There was a soft silence in the crowd of more than one thousand people and then, the curtain rose, the beginning beats of a popular Hindi film song filled the air, and a group of dancers burst onto the stage. Their costumes shimmered in bright blues, shimmering reds and hot pinks as they threw their hands up in the air, twisted in a seductive pose, and began their routine.
This scene sounds like an average Bollywood movie, but it was actually the beginning of “Bollywood Berkeley,” the largest collegiate Hindi Film Dance competition in the nation, hosted by UC Berkeley. This year UC Davis’ team, which goes by the name “Toofan,” was one of the eight competing teams. UC Berkley, UCSD, UCLA, UC Irvine, University of Arizona, and University of Washington also competed.
In the Hindi Film Dance competitive circuit, Bollywood Berkeley is one of the most important competitions. The winning team gets an automatic invitational bid to “Bollywood America,” a national competition that features the HFD teams that have won the major competitions throughout the year.
Here’s the lowdown for those of you who aren’t caught up with the Bollywood scene: Each team in an HFD competition is required to come with an eight-minute routine. The routine must begin with an intro video that introduces the main plot of the dance’s story. Throughout the actual performance, members will not only dance but will actually act out an original story that they have developed, and they will have props and costume changes to match. Each team has a male and female lead who take the main roles of the story, and are often the team’s choreographer and captain.
This year, Toofan’s story was the tale of Dr. Love, who was studying to become a surgeon and suave with the ladies (isn’t that every girl’s dream?), only to find himself tongue-tied when he meets the girl of his dreams.
According to captain Sonya Pangali, Toofan has been preparing for Bollywood Berkeley since November. The team practices almost every day, and practices leading up to the show become increasingly intense.
“An average practice leading up to the competition started off with a 20 minute warm-up consisting of stretches and cardio, followed by four hours of dancing. We worked on multiple songs per night and took breaks in between when we would take turns critiquing each other. We [also] worked on costume changes and props,” she said.
According to member Deepika Dokuru, practices leading up to the competition were increased to five hours during weekdays, and six hours on both Saturday and Sunday.
Despite the intense practice schedule, the members of Toofan find immense joy in their dancing, and had the time of their lives at Bollywood Berkeley.
For Pangali, the greatest part of dancing with Toofan is the experience of being on stage.
“Hearing the crowd screaming for your team and knowing that you have their undivided attention for the next eight minutes is a feeling that simply cannot be matched,” she said.
For member Jay Bhatt, Toofan has been an opportunity to get in touch with his roots and live a lifelong dream.
“I grew up wanting to be just like the heroes of [Bollywood] movies so when I heard about Toofan it was perfect, [and] I would get to meet Indian people. I don’t plan on being a Bollywood hero or anything, I plan on being a surgeon but it’s fun to live a childhood dream,” he said.
The attraction for many HFD dancers is the fact that it allows them to not only dance the traditional Indian dance style, but also incorporate various modern styles of dance. This was one of the reasons why Pangali decided to join Toofan.
“What I love about HFD is that you can incorporate several different types of dance into your routine, including Kathak and Bharatnatym [traditional Indian dance], hip-hop and Bhangra,” she said.
Bollywood Berkeley emphasized this trait of HFD this year by asking each team to include in their routine a minute of modern American music. All the teams embraced this new rule, choosing such songs as “Getta Outta’ Yo Mind,” “No Speak Americano,” and Kanye West’s “Power,” and infusing hip-hop with their Bollywood moves.
According to Dokuru, her experience at Toofan has allowed her to meet new people, both through the team and during competitions, and has been a fantastic learning experience.
And, Bhatt adds, it is a great way to meet the ladies.
“We need more guys for next year. And remember we have 10 girls on this team. Why wouldn’t a guy want to join?” he said.
This year’s Bollywood Berkeley was a sold-out show. UC Berkeley’s team took first place for the third year in a row, with UCSD’s and University of Arizona’s team coming in second and third, respectively.
ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.