Michigan Mazaa to combine culture, competition and philanthropy

By Kathleen Davis, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 13, 2014

Michigan Mazaa’s success story is one of simple beginnings. What started as an idea tossed around between LSA senior and co-director Surya Iyer and his two roommates in 2011 has since evolved into an expansive on-campus organization and hosts one of the country’s premier intercollegiate Bollywood dance competitions, A2 Dhoom, which is having it’s second annual run this Saturday at the Michigan Theater.

Michigan Mazaa

Saturday March 15
The Michigan Theater
$15 main floor, $12 balcony, $10 for UM students

While the organization hosts events to celebrate South Asian American culture, Michigan Mazaa first and foremost hopes to raise awareness of the widespread issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation alongside Connecticut-based human rights organization Love146, adding an extremely unique presence to the university community.

“The purpose is to raise awareness and funds for the fight against human trafficking,” Mazaa co-director Priya Joshi said. “But we do so through social justice and holding South Asian cultural events.”

2013’s A2 Dhoom competition served both as one of the first large Michigan Mazaa events as well as being the first Bollywood dance competition in the state of Michigan. Michigan Mazaa has since been recognized nationally by Bollywood America, the largest South Asian dance competition in North America and will send the winning team from A2 Dhoom to the national championship held this year in California’s Bay Area.

The eight competing teams will be coming to Ann Arbor everywhere from University of Southern California to Northwestern University. As the host university, Michigan will not have either of its two dance teams compete.

As A2 Dhoom is only in its second year, hosting a bid competition is a very big deal, and Iyer and Joshi attribute the opportunity to the success of the inaugural event.

“I think what did set us apart is that our main goal is very cause-focused,” Joshi said. “Every single team that came to A2 Dhoom last year knew they were competing for a cause and not just a first, second or third place.”

“We strive to really educate the dancers because they’re our main audience at 150 people, so we can reach out to them and say, ‘Hey this is an issue’,” Iyer said. “A lot of the dancers are South Asian Americans so it’s easy to say, ‘It’s in our backyard, this is where we come from, let’s do something to make a difference.’ ”

After working with a large NGO aimed to fight the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation based in DC for the inaugural A2 Dhoom, Mazaa decided to choose a smaller organization with the same focus for 2014. After a large screening process, Love146 was chosen, a charity that focuses on awareness and rehabilitation of former victims. All funds from A2 Dhoom will go directly to Love146.

Apart from A2 Dhoom, the club also hosts documentary screenings of films raising awareness for the issue. Michigan Mazaa also helped bring Hindi a cappella group, Penn Masala, to Ann Arbor in 2011.

The success of Michigan Mazaa has been a pleasant surprise for its directors, and they only hope the organization continues to grow. Last year A2 Dhoom reached an audience of about 600 and they hope this year will be even more successful.

“It’s really neat to think sometimes that in twenty years A2 Dhoom could still be sticking around,” Joshi said. “I think it’s great that we’ve incorporated our charities and cause and I really want that to stay and foster throughout the years, at a school like Michigan I think it’ll be very easy to do that.”

“We’d like the student community to come out because it’s neat to see a competition where you have other fellow students participating,” Joshi continued. “Bollywood is more up and coming and more people are becoming familiar with it, it’s a very modern style of dance.”

In this balance between Indian heritage and western culture, Iyer and Joshi hope that Michigan Mazaa will set an example for other South Asian American organizations at other universities.

“We built ourselves off of a model,” Iyer said. “I want this to become a model for other campuses to build off from.”