Garba With Attitude: UCI’s ISC Popularizes Indian Dance

Saturday, Feb. 10 will be the culmination of an entire year of hard work by UC Irvine’s Indian Sub-Continental Club. The club is responsible for organizing and hosting ‘Garba With Attitude,’ one of the premiere garba/raas dance competitions in California. Teams from across the United States will travel to Los Angeles for the weekend to showcase their skill.
The fifth-annual National Intercollegiate Garba/Raas Competition will take place at the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles starting at 5 p.m.
Garba is an ancient dance tradition that originated in Western India as a religious ritual performed to honor Hindu gods. It is a partner dance incorporating complex steps and hand movements, and consists of evolving circular and linear formations.
Each dance is eight minutes long and must include at least one minute of raas, using decorated hand sticks to keep tempo. Dancers wear costumes according to the theme of their dance, using bright colors, jewelry, embroidery and sequins to make a statement on the stage.
In recent years, garba has been heavily influenced by Western culture. For many young Indians, the dance has become more about creative expression. Kundini Shah, a fourth-year biological sciences major, is the director of the event.
She explained that ‘the original dance form depicted a lifestyle that had a lot of religious beliefs, but that was long ago. For students now, it’s more about the heritage of the dance; it’s a way to stay in touch with our roots.’
Even the traditional music has changed, and now includes many hip-hop and remix tracks. Dancers choreograph their own routines and many choose to act out stories or pick unique themes such as Nintendo or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’
Until five years ago there were few opportunities to showcase garba on the West Coast. In California there were five schools with garba dance teams and nowhere to perform.
The UCI ISC arranged the first competition in 2003, and since then it has directed productions that are now gaining reputation.
This year, 18 teams auditioned for ‘Garba With Attitude.’ Of those, 10 were selected to perform in the competition on Feb. 10. UC Berkeley and UCLA will be attending, as well as out-of-state schools like Cornell and Boston.
There will be roughly 200 performers in the dance-off, not including various supporters and spectators.
Every year the event has been sold out, and this year the ISC expects to fill all 1,152 seats in the theater.
‘The best part is when it’s over, but you wish that it would keep going. When people come to you all excited and say they can’t wait for next year,’ Kundini said.
Another goal of the competition is to raise money for the Phoenix Relief charity. A percentage of ticket sales are donated to Phoenix Relief, whose mission is to provide medical care to people in underdeveloped areas of India. This year $17,000 has been donated by ISC and they hope to raise much more at ‘Garba With Attitude.’
The ISC also hopes to become a more prominent feature in the Southern California arts scene, and have advertised through word of mouth, Facebook networking and newspaper ads to increase their visibility.
‘We want lots of involvement from the community in Southern California, not just the South Indian community,’ Kundini said.
The board of the ISC hopes to increase the reputation and prestige of this competition by gaining the support of the community.
‘We feel that we set the bar as far as professionalism for the rest of the competitions in Southern California,’ Kundini said.
On a local front, the ISC hopes to get more UCI students aware of what they do. Shilpa Shah is a third-year studio art major and public relations chair.
‘We want to involve the UCI community. We want to showcase this beautiful culture and share it with everyone,’ she said. One sign that their efforts are paying off will be the presence of Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez at the competition.
‘For us it’s very important for UCI to recognize the effort that we put into it, and the caliber of show that we produce,’ Kundini said.