By Sona Bhargava
When my parents ever brought up the idea of enrolling me in a team sport as a kid, I immediately rejected it. Dance, however, was completely different from a ball game (no pun intended). I think what initially attracted me, as an introverted four-year-old, to dance, was the individualistic training and of course, the pretty costumes.
I had a brief stint with ballet but what consumed most of my childhood dance career was Bharatanatyam, a technical style of Indian dance that incorporates both hand gestures, called mudras, and facial expressions to tell a story of religious origin. My guru was intense, and at times seemed harsh to me as a young child. Looking back, I recognize my guru’s passion and dedication to the art form, and am grateful for her weekly Hinduism lessons. I credit a portion of my tough skin to her and am thankful for her weekly lessons on discipline.
As a child, waking up each Saturday for dance class excited me. After 11 years though, I wanted to explore past the confinements of a classical style of dance. Although I was strong in the technical aspect of Bharatanatyam, I wanted to dance at a higher energy level. When a new opportunity to dance Bollywood for the non-profit organization India Friends Association surfaced, I happily took it, and ended up sticking with it for the next 6 years. In my final years of high school, I led the team, which introduced a new kind of satisfaction element to dance that previously wasn’t there- watching my own elements come to life on the stage. Bollywood gave me a community of brown friends across the various high schools in my predominately white hometown and I knew I wanted to create similar bonds in college.
At UC Davis, I surprised myself by joining the Raas-Garba team. I remember attending tryouts and watching YouTube videos of the team thinking there was no way I could keep up with the demands of such a fast-paced, high energy routine. I was a dancer, but by no means did I think of myself as athletic. Although I tried out on a whim and with a little push from my friends, I was delighted to join the team when I got on. Compared to the dance styles I was used to, Raas was different on my body. It was more demanding in terms of stamina and less demanding in terms of footwork. Dance also became a team effort, instead of an individual discipline. In Raas, it’s important to synchronize not only your moves, but the angles at which you perform these moves, with the rest of your team. I had also never been on a traveling dance team before, and the adrenaline rush from sleepless nights and long hours of practice brought a new thrill to the comfort of dance. Traveling also allowed me to easily get close to many members on the team, which is why I wanted to join a dance team in the first place.
While initially the individuality expressed through dance was what appealed to me, I have learned that dance’s attraction does not only lie in the art form, but also in the connections fostered through the shared love of an activity. The lifelong friendships spawned from choreographing with a friend or trying out for a team together are the most valuable parts about trying out a new dance form. Being a third-generation Indian, dance also keeps me connected to my roots. It engages me with my culture, with my religion, and with peers who come from similar backgrounds. Whether it’s dancing Bharatanatyam in a tiny garage or performing with my Raas team onstage, I am grateful for the experiences and the networks of friends that have resulted from my dance career.
My name is Sona Bhargava and I am a 2nd-year Psychology and Sociology major at UC Davis studying to become a psychologist. Besides writing, I love to dance (shameless self-promo @ucdraasleela), paint, and travel. I can’t wait to connect with other writers and readers to help create the South Asian Productions community!