They swirled around the stage, costumes aflutter, with the beaded accents clacking together to the rhythm of the drums and the twirling of the dandiyas, or small batons, they held in their hands. But not even an enthusiastic crowd and homefield advantage could help the GW Raas team defend its title as two-time champion of the South Asian Society’s Raas Chaos tournament, held in Lisner Auditorium Friday night.
Raas is a traditional Indian dance performed by men and women who weave in and out of complicated circular formations while twirling their dandiyas. The performances last about eight minutes, and typically involve several Indian songs and the occasional hip-hop beat spliced in.
Teams from Johns Hopkins University, Rensselaer Polytechnic University, New York University, Penn State, Columbia University, Northwestern University and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County competed against GW. Two exhibition groups performed as well: Penn Atma, an all-girl Indian a cappella group from the University of Pennsylvania, and NYU Pandemonium, a male Bhangra team from New York. In between performances, there were also skits from the masters of ceremonies, sophomores Aditi Ramchandani, Kamal Patel and Ketan Patel.
GW’s Raas team had a non-traditional approach to the traditional dance, opening their performance to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and borrowing some of the pop star’s choreography.
“Our choreography was basically a group collaboration,” sophomore Nidhi Dalal said. “We tried a lot of different things in practice.”
Dalal said the team spent four hours a day for the past two months practicing.
“Everyone is really good this year,” Dalal said during intermission, making an anxious face. “I think we have a good deal of competition.”
Despite the fans in Lisner yelling “Whose house? G-Dub!” the judges were dazzled by Penn State, Northwestern and NYU, which won first, second and third place, respectively. The winners, who were judged on artistic elements, traditionalism and coordination, were awarded cash prizes, and as first place winners, Penn State’s Raas team was automatically entered in the “Best of the Best Tournament” in New York City.
Despite the team’s heavy emphasis on Indian culture and tradition, not all of the members come from similar backgrounds. Chris Murphy, a freshman, is the team’s sole Caucasian member.
“I have friends on the team, and they were down one guy, so they told me to come and check it out,” Murphy said.
“Everyone is very nice about it,” Murphy said of his non-Indian background, “It doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all.”
Despite the loss, the Raas team finds the performance itself rewarding.
Murphy said, “I think that we went all out, and that there was a lot of energy – even more than in practice.”