Members of UTD’s Indian dance team TaRaas danced their way to second place at the Raas All-Stars National Championship on March 31.
Held at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts, the collegiate competition featured the top eight university teams in the nation, including UT Austin, Carnegie Mellon and Rutgers University. Each team competed in raas-garba dance, a traditional Indian dance style combining colorful Dandiya sticks with hand and foot choreography. Raas All-Stars established its national championship in 2008, making this year’s competition a “Decade of Dance” celebration. By adding backbeats to traditional Gujarati music, collegiate raas-garba teams have modernized performances over the years.
In its first year, TaRaas applied to multiple competitions but was not accepted to any. Four years later, the dance team attended four national-level competitions this year, winning one first-place and two second-place trophies. Team captains computer science senior Pooshan Shah and information technology and systems junior Rupal Kotecha said the victory exceeded their expectations for the year.
“Our biggest goal this year was just to place at a competition,” Kotecha said. “The end dream was making nationals, that would be a dream come true, but our goal was just to place. We believed the dancers who auditioned were very talented and really dedicated. And everyone shared the dream.”
The captains said the moment of victory was indescribable.
“For a split second, our mouths all open and we don’t even move for a half-second,” Kotecha said. “Then we charge at the trophy. It didn’t hit then for me, but this past week I’m reliving the videos and pictures, so I stay up until 4 or 5 a.m. every night and just think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened.’”
Healthcare studies senior Chandni Patel, helped found TaRaas at UTD her freshman year. She said it has been a joy watching the team grow over the past four years.
“Our freshman year, we applied to a few competitions, but nobody knew us so we didn’t get in anywhere,” Patel said. “We did one talent show but didn’t place, and then this year, being our fourth, we went to four competitions, placed at three of them, and placed second at Nationals. This was huge.”
Two of her roommates are fellow TaRaas members, who she met through the dance group. They celebrated the seniors’ upcoming graduation from UTD and the team at an annual celebratory banquet April 15 with the team, its founders, alumni and friends. Patel said the team resembles a family more than a dance group.
“We’re always there to help each other out, even when it’s not about dancing,” Patel said. “I can say, ‘Oh, I need a scantron!’ and someone will say, ‘I’m on my way!’”
Kotecha said collegiate raas-garba competitions used to be more about the dance, but now are more production-based, including the addition of themes. TaRaas based this year’s dance on Harry Potter.
“We have props and a huge backdrop,” Kotecha said. “We’re trying to make the audience feel like they’re on the Hogwarts campus.”
However, even with a specific theme, the team could not afford new costumes this year, and instead re-wore last year’s.
Kotecha said she and her co-captain, Shah, have to schedule most practices in Hoblitzelle Hall because of the lack of available practice space on campus. The flooring leads to injury-prone practicing and absorbs momentum, but the team has no other option.
Currently, the team fundraises with no support from the university. Kotecha said TaRaas hopes to communicate with the Student Organization Center to potentially receive supplemental funding for the team’s high costs of registration, competition travel, hotel stays and necessary gear.
“We still have to do our research and talk to (the SOC), but I hope that we could get that recognition,” Kotecha said. “We are very proudly representing UTD so it would be nice for them to be proud of us as well.”
Kotecha said she sees TaRaas playing a bigger part in the raas-garba world after their second-place victory, and she hopes students can experience the same team bond she loves as new members join.
“I want the team to keep going at this pace,” Kotecha said. “It honestly doesn’t matter if we place at a competition or not next year. It doesn’t matter if we make nationals or place second or first or anything. I honestly just want to see the team keep growing and evolving as the circuit grows.”