UTD’s Bollywood fusion all-male dance team earned a spot in the first national dance competition of the 2018-2019 season.
Bollywood fusion dance encompasses styles from hip hop to bhangra. The dance group applied to Texas Jhalak, a competition held in Austin, and recently received news of their acceptance.
Finance junior Aneesh Bindingnavile and mechanical engineering junior Abin Thomas originally had the idea for an all-male team in November 2017. After months of planning, UTD Raftaar became an official UTD organization at the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year. The current team of 25 will take the stage for the very first time at UT Austin on Nov. 17.
“Originally, we had thought of just making a new co-ed team. But then we realized that an all-male one would be something completely new to UTD,” Bindingnavile said. “We wanted to experience the different dynamic of a guys’ team.”
UTD Raftaar is led by captains Bindingnavile and Thomas but also has six other executive members that handle aspects such as production, funding, marketing and logistics. The rest of the 17 members were chosen through a series of individual auditions in early September.
“There was never a doubt of whether we wanted to go to Jhalak or not. It’s an amazing experience — it was my favorite competition in the two years I’ve been on a collegiate team,” Bindingnavile said. “It’s also in-state, so we don’t have to spend a lot of money or worry about flights for this one. Most of all, we just wanted our boys to get to experience the hype of this competition.”
Any team that places at Jhalak gains points toward Legends, the national championship held in Chicago in April 2019. Jhalak is one of 16 such pre-championship competitions, but it is different from the rest in that it does not allow any elements of production, including props or costume changes. It is judged solely on dance as expressed by its slogan, “Cut the frills, bring the skills.”
“We had a record number of teams apply this year, and the decision was super difficult. Usually, our rubric consists of energy, difficulty of choreography, cleanliness, creativity and a certain X factor,” said Ayushi Sharma, a student at UT Austin and a director of Jhalak 2018. “Raftaar was chosen for a variety of reasons, but one of my favorite comments was that they were so clean, they got described as ‘uncomfortably clean.’”
Raftaar practices a minimum of three times a week at three hours per rehearsal. It is completely student-run, which means the students, overseen by the finance chairs, are responsible for raising the money for costs such as flights and registration fees. The manager handles logistical issues, including travel and various deadlines put forth by competitions. The production chairs are responsible for all issues surrounding costumes and any other non-dance visual elements the team decides to add.
“Everyone on the executive board does their job when we ask,” Bindingnavile said. “The biggest thing is that we established at the first practice that nobody talks when captains are talking, there are no phones and everybody treats each other with respect. It doesn’t work if just captains say that, it’s needed that the whole team and exec holds each other accountable, which they do.”
A majority of new Raftaar members had not danced competitively before. Raftaar promoted itself as an opportunity to travel and broaden horizons — something Bindingnavile said prompted many freshmen and new recruits to end up joining. Healthcare management freshman Akarsh Gadey is one of Raftaar’s 13 new dancers.
“I like to dance but had never competed. I joined Raftaar because it was something to do besides school. My favorite thing is definitely the team dynamic,” Gadey said. “The members are all of different years and different backgrounds, but we’re still all close and a fun team.”
Raftaar will compete against several teams considered to be veterans at Jhalak. Three have made it to the national championships before, and the national champion of 2018, OSU’s Genesis, is also competing at Jhalak again.
“Everyone thought that as a first-year team, we weren’t going to be successful, but the news of us getting into Jhalak let us be excited about getting to showcase our talent and made us work even harder,” Bindingnavile said. “But we understand that the competition is also really, really good. We just want to focus on doing our best.”