Men and women danced, jingled and circled around the stage of Lisner Auditorium Saturday night, as GW took first place in the fourth annual Raas Chaos intercollegiate Raas-Garba competition.
The event was hosted by GW’s South Asian Society, a group that promotes South Asian culture through performing traditional folk dances originating from the state of Gujarat in India.
A record number of students applied to participate in the dance competition this year, said senior SAS member Renu Grover, who marked her third year in Raas Chaos Saturday. “There has been so much enthusiasm for the competition,” she said.
There were 10 competitors in Saturday night’s event, representing Case Western University, Columbia University, Cornell University, John Hopkins University, Penn State University and Penn State Jawani, Rutgers University, University of Maryland, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and GW.
The judging panel consisted of seven judges from across the nation. The criteria for judging was based on artistic elements such as creativity, style and expression; technical elements such as accuracy, formations, confidence, choreography, and team spirit; traditionalism, male/female coordination, overall impression and meeting the eight-minute time limit.
Garba is a unique style of dance performed during the nine-day celebration of Navratri. It is traditionally performed by women and is danced with small measured steps and claps in a circular formation. Raas is also danced in a circle, but it is performed by males who use dandiya sticks with tiny bells called ghungrus tied to the ends. The sticks give off a jingling sound when they strike one another. Raas dancers move to a complicated rhythm pattern and are required not only to perform solo acts with their sticks but also to dance with partners opposite them in the circle.
At times, the circles break down into smaller circles within the orbit of the larger circle, resulting in a complicated, energetic dance. Many groups also used the flute as a prop for their routine. The flute is a symbolic instrument for the god Krishna.
Heera Prasad, Arya Namboodri and Neha Patel came from Virginia Commonwealth University to see the show. They were already familiar with the Raas and Garba rituals and said Raas Chaos captured the tradition of the dance style.
“It was really great,” said Prasat. “You get very pumped up and excited when the teams do their stunts. It’s so coordinated.”
Namboodri said the music incorporated into the routines comes from the areas of eastern India. Many performances also incorporated music reminiscent of hip-hop, which was from the northern areas of India.
Patel was especially impressed with the elaborate costumes of Raas Chaos. The dancers wore traditional Indian garments. The girls wore flowing, brightly colored Chaniya Cholis and the traditional headscarf, known as the odhni. The men wore Kurta Pyjamas, knee-length collarless shirts with loose trousers with a string tie at the waist. The costumes were exquisitely embroidered and often coupled with traditionally ornate gold jewelry.
Nuzhat Naoreen, historian for the South Asian Society, said she was particularly impressed with the turnout for Raas Chaos, especially considering Saturday was the Indian holiday of Diwali and many Muslim students went home to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid.
“The performers have been received by such an enthusiastic audience,” said Naoreen. “The crowd is very competitive and there is great rivalry among the teams.”