Top college Indian dance teams to compete at U-M's 'Dandia Dhamaka'
The oldest intercollegiate raas dance competition in the US is the University of Michigan's own Dandia Dhamaka. Since 2002, the U-M student-run dance competition has been pitting top college teams, who are skilled in the traditional Indian folk dance, against each other for first-prize glory.
This year's Dandia Dhamaka, which will be held at the Michigan Theater on Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m., features 8 raas teams from Cornell University, Duke University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, St. Louis University, University of Houston, University of Illinois-Chicago, and University of Pittsburgh.
U-M teams are prohibited from competing before judges for the trophy due to an unfair home field advantage; however, 2 of them will get a chance to show their stuff. The Michigan Raas Team will perform as an exhibitor, and Michigan Manzil, a Bollywood fusion team, will be featured as a special act.
A translation will help explain what raas is. The name of the event, Dandia Dhamaka, basically refers to banging sticks (called dandias) together to the beat of the music while dancing. This is a main feature of the folk dance form.
U-M undergraduate and public relations representative for the UM Raas Association, the group that puts on the competition, Seema Patel told AnnArbor.com more about raas and what she thinks it means to people in the context of Indian culture.
"As a traditional folk dance form, it is a bit ritualistic—tied to Hinduism. So we do raas for holidays and to celebrate religious events. But nowadays it has developed into more of a community thing too, a way to celebrate something together. It can be detached from ritual because you can just do it for fun." Patel explains.With origins dating back to ancient times, raas is traditionally a devotional garba dance that honors the goddess Durga. It is an important feature of Navaratri, a nine-day Hindu festival that occurs sometime September through November depending on the year. You find raas happening all over—in temples, at festivals, at weddings, or on stage.
Each college dancer in the competition likely has a unique story about learning raas. For Patel, who was born in the U.S. and is from Chicago, it represents her religion, heritage, and something she has fun doing. "I've been doing it really since birth. You go to the temple for any holiday and you pick it up that way. Doing garba and raas has always been something I've been a part of," she says.
In the context of an intercollegiate competition held in the U.S., it means something more to Patel: "I think for college students in the U.S. it is more about celebrating our culture while we are away at school."
"A lot of the dancers have been doing it, I'd like to assume, since they were little. And it's always great to not only compete doing something you love, but also keep it alive throughout college where it's hard to be as involved as you were before," Patel says.
As the oldest competition of its kind, Dandia Dhamaka has set trends. Since it started, many other raas and Indian dance competitions have sprung up across the U.S. UM dance teams now travel within a sizable circuit of competitions.
Patel explains that the UM competition emphasizes traditional raas dance steps and music, even though some other competitions allow for western influences, remixed music, and contemporary interpretations.
"We are a really traditional competition, so we don't emphasize contemporary music, for example," Patel explains. "The choreography can be creative, but it shouldn't deviate from the norm too much. Different competitions look at things differently, but because we are the oldest, I think we try to stick to being as traditional as we can," she says.
Dandia Dhamaka is a charitable event that supports causes in town and abroad. This year's funds will benefit The Dakshana Foundation, a foundation based in India that fights poverty through educational support. "It provides impoverished kids entrance exam prep for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), which are pretty much the top engineering schools in India. These kids generally don't have the funds for their education, and that is where this foundation is helping," Patel says.