New York – If the University of California unleashes its wildly popular Hindi film dance competition “Bollywood Berkley” in February, then Harvard has its own “Raunak” show. The South Asian student-run Tamasha festival in New York bills itself as the “grandmother” of all free-form, Bollywood-style, fusion dance contests. It recently hosted a match-up with 11 teams with 10 to 20 dancers from Brown, Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Temple, Columbia and Dartmouth.
Details regarding trendy costumes, music and elaborate sets are guarded like state secrets. Some 19-year-olds are brilliant at choreographing a large cast of male and female dancers, but they drive their flock hard to reach Bollywood perfection.
“A competitive team will follow a typical roster of 30 hours of practice per week during spring semester. It is very rigorous. A week before D-day, rehearsals can run up to seven hours a night,” said dancer Vishal Kumar Gupta, a fourth year economics undergraduate who is also studying business administration at Hass. He has been a member of the University of California’s Dhadkan team.
The eight-minute-long seductive Bollywood-inspired choreographed pieces include at least four costume changes. This prompted an American critic to describe the dance numbers as “equal parts art, camp and fire drill.”
Gupta’s team dissects video footage of their performances like super athletes and coaches. “Most people don’t realize how time-consuming it is to be on the team and what a big commitment it is,” says Gupta, a rough-and-tumble high school footballer who only discovered his dancing feet in UC Berkley.
“My parents were happy and surprised to see me do this. I played football in high school, I don’t speak Hindi and I am not as integrated into Indian culture as I should be. At UC Berkley I found my way,” said Gupta.
The competitions are an India club thing, but African-American, South Asian and white students are not immune to the song-and dance that makes glamorous Bollywood dance contests infectious. “Most of the people on the team are first-generation American kids of Indian parents. But I am a Bollywood freak. I have grown up watching Bollywood films in Pakistan. It is the biggest connect for me now that I am so far way from home,” Iram Praveen Bilal from Pakistan, a member of the Anjaane dance team from the University of Southern California, told Yahoo! News.
The joy of competing has little to do with cash awards which range from $1,000 to $3,000. “Even if we won all the big ones we wouldn’t break even. We pay for our own costumes, travel and props. A lot of students work on campus to help the team, while some members get their parents to support them,” said Gupta.
Bollywood dance competitions have lasting influence. “My dance experience really defined who I became,” said gifted choreographer Shalin Shah who graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007 with a major in Biology. “I suffered withdrawal symptoms because the Bollywood dance competitions were such fun -– they taught me to work with people. I am not averse now to exploring dance opportunities.”