Design by Arunika Shee

On the evening of Friday, Nov. 11, the University of Michigan’s Indian American Student Association (IASA) put on “AASHA: Our Desire to Dream,” a community show that showcased different styles of modern Indian dance at the Michigan Theater. IASA regularly donates the proceeds from their annual show to charity, and this year was no different: The organization gave the $12,000 proceeds from “AASHA” to Vista Maria, Michigan’s largest nonprofit and community-based treatment agency for vulnerable youth. The sheer size of this student group’s donation isn’t the only impressive number to define AASHA — board members on stage made sure to announce that the show is the largest student-run non-competitive production in North America, with an audience of 1,500 people, including the dancers. This colossal event brings together much of the University and its surrounding populations to celebrate not only Indian culture but community as well.

IASA member and Engineering junior Shruthi Venkatesh mentioned that the most exciting part of the show was the community aspect, specifying that she’s “really pumped to dance onstage with all my friends.” Quite literally, everyone and their mother was in the room; no matter where I looked, I saw names I recognized from elementary school as well as familiar college faces. Audience members turned out in droves to support their friends — cheers were deafening during theatrically-edited introductory videos that introduced IASA choreographers and board members. By no means were the dances the most polished, but this was an IASA show: The performers were lively, and everyone on and off stage had fun. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Co-Ed Fusion choreographer and LSA junior Sabahat Haidari voiced early in the night that she was “extremely nervous, but very excited to celebrate and share Indian cultures.” There were no less than eight dances, many of which inadvertently created their own mosh pits on stage, (à la the Wolveraas’ Garba event hosted earlier in the season) that cheered once the official dance ended. A highlight of “AASHA” was the South Indian dance, one of the most spirited and well-coordinated of the night. I forgot to take notes because I, along with the rest of the audience, was having too much fun watching the gracefully talented dancers bopping to “Thaai Kelavi” and more. Unsurprisingly, the audience continued cheering until the end of the dance.

The choreography of both the Legends and All-Male Fusion dance was impressively clean (especially given the two-month turnaround time); however, the costume choices of both — the uniform of sweatpants, sneakers and hoodies/puffer jackets — felt slightly uninspired compared to the gorgeously detailed attire sported by other performers that evening. Many dances, including All-Male Fusion, included some sort of pantomime; the latter dance involved multiple, including one of the dancers staggering around with red Solo cups, as well as another with a dancer doing push-ups shirtless during the end sequence of the dance to a ferociously thunderous crowd. Perhaps the one guarantee in watching any IASA show is that one will not just watch a dance but receive a capital-P Performance (and All-Male Fusion really did deliver a compelling performance as gym bros). 

Raas also delivered a performance that caught the attention of the audience; their mix of traditional Gujarati raas tunes with City Girls was surprising, but the impressive energy of their performers grew on me. Likewise, the Bhangra performance’s sheer stamina was incredible: each dance was often a complete show in itself, with a time of around seven minutes. Towards the end of “AASHA,” the length of performances felt grating, but Bhangra’s dedication to action set the tone well for an opening act. 

Other dances, such as Filmi, Evolution and Co-Ed Fusion, were jazzy; Filmi danced to classics such as “Om Shanti Om,” “Dhoom Machale,” “It’s the Time to Disco” and other hits, excelling especially while dancing in pairs. Evolution brought in modern hits like “Jalebi Baby” and “Sheila Ki Jawani,” while Co-Ed Fusion mixed Bollywood music with Justin Bieber and Usher. These dances were classically IASA-core, with participants dressed in sequined costumes, dancing to the Bollywood music that the current college-aged generation of Indian Americans grew up listening to. Still, the University’s IASA made sure to add range to their show in addition to the classic acts: Dances were broken up with performances from Revolution, U-M’s Chinese Yoyo team (which had the crowd going wild), and Maize Mirchi, a South Asian focused a cappella group (which would have given me chills if I wasn’t worn after so many dances). Once again, the sheer coordination of the evening was deeply impressive.

Ultimately, much of the IASA show happened in the audience as well as on stage. The show depended heavily on the audience’s response, which the audience was more than happy to give; costumed performers wandered around to see their friends and family during intermission and watched other dances on the balcony alongside the crowd. “AASHA: Desire to Dream” was a good time for me, as far as IASA shows go. But you know who seemed to have a really good time? The performers. The show was a vivacious celebration not just of performance, but also of the people, experiences and cultures that define what it can mean to be Indian American.

Daily Arts Writer Meera Kumar can be reached at kmeera@umich.edu.

Correction: The name of the celebration was corrected to “AASHA: Desire to Dream” on Nov. 30 2022.