and other competitions. For Kallarackal and his co-captains Rohan Roa, a junior, and Tarundeep Singh, a senior, the commitment can last multiple hours per day.

Still, according to Kallarackal, the experience is as rewarding as it is exhausting.

“It definitely pays off when you get to be on stage for those eight minutes and just have a blast,” he said. “It’s definitely worth it.”

Priyanka Dharampuriya, a junior and a Pulse dancer, agrees.

“There is a lot of added pressure, and I think that kind of gives you a lot of push to perfection,” Dharampuriya said of competing. “It is a bit more stressful [then non-competitive dance], but also ... a little bit more rewarding in a different way.”

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