Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Cornell Bhangra, one of the University's several Indian dance groups, performs at Clubfest in Barton Hall.

March 1, 2023

Indian Dance Groups Showcase Talent, Bring Cultural Awareness to Campus

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Cornell has supported multiple Indian dance groups — the biggest three being Sitara, Bhangra and Big Red Raas for over 20 years, according to the Cornell Dancers’ Alliance. 

Cornell Sitara infuses Bollywood dance with hip hop, Indian classical and contemporary. Cornell Bhangra promotes awareness of Punjabi folk dance and culture in the Punjabi community and across the nation. Big Red Raas features garba-raas, a traditional dance from Gujarat, India. 

All three dance teams compete regionally as well as nationally, with the Raas team advancing to the national championship, Raas All-Stars, last year. 

Cornell Sitara holds showcases every spring. At this year’s showcase on March 26, the team will perform their competition cut and other cuts choreographed by various team members, along with guest acts by other dance teams on campus, such as the other Indian Dance Teams. 

Cornell Sitara holds workshops and tryouts in the fall to recruit new members. They perform mainly at South Asian events such as Diya Jale and Mock Shaadi, as well as other on-campus events such as Relay for Life and Carnelian Gala.

Anika Anvekar ’23, Cornell Sitara’s captain, told The Sun in an email that she joined Cornell Sitara because she wanted to continue dancing as she did in high school. Once she met the Sitara members and attended a workshop, she knew it was the right team for her.

“Sitara felt like the perfect team for me because I loved how many different styles of dance we do as well as being able to find my place and connect with the South Asian community here at Cornell,” Anvekar said.

Sitara’s most recent competition was the Midwest Dhamaka in Cincinnati.

“This was our first time competing at a Legends Partner Competition. While we did not place, we couldn’t be happier to have shared the stage with such talented teams and are so proud to have been able to take part in such a competition,” Anvekar said. “We were only able to afford to go to one competition this year, but we hope to attend two or more competitions next year.”

Aiming to promote awareness for Punjabi folk dance, Cornell Bhangra holds open workshops in the beginning of the year for people to try Bhangra and meet their team. Throughout the year they hold various on-campus performances at events and showcases such as Clubfest, Fall Step and Diya Jale. 

Their biggest event of the year is Pao Bhangra, which will occur on April 15 this year. 

“Pao Bhangra is Cornell Bhangra’s annual bhangra exhibition which aims to share South Asian culture with the larger community and promote the aspect of bhangra we love the most — the joy of performing,” said Amulya Puttaraju ’24, one of Pao’s co-presidents. “Pao has always been called the ‘bhangra olympics,’ and we like to make this exhibition a fun, stress-free event for everyone that performs.”

According to Puttaraju, Pao Bhangra is the largest student-run showcase on the University’s campus and the largest bhangra exhibition in the country. Pao Bhangra invites four outside bhangra teams to compete — performing for Cornell students and faculty and Ithaca residents — in addition to bringing in three to four other Cornell performance groups as guest acts. Cornell Bhangra also performs at the event. 

“Overall, it is a super exciting event and we hope everyone will be able to experience the fun and excitement that bhangra strives to promote,” Puttaraju said.

Jeevan Deol ’24, captain of Cornell Bhangra, said that he was motivated to join the team to find a sense of belonging on campus.

“I used to do bhangra as a kid, and when I came to Cornell, I wanted to find a community that I could be a part of,” Deol said. “On top of that, the people on bhangra were so welcoming at tryouts, and I could definitely see myself as a part of the team. I also wanted to keep in touch with my roots, and being a part of this team and learning more about my Punjabi heritage has been really insightful.”

Cornell Bhangra competes in weekend-long competitions hosted by colleges and organizations across the country.

“Preparing for these [competitions] takes a great deal of work, which usually starts the summer before the next school year,” Puttaraju said. “It is a lot of work — both mentally and physically — but it is extremely rewarding to be a part of a team that works together and pushes each other to do the best that we can.”

Big Red Raas also performs at several on-campus events, including Diya Jale, Mock Shaadi and Fall Step. They compete nationally during the spring semesters and hold a showcase on campus near the end of the school year. 

Viraj Govani ’23, captain of Big Red Raas, told The Sun in an email that it was rewarding to compete as a part of the team last year at national tournaments.

“There were several hours of endless choreography and formation cleaning and even more behind-the-scenes to put the dance composition together,” Govani wrote. “Making it to nationals made it feel as though all of our work had paid off.”