For South Asian Dance Teams, Does the Story End After College?

College South Asian dance teams can be intense, with students risking time, money, and physical health. But what happens after they graduate?

Meghna Rao

March 14, 2019

For South Asian Dance Teams, Does the Story End After College?

At intermission, the buzz of the crowd grows loud. The doors burst open, teams flood out, cameras flash, and flowers are heaped into the hands of leading men and women. Boys look at girls, boys look at boys, girls look at girls. The adults stand by proudly.   

Bollywood Berkeley is one of the country’s biggest national South Asian college dance competitions. It brings in a large and diverse crowd, a good indicator of its prestige in the dance ecosystem. Older women in saris and cardigans, bent over with age, are helped up the stairs of Berkeley’s auditorium, while proud parents of performers meet for the first time. Some have flown in from different states to see their children. The show’s attendees aren’t just South Asian. One attendee, a Mountain View-based investor who asks not to be named, is there with his wife. “We were looking for something to do and saw a posting online,” he explains.

However, there is a noticeable gap: barely anyone in attendance is between the ages of 25 and 40.

For the South Asian diaspora, dance is a well-worn circuit. At a young age, some learn classical forms like kathak or bharatanatyam and showcase them in elaborate debuts on stage, while others learn Bollywood dance, a mish-mosh of hip hop and Indian filmi moves.

Some dance other, non-South Asian genres growing up, like Nikhil Krishnan, who is an alumnus of Columbia Bhangra. “I danced hip hop in high school and was looking for something similar,” Krishnan says.

With time and adolescence, many join college teams that perform at countrywide competitions. Krishnan decided to join Columbia’s bhangra team for its intensity and discipline. Teams spend hours on choreography and practice for competitions, rife with masala, drama, sex, and energy.

But then, they graduate. After, there just aren't enough resources for South Asian dance teams — whether it’s time, money, or passion.