By Nikitha Lakshminarayanan
Havish Gattu is a 3rd-year Biology student at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2018, his dance crew INC placed 3rd at World of Dance Dallas. Since then, he has traveled the country with UCLA’s premier Bollywood Fusion dance team, UCLA Nashaa. In the 2019/20 academic year, he was Nashaa’s choreography captain and led the team to a 3rd place win at Jazba. He serves as Jhoomti Shaam’s Judging and Hospitality Co-chair. Now, he has started a new dance group on UCLA’s campus called Vibe Check. We asked Havish about his involvement in the South Asian Community at UCLA, his future goals with dance, and his opinions on cultural appropriation. Here are some highlights from his interview!
Nikitha: Where are you from and what South Asian influences have you had growing up?
Havish: My whole life was spent moving around. I was born in Virginia, then we moved to Hyderabad, then Bangalore, and then Delhi I made some of my best friends in India and I loved my time there. Participating in Indian festivities made me obsessed with the culture. I’m a massive film guy! Because I moved around a lot, I didn’t see a lot of people within my community that I could associate with as role models so I resorted to pop culture and movies. They’ve changed my life so I’m very linked to the South Asian community and culture.
Nikitha: How did you get involved in dance?
Havish: In middle school, my friends would always tell me to try dancing. I never really thought much of it because I was always into other music styles– I used to play the guitar and the banjos. In my sophomore year, a couple of my closest friends and I decided to make a group, and every Sunday we would meet up and dance. I would look forward to these Sundays because I wasn’t focused on learning; freestyle was just about having fun. We started dancing for different events around my area and we quickly became quite the party antic. I suggested that we move a step forward and try performing and competing in different settings since people were enjoying our performances. My friends responded with “What are you going to do? Perform at World of Dance?” After that interaction, I stopped dancing for a while. At the end of my junior year, I joined a freestyle club called DFC. After dancing with them, the president of the club came up to me and told me to try out for INC. I remember driving around the community and seeing the studio with these amazing dancers, wondering what I could do to become like them.
So, I tried out– but I wasn’t good. I was so lost in the choreography, but I just kept dancing and somehow I got on the team. Later, some of the directors told me that they didn’t want me on the team initially. In fact, I was their last option. There was one director, Rishi, that stuck his leg out and wanted to give me a chance because he wanted South Asian representation on INC. He noticed me in the same way that he was noticed by his director because we both just kept dancing even when we messed up. Next thing you know, we were performing at World of Dance! Now, I know that dance will always be a part of my life. In the way that people keep a journal or a diary where they document parts of their life, dance will always be there for me as an emotional outlet.
Nikitha: This summer, we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement open up many conversations within the South Asian community. We have been able to recognize the ways many cultures have profited off of Black Culture. As a Hip Hop dancer, how do you appreciate, rather than appropriate, Black culture?
Havish: Honestly, my specific interactions with Black Culture came from my favorite mentors. I had 2 directors that showed me Black culture through dance. Vicky gave me a safe space and gave me the environment where I felt like I could grow as a dancer and as a person and it’s something that I always will cherish. Plus, she is the embodiment of a strong black woman! My other mentor was Kevin and he would sit me down and tell me all about Hip Hop culture, what hip-hop means for black culture, and what it means to him. Learning from him was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. As UCLA Nashaa’s choreography captain, I always tried to focus on the cultural aspects of Hip Hop and the fundamental basics so people know where what they’re learning is coming from. This is where the concept of cultural appropriation vs. appreciation comes in.
As a South Asian that gained so much from the Black community, I’m still navigating that path able to appreciate and recognize the culture. What I’m doing at the moment is recognizing that appropriation is when you take other people’s culture and you disconnect from the people. So when I dance or teach, I recognize and thank people who made that community and culture possible. I’m not an expert on this and still have so much more to learn.
Nikitha: You’ve started a new dance group called Vibe Check. Why did you start this new dance group?
Havish: The majority of my involvement with the South Asian community so far has been through UCLA Nashaa. After falling in love with the community, I decided to take on the role of being the choreography captain of Nashaa 2020. During that experience, I learned so much, gained an incredible family, and made some of the best memories of my life. However, I started to realize that I wasn’t able to grow as a dancer as much as I wanted to. I struggled to connect with the UCLA dance community. When I was involved in DDN (Desi Dance Network), I realized that UCLA lacked that strong dance community that was connected by the fact that we dance, rather than our own individual teams. My goal with Vibe Check is to create a growth-oriented space where people can simply learn how to dance. I want to show people that you don’t need to take on a huge time commitment to be good at dance. They can attend these workshops, come to these classes, and participate in our video productions. This way, they can still participate in dancing and learn about dance culture.
So what is Havish up to next? Check him out @uclavibecheck @havishgattu