Universities compete in colorful Indian dance competition

Correction appended

“Whose house? GDub!”

This chant electrified students on Saturday night, not at a basketball game filled with buff and blue, but instead in a crowd of orange, purple and green sequins at Raas Chaos, an Indian dance competition.

Cheers from the other eight competing schools followed the GW mantra and bellowed through Lisner Auditorium. Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas-Austin and Virginia Commonwealth University competed against GW for the title of Garba Raas champion. Garba Raas is a traditional type of Indian dance that emphasizes energy and movement.

Penn State took home the winning title and will go to the Garba Raas championship in Dallas this April. GW placed second and Columbia third. The competition raised money for the Stop HIV/AIDS in India Initiative and Asha for Education, which funds education opportunities for underprivileged children in India.

“I like the idea of helping to create this show that, in the end, will help charity,” GW South Asian Society Secretary Dhara Shah said.

As the performances began, intricately designed costumes, patterned with beads and sequins, filled the stage. The precise movements of flips, line formations and captivating music held the audience’s attention. The fans of each Raas group hollered chants, and cheers mixed with an array of spirited shouts from the dancers, eager for their turn on stage. Before they took the stage, Penn State Raas member Radnika Vachhani said the dancers were “nervous but excited.”

Onlookers seemed hypnotized by the vibrant colors and intricate dances which featured twirling Raas sticks, dandiyas, and powerful stomps and jumps that mirrored the music’s forceful beats.

The teams incorporated different theme into their dances: Virginia Commonwealth University’s dancers wore Jabbawockeez masks and Columbia’s piece incorporated a “Romeo and Juliet” theme, complete with a giant poison bottle. GW went old school, using a giant cloth boombox as a backdrop, while UPenn’s spoof of “The Office” included water coolers for props.

“The choreography and sequence” captured my attention, said audience member Matthew Mani.

“And the energy of course,” added Mani’s friend, George Koshy.

Competitors weren’t focused only on winning, but were just as interested in watching the other participants perform.

“My favorite part is when we were done with the dance and are watching other people,” said University of Texas-Austin Raas Co-captain Mayur Bhakra.

“I love seeing the smiles and energy of the teams. To see them come right off stage, they don’t care about their scores,” said Raas Chaos Co-director Anita Singh.

The South Asian Society started planning the student-run event in March of last year. The planning process included selecting the nine participating teams through a competitive audition process. Each team submitted a video of their dance and was required to respond within 24 hours if chosen.

When the scores finally were announced on Saturday night, the participants stampeded the stage in excitement. As the winning teams surrounded their trophies, the glitter on their faces and the sequins on their tunics sparkled as they jumped in celebration.

“Second is the best feeling in the world,” GW senior Komal Desai said of her team’s win.

“It’s amazing,” said GW Raas Captain Kunal Patel. “All the hard work and sweat we put into it paid off.”

November, 24, 2008. This article has been changed to reflect the following correction:

The Hatchet misspelled the name of the masks used by the Virginia Commonwealth University dancers. They are Jabbawockeez masks, not Jaberwocky masks.

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