During the endless hours that the Boston University Jalwa team spends in practice a semester, there is always something else that its members “should” be doing — lab reports, problem sets, job applications, sleeping.
But instead, they spend much of their time in practice, recovering from practice or talking about practice.
After a successful season of placing in three competitions around the country, the Indian fusion dance team will compete in a national competition in Ohio this weekend. This is the first time the team has made it to the national competition in four years. So even though it’s a big deal for everyone on the team, this is a really big deal for the seniors.
“It feels so much sweeter because this hasn’t happened to us since we joined,” said Ramya Ramadurai, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It honestly affirms the last four years for us because we put in so much time and energy in this over other things.”
The eight-minute routine the team will perform this weekend chronicles the story of three Indian students whose parents are forcing them to become engineers. But two of them want to be something else — a Bollywood star, a soccer player or just anything with more pizzazz.
“Stop! I can’t handle this anymore,” a female voiceover says during the routine. “It’s not that hard, I just don’t like engineering … To be honest, I want to be in Bollywood.”
“Wow, you two are so talented at what you want to do,” a male voiceover responds. “You have to tell your parents about your true passions. I’m here because I love engineering — that’s what makes me happy. You should have that passion pushing you to do what you love.”
“I mean, I guess I can try talking to them,” the girl says.
The girl then runs off stage and comes back. Her parents said no. But then she comes to her own conclusion: “You guys are right. I need to do what makes me happy. I need to follow my passion.”
And then they dance.
For many of the Indian Americans on the team, this is the story of them. Despite how much they love their majors or not, they also choose to prioritize dancing.
BU Jalwa 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 for the past 11 years.
The 21 members spend about seven hours in practice on a non-performance week. But for this team, which has preformed several times this semester, such an “off” week is hard to come by. What becomes even harder is counting up the amount of hours they spend practicing the same routine.
The national championship this weekend is the end of a series of three competitions, and they will go up against 11 other schools for the trophy. The team hasn’t gone this far in the past few years, and CAS sophomore Kavya Raghunathan said what has set them apart this year is the story and struggle they tell through their routine — abiding by your parents’ wishes versus staying true to your own.
“My parents thought that the dance team was taking up too much of my time, which was valid — it was,” Raghunathan said. “They said I should focus on my school work, and they were right. I should be doing that. But dancing was always my thing. It’s always been a part of me.”
As Raghunathan said, everyone on the team feels they have an obligation to themselves to pursue their passions and be who they want to be, even if it is just for the hours they are dancing.
“We wanted a theme that would connect to the audience the most,” she said. “I honestly think every first-generation kid or anyone who’s been on a dance team can identify with the fact that your parents often push you to do something else. This is our story, and that’s what makes it so easy to perform and so easy to do.”
While watching the Jalwa team practice, you see the dancers take on a range of personalities as the Indian music fuses with Billboard Top 100 hits. Jackson 5 makes them cheeky, Rihanna makes them aggressive, Beyoncé makes them sexy.
Then, when the music ends, their real lives may resume — lab reports, problem sets, job applications and all.
And then, maybe, they’ll sleep.