A packed Lisner Auditorium audience roared with enthusiasm Friday night, joining the South Asian Society in welcoming six dance teams to GW’s first Raas Chaos intercollegiate dance competition.
As SAS announced GW the first-place winner, the audience’s excitement quickly turned to pride as a storm of 15 dancers in green and gold flooded the stage to claim their trophy and $1,000 cash award.
“Oh my god, it’s so great!” cried freshman Lina Musayev, one of the GW dancers. “We put so much energy. It was worth all the hours.”
Practicing sometimes from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. during the past month, some members said they missed midterms and fell behind in their homework.
“We’re kind of nervous, but we’ve put in a lot of work in the last month,” dancer Regina Jacob said before the show. “A lot of 5 o’clock mornings, a lot of crammed practice.”
As soon as the winner was announced, Jacob agreed it was worth the time.
Up against teams from universities including Georgetown University, George Mason University and the University of Pittsburgh, the GW Raas team impressed judges with a routine that began with American break-dancing and moved into traditional dance steps to tell the story of “The Wizard of Raas.”
The GW dancers, clad in embroidered skirts and loose-fitting pants, stomped their feet and tapped bamboo Dandiya sticks as they whirled around the stage in elaborate formations.
“There was a lot of tradition,” Musayev said. “But we started with hip-hop – which was different than any other team – and then moved into traditional Raas with the sticks.”
Raas is a traditional festival dance performed with polished bamboo sticks known as Dandiya. Teams wrapped their Dandiya in colorful ribbons for Raas Chaos. Some teams painted their hands and feet red to accentuate their movements.
Teams were judged for the artistic, technical and traditional elements of their dances.
The University of Pittsburgh took second place and also opened with more modern dance moves, crossing over to traditional steps later in the performance
“I feel awesome,” one Pittsburgh performer said. “We gave it 100 percent, and it was worth it.”
Just as much as it was an evening to celebrate and show off their culture, Raas Chaos was a chance for members of the South Asian community to come together and seek solace in a time of fear and stress following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“We as South Asians have overcome all the negative backlash, and we have proven to whomever is behind this that we are Americans and that we are united,” Natasha Kuhrana, master of ceremonies, told the audience. “We came here as many cultures celebrating in a language we all can understand – dance and music.”
With these ideas in mind, Raas Chaos was designed specifically to promote cultural unity and awareness through dance, while showcasing the traditional folk dance styles of Raas and Garba.
Garba Raas is more of an individual dance that does not use the bamboo sticks, while Dandiya Raas is usually performed in pairs.
“These are traditional village dances,” sophomore Arushi Terway said. “Usually music and dance bring the whole community together.”
While some student teams dropped out after the Sept. 11 attacks, Deepak Gupta, co-assistant director of Raas Chaos, said many of the people who participated and attended came because they recognized the need to move on.
“This is a crucial time for us to be exposed (to different cultures), especially to South Asian cultures, because we are targeted in a sense,” said junior Batul Razvi, whose family descends from Hyderabad, India. “We definitely need something to go to where we can just enjoy other cultures and this was definitely a feeling of relief and a way to get out there and have fun.”
Dancer Neha Gulati, a freshman at George Mason University agreed.
“Raas is a traditional thing from India, and there is nothing compared to the Garba we can do in here to show our talent and our real culture,” Gulati said.
Gupta said he hopes the show will continue to grow every year to have 10 competing teams and eventually move to a larger venue so more people can enjoy the culture and dance.
Liquid Arts, a new student group dedicated to urban arts such as break-dancing, and Villanova’s Newest Groove, a dance troupe from Villanova University that focuses on classical dance, also performed for the exhibition.
Opening with a complex combination in which co-president C.J. Chang and another member spun on their heads, Liquid Arts also featured five of general body members and a spinner known as “The Knowledgist.”
“We were requested because we became so big so sporadically,” Chang said. The group is scheduled to perform at the Festival of Faith Nov. 13 in the Marvin Center.