IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS: Traditional and modern South Asian costumes heighten the excitement of the performances.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS: Traditional and modern South Asian costumes heighten the excitement of the performances.

Rangila may be one of the most popular events on campus — more than 500 students will take part in this year’s show — but very few understand the cultural significance and history of the dances performed.

To those unfamiliar with the event, Rangila might seem like any other entertainment show held in Gaston Hall. Rangila, a Hindi word that roughly translates to “colorful,” consists of 11 dances and various independent acts that draw from the diverse South Asian culture. The 11 dances aren’t just meant to entertain audiences; each comes from a distinct cultural tradition in different parts of South Asia.

Six of those 11 dances stay true to major dance traditions from the Indian subcontinent. The first dance of the show is always Raas, the traditional folk dance form of Vrindavan, a town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Characterized by the use of dandiya, decorated sticks that dancers click against their partners’, Raas is a flurry of coordinated movements — almost like intricate line dancing, and rhythms build to mirror the fast-paced music.

A featured folk dance that hails from Gujarat, a state in western India, is Garba.

“[Garba] involves a lot of circular movements, hand clapping and formation work,” co-coordinatorNeha Sobti (COL ’13) said. Dancers also typically wear full skirts that dramatically billow and twist around the dancers’ ankles as they spin and rapidly switch directions.

Another traditional number, Folk Dance, comes from Rajasthan. “They use a lot of props and formation work as well. This year, the props are manjira … that are like cymbals for your hands that the girls are going to use,” Sobti said.

Many of these regional dances were part of the celebrations in historical festivals throughout rural India that have maintained their style in modern times. They are as ubiquitous as they were centuries ago, a testament to the vitality and strength of tradition in South Asia.

Not all of the dances are as obscure, however. Bhangra is a well-known form of dance based in the traditional folk celebrations of the Punjab region in north India, which borders Pakistan.

Bhangra is very energetic, with a lot of jumping and hopping — big moves,” co-coordinator RohanMuralidhar (SFS ’13) said. “There’s Bulldog Bhangra, which is pretty evenly boys and girls and more underclassmen. Senior Bhangra is huge, with about 160 seniors and lasting almost 10 minutes. It’s kind of the culminating event of years of participating and part of the whole senior experience.”

Kathak, a dance also from Uttar Pradesh, has more of a classical influence, with its roots in ancient Indian professional, nomadic storytellers of mythological epics. A very technique-heavy dance, Kathakis not as easy to pick up as many of the other ones in the show, which are primarily folk dances meant for mass participation in villages throughout South Asia during seasonal festivals. It was influenced by temple and ritual dances and later by the Persian techniques brought in by the Mughal royal court.Kathak usually features many skillfully executed chakkars, or turns in place similar to Persian whirling dervishes, which make the dancers’ skirts spread in a large hoop around them.

Kathak is a dance that we introduced this year because we had a choreographer who, for the first time, we felt could actually teach the intricate dance,” Sobti said. “We also have two audiences to cater to [during the show]. We have a lot of diplomats, VIPs and professors who want to really see that South Asian aspect more, and we have students who like to hear and see a lot of energy.”

“This year, we wanted to add a more classical feel to the event as a whole. It’s otherwise mostly mash-ups of Top-40 songs and Bollywood songs and stuff like that. We had heard that people wanted a more classical feel,” Muralidhar said.

The coordinators made sure to include dances that fuse traditional South Asian dance with more modern or Western styles of dance. Bharathanatyam, a classical Indian dance, is fused with ballet and contemporary dance in the aptly named Classical Fusion. Sobti explained that while somewhat similar to KathakBharathanatyam hails from Tamil Nadu in South India and has an even stronger tie to ancient temple dancing without as much Mughal influence. It features a demi-plie stance in which the knees are always slightly bent, intricate footwork and abhinaya — miming to depict storylines.

Some more recent additions to the 18-year tradition are Salsa Masala and Bollygroove. Salsa Masala is a collaboration of Bollywood with tango and salsa styles — an unexpected combination of two very different styles of dance.

“The two actually complement each other very well. Latin music lends itself well to Bollywood and classical Indian moves, and some of the slower Bollywood songs are great for tango and merengue dancing. Our mix even includes a track where Bhangra overlaps with [Shakira’s] ‘Hips Don’t Lie,’” Smiti Mohan (MSB ’15), one of the Salsa Masala choreographers, said.

Sobti explained that Bollygroove is a collaboration with Groove Theory that has worked differently every year, fusing hip-hop with Bollywood style.

“Bollygroove will surprise audiences this year because we have made it a little more hard-hitting since last year. There is definitely more of a distinctive hip-hop element,” Bollygroove co-choreographer Shantel Jairam (COL ’15) said.

No South Asian repertoire would be complete without spotlighting Bollywood-style dancing. Bollywood is India’s well-known version of Hollywood which frequently features an integration of music, dance and acting that can most closely be compared to Broadway and musical theater.

Bollywood Remix will feature the songs currently popular in South Asia, complete with over-the-top choreographies and sassy dance moves. Old School is a return to the height of Bollywood success.

“It has the cheesy — but still good — Bollywood songs from the ’90s that our parents loved. It’s also split into girls, boys and partner sections,” Muralidhar said.

Rangila stays connected to South Asian culture in other ways as well. Proceeds from the event will go to the Kumarappa Institute of Gram Swaraj

KIGS is a grassroots NGO that focuses on microfinancing and creating sustainable villages in India.

“We’ve had a pretty long history with them, and Rangila started as one of their sole funders,” Muralidhar said. “KIGS focuses on women and children, giving them the tools to have a life. … For the board and for us, we feel like we’re making an actual difference. It’s not like we’re giving the money to some megacorporation and we don’t know where the money is going.”

Though Rangila is based in a strong South Asian tradition, the event allows all students to come together.

“The most important thing is to understand that it’s not just a bunch of people of South Asian backgrounds who are doing this … Actually, probably only 30 percent, — not even, are [South Asian]. It’s a bunch of people enjoying themselves. And I think that’s what people relate to more than anything else — just that pure energy,” Muralidhar said.

Performances are Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17 in Gaston Hall. Tickets go on sale Monday, Nov. 12 in Red Square. 

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