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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

WEEKENDER: Tufts Tamasha on working it, winning

Tufts’ Bollywood fusion group discusses cultural roots, diversity and a professional dance workshop.

tamasha.jpg

Tufts Tamasha is pictured performing.

What does Tamasha” mean? Ask a Hindi speaker, and they will probably define it as a commotion or a hullabaloo. But probe a little deeper, let it fall on your ears a couple times, and the word is suddenly much more. It can refer to a form of folk theater full of song and dance, or it could be excitement or it could be loud, colorful bustle. In this pocket of Massachusetts, it applies to a Bollywood-hip-hop fusion dance team. Just like its namesake, there’s a lot more to this team than “thumkas” and tasteless “jalebi baby” jokes.  

Tamasha originally started out as a Bollywood dance group in 2008. 

“It was formed to fill in the gap between the South Asian dance teams … to bring in that typical Bollywood style,” co-captain Disha Narain, a senior, said. “We then started to bring in hip-hop, then all the different dance styles … a little bit of kathak, a little bit of bhangra, those have been the personal styles of our team members.” 

Narain emphasized that Tamasha is and has always been very community-based.

“There’s parts of the training session where we just sit and catch up on each other’s lives. And I think that’s really important because that’s how you build community … even when we’re performing,” Narain said.

Co-captain Sharika Kaul, a senior, spoke at length about how the culture of the group has changed post-COVID-19, when Tamasha became a non-competitive team.

We spoke to some people who were on the dance team at that time, and they talked about how the culture … was so different,” Kaul said. “I like how we transitioned into a dance team that’s very much focused on putting our performers, our team members, and their vision first. We have members of the team, of all years [choreographing pieces.] It’s really cool how you can join and immediately make significant contributions.” 

Kimaya Vaid, a sophomore who is helping choreograph her first routine this semester, affirmed the value of diverse choreography perspectives.

“When [Sharika and I] choreograph our own style comes out a lot. … We have to make sure that all of our styles are balanced,” Vaid said. “I am super into contemporary and more flowy dance moves, rather than hip-hop and isolation. … We incorporate both.”  

Vianca Shah, a junior captain-in-training, reflected on how Tamasha’s flexibility in dance styles differs from other South Asian dance groups on campus.

“I have not trained in a niche dance form and which is why Tamasha stood out to me. … Tamasha gives everyone the opportunity to do what they want,” Shah said. She recalls seeing Tamasha perform at O-Show and discussing the prospect of joining the team with her pre-orientation leader, who, in quite a Bollywood-esque twist of fate, turned out to be captain at the time. “I got to know her … and auditioned for it — I’ve loved every moment of it ever since.”  

Like any good Bollywood number, Tamasha has a beat, a distinctive rhythm that carries the team and gives it a feel. Here, it’s the cultural diversity of its members.

We have members of the team who have never danced before, we have people who have done their rang manch and kathak, we have people who are classically trained or do hip hop. Being able to take in what every person brings to the team … into the choreography is our goal,” Kaul said. Her co-captain echoed this sentiment.

“We bring in just a little bit of everything that is around us. It’s really personal to the group,” Narain said. “We’re taking inspiration from a classical area of dance and bringing it into our own choreographies.”

Narain explained what inspires her choreography, mentioning her experiences both before and at Tufts.

“I will say I am a Bollywood girl, all the movies I’ve watched growing up have inspired me. There are a lot of dance groups on campus, even within the South Asian society that inspire us,” she said. She cited Spirit of the Creative and Children of Cultures of Africa as influences and firmly placed herself within their fandoms.

Similarly, Kaul found herself drawing on her bharatanatyam training and the cultural surroundings of her upbringing in New York and being exposed to Western styles of dance.

“Balancing being Indian American and also balancing [that identity] in dance really inspires me,” Kaul said.

It is more challenging to situate Tamasha’s position within an Indian cultural context in terms of a specific dance form as opposed to more regional styles like bhangra or kathak, but no one can doubt that Bollywood is just as entrenched as these styles. Moreover, this gives the team the freedom to experiment with unique, diverse choreographies.

“We have so many different art forms that let every single one of our members shine,” Vaid said. She felt that this freedom allows each member to add their own little personal touch to the numbers they work on.

Both Kaul and Narain expressed a similar idea, to make choreography this year more personal so that audiences can get an insight into the stories of the people that Tamasha is composed of.

“A lot of the time in dance, you can tell when styles change, and it becomes a little choppy. If you give someone autonomy over their own section, you can really see and it becomes a lot more of a cohesive piece. … I’m trying to split up the work and let people have their own creative freedom over their sections,” Kaul said. 

Shah added that her goal as captain-in-training is to ensure the inclusive nature of Tamasha remains constant.

“The fact that we mix Indo-Western and Eastern styles of dance is … our brand — we do everything. [...] There isn’t a strict regime or list. ... We are open to doing any dance form, and we accept all kinds of people,” she said.

Tamasha had the opportunity to attend a Bollywood workshop with an Indian choreographer, Rohit Jethwani. Jethwani’s recent work includes serving as assistant director for the Hindi movie “Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani” (2023), which swept the box office this summer and is one of the highest-grossing Bollywood movies of 2023 and included featured song “What Jhumka?” 

“[Bollywood] is very commercialized. … Tamasha is not about the performance. It’s also about the choreography, it’s a balance of both of them,” Vaid said. “At the same time, we want to look good and have facial expressions that captivate the audience and [Jethwani] really helped us … change our choreography to make it better suited for all types of audience.” 

“I want to highlight that even though we are perceived as a less serious dance team, I don’t want us to be seen as less legitimate. I think that dance should be an outlet for people to have fun. … All the girls on our team are involved in other things like consulting groups or engineering societies … we want Tamasha to be a place where they can leave that all behind and be creative,” Kaul emphasized. This statement is exemplified in the diverse interests of those mentioned in this article — Kaul studies cognitive and brain sciences with a dance minor, Narain is an engineering psychology and economics major, Shah is double majoring in psychology and film and media studies, while Vaid shuttles (pun intended) between graphic design and computer science in the dual-degree program.  

The team finds itself in a unique position of bringing Indian and American cultures together as Indian students at Tufts. Tamasha provides a cultural outlet and safe space for not just dancers but the South Asian community at large.

“We have people from the U.S., from Dubai and all around India, we’re still Desis at the heart. It’s a nice group to come to practice [with],” Vaid said. The team also hopes to become more involved with the Tufts community at large. Make sure to keep an eye out for open classes this year — you may find yourself becoming the star of the family at the next gathering with a Tamasha routine! They also hope to integrate more with the Medford community through performing at nursing homes or community events.  

So, what exactly does “Tamasha” mean? Each member had a different answer.

Kimaya Vaid: “A ruckus, a fun drama. … But to me, Tamasha is so much more. … We have this sense of trust between us.”  

Disha Narain: “It’s genuinely like my family here.”

Sharika Kaul: “It’s such a fun word to have for our dance team because for me, dance has always been about having fun — making an environment where everyone feels comfortable to come in and talk and contribute.”

Vianca Shah: "Tamasha as a word means carefree fun, and being yourself and enjoying the moment. Tamasha as a group embodies that word — a group of girls who are doing what we do because we love it.”

A ruckus, a commotion, chaos — anything to do with disorder. And yet, amid a medley of dances, songs and colorful subcultures, Tamasha has created a space for the interplay of tradition and modernity represented by this team. While they come from different parts of the world with diverse backgrounds, interests and goals, the respect and love they share for dance, the camaraderie they have developed through this shared love and the fusion of culture and personal stories are the foundations of a bond that no external Tamasha can shake.  

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Vianca Shah is a sophomore, not a junior.