The Indian American Student Association gathered Friday on the stage of a crowded Hill Auditorium to present its annual cultural show, showcasing the diversity of dance, music and language that can be found across India.
The show, titled “Sarani: The Allure of Adventure,” took the audience on a tour on different parts of Indian cultures. While exploring the history of India through song and dance performances, IASA weaved American cultural elements into the show and explored the significance of being Indian-American.
The show is the biggest student-run cultural show in North America, with audiences of 3,200 to 4,000 typically gathering each year, according to show coordinator Ashwin Johri, an Engineering senior. IASA, the second-largest active group on campus, has brought together Indian American students for the past 34 years to perform in shows, participate in community service and discuss the larger social, political and economic matters affecting India today.
The organization is involved in various philanthropies and events, but for IASA co-president Bavica Gummadi, an LSA senior, IASA’s impact culminates at this cultural show.
“I think the biggest message that I want everyone to take away from our show is the passion that our dancers bring and the passion that our membership brings,” Gummadi said. “It’s almost unreal that every single member has the level of passion, energy and enthusiasm that they do, and that’s what keeps our organization running at 150 percent.”
Each year, the show’s title in based on a word from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language from which many modern Indian languages are derived. This year’s word, “Sarani” is the Sanskrit word for “path.” Johri believes this word perfectly reflects the goal of the show.
“It’s kind of symbolic of our path that we’re taking through India, as we tour through the different places, highlight the different subcultures and watch these amazing performances,” he said.
Standing under beams of orange, white and green, colors of the Indian flag, a total of 240 dancers took the stage to perform ten dances, each highlighting a different aspect of Indian subculture. Five of these dances, performed by the groups South Indian, Village, Bhangra, Raas and Bollywood, were cultural dances, aimed at embodying the more traditional customs of various Indian cities.
The other five groups, Fusion, Evolution, Filmi, all-male Fusion and all-female Fusion, were fusion dance performances, aimed at combining the music and dance styles of Indian and American culture. Musical performances were dispersed throughout, one of which coming from South Asian a capella group Maize Mirchi.
Co-president Kshema Chirra, an LSA senior, noted the importance for the dancers and the audience of tying in elements of American music.
“We really try to mix the American and Indian music to captivate our audience, because obviously, our audience isn’t just the South Asian community; it’s a lot more than that,” Chirra said. “So, I think the ultimate goal of whatever performance we put on today at Hill Auditorium is just to capture the unique cultural mix that our organization embodies of being Indian American.”
In the moments before the performances began, the audience felt the energy from behind the stage curtains amid cheers of excitement could be heard from among the dancers. The first dance, performed by Filmi, immediately conveyed the weight that cultural mixing would have on the show, with traditional sounds of Indian music being fused with distinctly hip-hop beats.
Later, a dance by All-female Fusion highlighted the intersectionality of being an Indian American woman, and provided a distinctly feminist performance where the soundtrack fused Beyoncé’s “Run the World” and customary Indian music. The crowd cheered as loudly to popular Indian songs as they did to dances that involved fidget spinners and the now-famous “Backpack Kid” dance.
The choreographed moves were the kind of accomplishment that could only come from 10 months of preparation. For audience members who had seen IASA’s cultural show before, this year’s performance was among the most impressive they’ve seen.
Engineering senior Christopher Scott particularly enjoyed the cultural dance of Bhangra.
“A lot of color, a lot of movements,” Scott said. “This is the second time I’ve been to this, and it’s gotten even better."
Halfway through the performances, members of IASA’s community service core came out to discuss their partnership with the Vidya Project. This initiative aims to bring online tutoring and mentorship to children in India and urge them to become “change-makers”: socially impactful global citizens.
Between dance performances, audiences were also given a taste of what it’s like to be a member of IASA. Parody videos in which IASA board members re-created a favorite scene from the TV show “The Office” or lip-synced in a car in the style of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” demonstrated the bonds created within the organization.
Beyond the choreography, clothing and musical sequences, organizers said audiences left Hill Auditorium with the understanding of IASA’s ability to bring students together. As Gummadi said of lessons learned during her time with IASA, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”