Columns, Opinion

THADANI: A Commitment to Culture and Community

Boston University students practice a routine in front of BU Jalwa members in hopes of being chosen for the team. PHOTO BY TRISHA THADANI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Boston University students practice a routine in front of BU Jalwa members in hopes of being chosen for the team. PHOTO BY TRISHA THADANI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

It took me about seven years to realize that I was pretty awful at Indian dancing, and anything involving a sense of coordination, for that matter. In the eight years that have passed since I last graced any stage with my flailing limbs and faulty footwork, I’ve conceded to appreciating the art of “Bollywood” dancing from the audience. And as a sideline observer, I can say there is definitely much to be appreciated of the nuances of Bollywood, India’s not-so-humble version of Hollywood.

Bollywood dancing is often flashy and very cheesy but quite captivating and endearing at the same time. While watching the Boston University Jalwa — a co-ed fusion Indian dance team — tryouts this week, I found myself smiling the entire time, not just at the inherent energy that spills from the boisterous movements, but also at the thought of me attempting to move my body in such a way ever again.

BU Jalwa is another one of those hidden gems that exists within our student body. For 10 years, the team has committed itself to celebrating Indian culture through dance, as well as providing students an outlet to escape from the stress and monotony of their daily routines.

“I spend more time practicing with this team than I do in class,” said Ritesh Singh, a College of Engineering junior. “I’m less afraid of being late to class than I am of being late to practice…I’m actually petrified of showing up late to practice.”

BU Jalwa is entirely student-run, kept afloat by funds from the Student Activities Office and various sponsors. For most members, being on the Jalwa team is simply a hobby, and the physically exhausting hours spent away from their homework are justified simply by their love of the dance.

“We do it just because we want to be here…Personally, none of us [on the Executive Board] are trying to make it to Bollywood,” said Nalini Balakrishnan, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, smirking at the far-out thought of actually making it to Bollywood.

On average, the BU Jalwa team spends around 10 hours in practice on a non-performance week. But, for a team that performs multiple times a semester, such an “off” week is hard to come by. When asked how long they spend in practice during performance weeks, the E-Board members paused to count up the hours in their heads.

“I don’t even want to know,” said Ramya Ramadurai, a CAS junior.

Despite the high level of commitment involved, the team still received more than 60 students at their tryouts this weekend. The Jalwa hopefuls, ranging in skill levels, grades and ethnicities, gathered on Saturday and Monday to learn a minute’s worth of challenging choreography.

As the captains and E-Board members stood in front of the crowd to teach the routine, they eased some nerves by simplifying the intricate movements into mundane, every-day activities.

“This one is like pulling the lawn mover,” Singh said as he firmly planted his legs and put his whole body into gesturing his bent arm back.

“This one is like a complicated way of almost punching yourself in your face,” Ramadurai said, as she demonstrated almost punching herself in the face, in a complicated way.

As the music started, the room of hopefuls followed the captains and threw their bodies into animated moves, “pulling the lawn mover” and “punching themselves in the face” at the appropriate cues in the music.

Of the 60-ish people who originally auditioned late last week, 40 were called back on Tuesday to the George Sherman Union alley. At the beginning of the callbacks, Singh first thanked the group for the 8 hours they had already spent with them during tryouts – a true insight to how much commitment being on this team actually takes.

“We’ve been so impressed by you guys so far,” he said, as the room full of contenders stared back at him. Acknowledging that only a handful of people will actually make the team, Singh encouraged everyone to keep dancing no matter the outcome of the tryouts.

“And also make sure to say hi to us around campus if you see us! We’re friendly,” he added.

As four people were called up to perform in front of the five judges at a time, the nerves could be felt in the pin-drop silence that preceded and followed the boisterous clip of music they danced to.

While watching the stress ridden call-backs, I couldn’t shake the concept that these were just students learning from and seeking the approval of other students. Based on how seriously people were taking these callbacks, you would think they were auditioning in front of award winning directors for the next big-hit Bollywood movie, not just their fellow peers.

After each group of Jalwa hopefuls finished their routines in front of the judges and gathered their belongings, panting and sweating from just a few seconds of dancing, Singh would always leave them with some final words before they left the room.

“Hope you had fun!”

One Comment

  1. Thank you!

    As one of the co-founders of Jalwa, I cannot imagine begin to describe what or how I feel each time I see, hear or read something about the group or it’s members/alums.

    Your words have managed to capture the very essence of 10-years worth of joy, pride, amazement and gratitude.

    This group truly is the most endearing memory I have of BU. However, the Jalwa that is today is the net sum of the efforts and dedication of all those doers who came after the dreamers!

    Again, thank you for your beautiful words!