Sometimes, taking a risk and thinking in new and creative ways can lead to big things. That’s exactly what happened for Northwestern University’s A.NU.Bhav Hindi film fusion dance team. On April 19, it took home the 2014 Bollywood America championship, winning the nation’s collegiate tournament for “filmi” teams. Priyanka Mody, a sophomore in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, chronicles her team’s risk and ultimate reward.
In less than 10 minutes onstage, more than 20 Northwestern dancers, clad inbedazzling silk shirts and sequined skirts, tell a story through leaps and turns in a marriage of music and dance. It is the essence of Bollywood — and it brings collegiate dance teams together from across the country to compete on the national stage.
Founded in 2008, Northwestern A.NU.Bhav (pronounced ah-new-bhav), the co-ed Hindi film dance — or filmi — team, is one of the best in the country. For competitions, our team prepares an eight-minute choreographed routine, mixing together styles of traditional Bollywood, Indian classical, hip-hop and lyrical dance.
Bollywood dance found its way into my college career unexpectedly. I auditioned for the team at the start of last year when I was a freshman, simply for the fun and novelty. Yet, when our team qualified for the first time this year in Northwestern history to Bollywood America, the national championships of collegiate “filmi-fusion dance,” we all felt both a sense of pride for our school and ourselves.
The dance revolves around a central theme or plot, and over the course of the show, the performers become characters, and the dance’s story comes alive. Typically, as is true in Bollywood, the themes follow the structure of a romantic comedy or drama. However this year, we wanted something different—something that would push the envelope for both Bollywood and the South Asian community. Our team decided to bring to life the story of a young man who admits to his soon-to-be wife that he loves another man — a narrative of heartbreak, love and, ultimately, acceptance.
When our captains first announced their vision to the rest of the teammates, I’ll admit we were all a bit surprised by its originality and boldness. But any feelings of hesitation quickly turned into compassion and energy as each one of us came to an understanding and appreciation for the message we would send. At each of the competitions throughout the year, audience members, judges and other dancers complimented us on both our choreography and especially our unique storyline.
It was a risk, though. And while not every judge could appreciate the theme in the same way, the outpouring of positive support and commentary both at competitions and through online forms were enough to fuel our passion and maintain the strength of our performance.
We won the ultimate award when A.NU.Bhav won Bollywood America on April 19 in San Francisco.
“Winning Bollywood America with this kind of show makes it that much more meaningful,” said Yuri Doolan ’13 MA, a co-captain on the team who won the individual award of “Best Male Dancer” at Bollywood America. “Over the course of this year, so many people in the South Asian American dance community have stood by our side, believed in usand cheered us on this year.”
Doolan, a doctoral student in Asian American studies, said he hopes that more teams will continue to address the issues relevant to his generation and the community through dancing.
The final competition brought together 11 collegiate teams from all parts of the country, and our team also won the awards for best choreography and storyline.
The Bollywood collegiate circuit is filled with talented and creative individuals with a competitive edge, and serves as an outlet that is unparalleled in any other setting. I never imagined that the intersection of college and my culture would happen in this way. But, fortunately, it did. I have gotten to represent Northwestern with my closest peers on a national stage doing what I love most.