Mansi Chauhan
Mercury Staff

New Bollywood fusion group selected as one of eight teams to perform in national dance competition

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.”