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Columbia’s Raas And Bhangra Dance Teams Bring The Energy…Virtually!

Bwog Senior Staff writer, Hibah Vora, a Barnard ’23 student of South Asian descent with a ton of energy but zero dance experience (besides a few choreographed wedding performances), took on learning a few Raas and Bhangra moves with the Columbia dance teams’ workshops.

The Columbia Raas and Columbia University Bhangra teams kicked off the first week of classes with a virtual workshop on Saturday, September 12, for anyone of any level of experience with the goals of teaching a few dance moves and making participants have some fun. Both dance teams made the virtual Zoom workshops lively, and I sensed a genuine community amongst the groups. There I stood in my living room with leggings and a t-shirt on, and I took a look at how the workshops ran with their goals of fostering a welcoming environment. 

First up was the Columbia Raas team. Garba-Raas is a form of dance originating in Gujarat, India often performed at the festival of Navaratri and sometimes involving the use of colorful dandiya sticks. As participants first entered the Zoom meeting, the team played Sucker by Nick Jonas to get everyone hyped up. Raas members were very organized by making their Zoom names to show that they were a member of the team. 

Team Captains Manasia Sharma (CC 21) and Sabriya Khalfan (BC 22) gave a warm welcome, leading into members excitedly introducing themselves and their positions. Many showed off skillful dancing and shocked me by stating that they joined Raas with no prior dance experience. It was truly evident that you did not have to be of South Asian descent or have any dance experience to be interested in Raas. 

The Raas student leaders separated the 20 to 30 participants into breakout groups and rotated them through each breakout session. I started off in the group led by Manasi Sharma (CC 21) who emphasized that the Raas move she was teaching was the hardest and that it was okay to not get it. Showing us the move, she broke it down into small steps and didn’t let the small Zoom screen get in the way of showing us her big smile while dancing, as well as the different and simultaneous moves for our arms and legs. 

We started off slow, and as someone with no dance experience, I just brought energy to the floor and got the hang of it with Manasi’s patient teaching. In another breakout room, led by Creative Director, Anna Yokote (BC 23) I learned the moves Sway One and Sway Two, which were simple to pick up through Yokote breaking it down. 

It’s clear that Raas is a group where everyone learns together and supports each other. A few participants, or what the team called “Praaspies,” had questions about auditions coming up, competitions, and what kind of community Raas was. After assuring everyone that travel and costumes are paid for by Columbia, the Raas team demonstrated how close-knit they were.

Rotating through a few more breakout rooms, I picked up more basic steps of Raas and found myself following along, enjoying the energy of the group. A smile and having fun was seen as the most important part of performing, and while Raas seems complicated when watching it fully performed, it truly was a repetition of simple steps. Ending off the workshop was a Q&A session, and we had so much fun that the hour went by quickly. This workshop was a sneak peek into the auditions for participants.

Quickly, I opened the Zoom for CU Bhangra. I had an idea of Bhangra in that it originated in the Punjab regions of India and Pakistan, and that it is very high energy, jumping up and down, and involves taking up a lot of space while dancing. It can definitely get people hyped up by the amount of movement involved and by the beats of the music. 

The team also excitedly introduced themselves, with a member of the board presenting a Powerpoint presentation of Bhangra at Columbia. The team appeared very friendly as well as notably diverse, from the different hometowns, majors, ethnicities, and dance backgrounds. They “Zoomed” in from outside Butler Library to New York City apartments to locations from across the world. Two team members said they wouldn’t be living in an apartment together if it weren’t for bonding through CU Bhangra. The group even had an alum show up to this workshop out of her love for dance, and the team touts their alumni network. 

Their upperclassmen typically compete and have even performed at weddings in New York City. They practice three times a week, albeit shortened to twice a week with fewer hours of practice due to the virtual season. They stated that their Bhangra in the Heights showcase held in Roone Arledge Auditorium sells out in normal years. 

The workshop was led by team captain Gauri Talwar (BC 21) and Ajit Akole (CC 21) with a mixtape featuring Bhangra music and Roxanne by Arizona Zervas to include modern hip-hop, TikTok dance moves, and traditional Bhangra steps. It was enjoyable to get a modern take on Bhangra. Ajit Akole plugged @cubbeats01 on Soundcloud for more Bhangra-hip-hop music.

While the Bhangra moves were tough, the team emphasized that their auditions would include easier steps, and that bouncing your feet, taking up space, and having a smile was most important in performing. Participants asked to see steps again, and the leaders of the workshop were happy to slow it down, as well as teach the lingo of steps such as punjabs, in which both the hands are thrown up, crossing one leg in front of the other, and bringing it back to the original position in two hops. This is done alternatively and while bouncing continuously. 

When Talwar noticed participants taking learning the dance moves very seriously, she paused to remind us that a smile is the most important part of the routine. Bhangra definitely took more energy out of me than Raas as the steps include continuously bouncing, swinging your arms and legs wide, and moving your arms and legs in different directions simultaneously. I was able to hone in on the detail of what my hands were supposed to look like after learning the fundamentals. 

Similar to Raas, there were basic movements that combined together to make a full Bhangra performance. The team ended the workshop in a timely manner taking questions from participants at any moment, and understanding that the high-energy required lots of water breaks. It was very fun to watch Talwar and Akole energetically show off a skilled Bhangra performance to the song Roxanne. 

Both groups pushed the importance of having fun, smiling, and turning up the energy while dancing. They showed encouragement through emphasizing having fun over getting the moves correctly. Both groups have sign-ups for audition time slots in which you will be taught a few simple moves and require that you submit a video audition after. These two teams decided not to let a virtual semester get in the way of dancing it out, and as an outsider, I appreciated the effort that genuinely felt as fun as if these were in-person workshops. 

You can sign up for audition time slots for this weekend via these links:

Columbia Raas: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScECZMs8mQlOe74rtIEn1P0hF7wAuVzJKkxD34-ijs2ff0oBQ/viewform

CU Bhangra: https://doodle.com/poll/pmebgt6qsdgmpdpq?ct=t(EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_8_14_2020_21_34_COPY_01)&mc_cid=c4acc30294&mc_eid=5798c3cef5

Image via Bwogger

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