Bollywood Beats

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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.

Watch a Wildcat on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Emily Fagan on Wheel of Fortune

Emily Fagan, a junior in Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, never knew she wanted to be on “Wheel of Fortune,” but that’s exactly where she’ll appear for the show’s College Week series. You can watch Fagan’s episode on Tuesday, April 8 (check local listings for exact air time), and read below about her journey to game show fame.

It was a run-of-the-mill summer night, and I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my mom. As fate would have it, it was 6:30 p.m. and we were sitting close to a TV. When Wheel of Fortune came on, I didn’t think much of it. I had always enjoyed the show, but we weren’t regular “Wheel Watchers” in my house. That night, however, changed everything.

I was on a roll. The guys at the bar thought they had all the answers, but I was sitting at my table answering every puzzle way before anyone in the restaurant. My mom said, “Hey, Em, you’re pretty good at this.” Not thinking anything of it, we moved on with our meal.

Later that night, as I was surfing the web, I remembered our experience at dinner and I thought about trying to get on the show. My search led me to the Wheel of Fortune website, where I filled out the simple online application and promptly forgot about it.

Nine months later, I got an email asking me if I would like to continue with the process. If so, I needed to submit a picture and a one-minute video explaining why I would be a good contestant. At this point, I still never thought being a contestant on “America’s Gameshow” would be a reality, but I began contemplating what would set me apart from the rest of America. My thoughts immediately turned to my oboe, already sitting next to me. I quickly recorded a video of me playing the original Wheel of Fortune theme song, “Changing Keys,” by Merv Griffin. I sent off my video, fully expecting to never hear anything about this again.

The next morning I woke up to an email inviting me to the live auditions at the Palmer House in Chicago. Obviously I was excited, but still didn’t think I could possibly ever be on this show.

Two weeks later I was on a train to the Palmer House to go through the rigorous audition process for Wheel of Fortune. The producers made it very clear that there were multiple days with multiple audition times, and actually getting on the show would be very difficult. When I arrived at the hotel, the line of people for my audition was going out the door and down the hall. I almost left, thinking this was a huge waste of time, but a few of my friends convinced me to stay. “Hey, you’re already there, why not have fun? Either way, it’ll be a great story to tell!” Luckily for me, I stayed.

About 200 of us sat down in chairs lined up in one of the Palmer House salon rooms. The audition started with us filling out another application. Then they spun a fake wheel, put up a phrase and called on everyone to guess a couple letters. This was to see if we were loud, articulate, and enthusiastic, and did not guess letters like Q.

Next, we were given a timed written test. It had several different categories, each with a few blank phrases. We had to figure out the phrases to the best of our ability in the allotted time. I remember thinking I had failed the test, but so did everyone around me. They gave us a half hour break for the grading. When they came back, they called the names of the people they wanted to stay. I remember being one of the last names called. This was getting real.

The last part of the audition was playing actual simulated Wheel of Fortune games. We got up in groups, pretended to spin a wheel and guessed letters. I had won a (fake) trip to Hawaii; it seemed to be a pretty good day. When everyone finished, we hoped for an announcement of who would be on the show. The producer then explained that everyone will get a letter in the mail – if you’ve been accepted as a contestant, the letter will come within two weeks. If you weren’t, you will get a letter after two weeks. For the first time, I was starting to imagine myself on this show.

Two weeks went by, and I had received no letter in the mail. I just figured, oh well, and waited for my rejection letter. The day before week three, I opened my mailbox and found my Wheel of Fortune letter. I didn’t even get excited – obviously it was a rejection, after this amount of time. However, I opened up the letter to find that, surprise, I had been accepted!

Running through the dorm screaming, I read the letter about 20 times. It informed me that I would be placed on the show sometime within the next 18 months, and that I would receive a letter in the mail two weeks before my show telling me when and where to arrive. I had no idea waiting would be so hard!

Nine months later, on Jan. 18, after months of playing WOF on my phone and watching reruns, I got an email instructing me to fly out to Sony Studios in Los Angeles for my taping on Feb. 14. Luckily, it was the one weekend of the month I didn’t have something going on.

On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 13, my mom, dad, and best friend from high school, Amanda, flew to Los Angeles with me. We were able to do some sightseeing for the day, but I could barely contain my excitement about what was to come.

At 7:15 a.m. that Friday, I was picked up with 19 other university students dressed in our respective college sweatshirts and driven to Sony Studios in Culver City. We all immediately clicked and became great friends. I could tell this was going to be an amazing day! Once we were at the studio, we were ushered into our green room. Throughout the morning we were read the rules of Wheel of Fortune as we had professional hair and makeup artists get us camera-ready. We learned that Wheel of Fortune is filmed every other Thursday and Friday, and that all the shows for the week were filmed in one day (hence there being 20 of us there at the same time). Two local students were there as alternates, in case one of us got sick, and they would come back as real contestants another day.

We also received wheel-spinning lessons. The wheel is about half the size it looks on TV, but it is extremely heavy. The first time I spun it, it only moved two spaces! We were all shocked by how much larger everything looks on TV. The room, the wheel, and the puzzle board are all about half the size everyone thinks!

We filmed our “Hometown Howdys,” which are promotional videos that our local news channels play of us on the days leading up to the show. Then, at about 11 a.m., the audience filed in and we started filming. I was randomly drawn to be in the second show filmed.

The shows go by so fast…it’s incredible! We contestants have to be on our toes every second. There is a used letter board that allows us to see which letters have been taken and a prize board to keep track of how much money we have. It takes a lot of logic to figure out when to solve and when to spin or buy, and there are lots of tricks to figuring out which letters to call. For example, if the subject is “What are you doing?” you are probably wanting to guess an I, N or G.

I cannot tell you how I did yet—you will have to stay in suspense until April 8, when my show airs. However, I can tell you how honored I was to represent Northwestern at such an exhilarating event, and how exciting it was to meet so many different and amazing college students. Plus, hanging out with Vanna White and Pat Sajak wasn’t too bad of an experience either!

Please watch me spin away on Wheel of Fortune on April 8!

Dance Marathon Founding Father: Tim Rivelli (Weinberg ’76)

Tim RivelliMore than 1,000 students will gather under a tent outside Norris University Center this weekend to dance for 30 hours for Northwestern University’s 40th annual Dance Marathon fundraising event. Tim Rivelli (Weinberg ’76) helped organize the original NUDM event in 1974 through his role as executive vice president of the Associated Student Government. Rivelli shared his memories of the humble beginnings of an event that has since become one of the largest student-run philanthropic events in the country.

During my first year at Northwestern in 1973, I was the co-chair of an Associated Student Government sub-committee called the University Community Relations Committee. The purpose of the committee was to build better community at Northwestern among the student body. At the time, Norris Center was relatively new, and the facility had not really been fully developed yet. There were very few restaurants in Evanston for students to gather. Northwestern had this great community of students and a variety of student groups, but many students felt that the university lacked a sense of community. So the focus of the community relations committee was to try to find ways to get students to work together and build a better community. The idea for Dance Marathon came from Jan Jacobowitz, who was also involved in ASG and a member of the ASG University Community Relations Committee. Jan had friends at the University of Illinois, and she visited them and participated in their dance marathon event. She thought it was awesome and suggested to me that we should do something like that at Northwestern. I was very supportive of the idea, and I thought it would be a great way to get students from all different segments—people that are living in dorms, people in fraternities and sororities—of the Northwestern community to work together on a common project.

But it took some manpower to plan and organize the event. We also needed to try to find a charity. So we met with representatives from the Epilepsy Foundation of America and later the National Association for Retarded Citizens. These charities became our first beneficiaries. We were also trying to understand where and how we might stage an event of this magnitude. We worked with University officials and received permission to hold the event in Blomquist. We had to figure out how to recruit a team of people to organize and put on the event because there were a lot of things from a facilities standpoint that needed to be done. I was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity, and I asked if they would be interested in helping. They agreed to get behind the event in a big way and figured out how to organize the music and staging and other parts of the event. We attempted to obtain donations of supplies and equipment for the event to minimize our costs and to maximize the amount we could give to the charity. We put together a structure to recruit people to be dancers. I think we had 15 couples and raised more than $9,000.

NUDM 1975For an initial event, it was a great success. There was no playbook for us to use. We didn’t have any elaborate organization. It was a seat-of-the-pants type of thing. When you think of it in terms of getting it started, it was a lot of blind faith. We went forward hoping that we could put it on in a way that was successful, and I think the people that participated in the first event had a good time. When you fast forward to 2014, it’s inspiring to look at the scope of Dance Marathon now: more than 20 student committees, more than 1,000 dancers, an elaborate process for people who are in the charitable industry to submit their causes as potential beneficiaries.

 

It is clear that the Dance Marathon fulfilled the vision of building a better community within the students at Northwestern. From what I’ve seen, it’s also great way to use the talented students at NU to help others in need. NUDM clearly teaches a life lesson that it’s important: Whenever you can bind people together for a common purpose to help others who are in need, you can reach a whole new level of unity, and you can truly help people. I think it’s important for students to remember that lesson as they move forward in their careers after college and go off into the world. We all need to pay attention to others who are in need, and use our time and talent to give back to others.

NUDM dancerWhen I hear the stories from the beneficiary organizations and see Northwestern students coming together to raise more than $1 million for charities, it’s so inspiring. Who could have ever dreamed that what we started in the mid-1970s would have grown into something like that? It’s amazing to think about the ripple effect of what we started in 1975 and to look at what good it has produced over the last 40 years. When people graduate from Northwestern, I am sure that they think that NUDM was one of the best things they were involved in.  I’m very thankful that I was able to play a role in getting this started.

Students Present Innovative Global Health Solutions in Competition

Global Health Case Competition

Eight teams of undergraduate and graduate students participated in Northwestern University’s first Global Health Case Competition Saturday, Feb. 15, each giving a 15-minute presentation on how to decrease pneumonia-related deaths in newborn to 5-year-old children in Uganda. Medill junior Emily Drewry (far left) shared her experience of being part of the team that won the competition. Her team received a $1,000 award and will represent Northwestern at the Emory competition in March.

The competition was modeled after a similar event held annually at Emory University and organized by Kate Klein, a masters of public health student and assistant director of the Program of African Studies at Northwestern. Through the process, students are given the opportunity to engage with individuals in other fields, all toward the common goal of realistic experience in understanding global health interventions.

For the week leading up to the competition, 40 undergraduate and graduate students, split into teams that represented three Northwestern schools, got to know the details of our case, preparing to impress the judges with a solution that aimed to be innovative, realistic and, overall, successful. I was thrilled to be participating in the event—I am constantly trying to make the most of every experience I come across at Northwestern, and this competition seemed to offer the perfect mix of challenge and insight that I couldn’t pass up.

The work that went into creating our presentation certainly wasn’t easy and was even exasperating at times. But it was real, perhaps the most real opportunity I’ve had since coming to Northwestern.

When we filed into Harris L08 on Saturday morning, with a completed case and hours of waiting ahead, I was able to reflect on the experience as a whole. I was terrified to present to the judges—these three women are professionals at UNICEF and USAID and are the people we all aspire to be. How could we possibly impress them? In retrospect, the reason I was afraid to present was the very same reason I needed to embrace the experience, and the reason I am so grateful to Northwestern for giving us this opportunity.

As I spoke with a peer early on in the day, I expressed that I was intimidated by how established many of the participants were. “But here’s the thing,” she responded. “We know so much.” My first inclination was to disagree, but then it dawned on me. We as individuals know what we have learned in our three or four years at this incredible institution—but we as teams know so much more.

I could not have asked for a better result. I am so honored to be a part of the team that will be representing Northwestern at the Emory competition next month. But beyond the results of the competition was a bigger success. It took the form of a life lesson I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

The theme of the weekend wasn’t competition. It was collaboration. Though our goal was to create a viable situation, the work each participant put into the weekend was reciprocated two-fold in opportunity. We put an incredible amount of time into the case itself, learning about pneumonia, Uganda and past public health efforts. I am so proud of the final result my team presented to the judges, but I am prouder of the comfort I now feel, knowing that so many talented individuals out there will one day be presenting these solutions to real donors and make real impacts.

In his closing remarks, Michael Diamond stressed the same point that I had arrived at by the end of the day. “Collaboration,” he said, “as we all know, does not come easily.”

Neither do the solutions to global health problems. But, after this weekend, I am confident that members of the eight participating teams will be part of the movements that, with dedicated efforts and innovative ideas, will go on to change the world.

A huge thank you goes out to Program in African Studies, Office for International Program Development, the Buffett Center and the Center for Global Health for sponsoring the event, as well as to Noelle Sullivan and my teammates for being incredibly patient and supportive throughout the weekend.

The winning team, consisted of Suvai Gunasekaran and Smitha Sarma, Emily Drewry from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Grace Jaworski and Pooja Garg from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Suvai, Smitha, Emily, and Pooja will head to Atlanta in March to compete with students from 24 other universities.

A Wildcat in Sochi: Greg Presto (Medill ’04, ’07)

Greg PrestoNorthwestern alumnus Greg Presto (BSJ ’04, MSJ ’07) just returned from covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, working as a video producer for USA Today Sports. Presto shot, edited and produced an array of Olympic content, including a fun piece on Russian culture in Sochi.

Read his reflections on the surreal experience of covering the world’s greatest athletes in an unfamiliar land—and running into some fellow Wildcats along the way.

There’s nothing better than a scoop for a journalist, and our team had broken the biggest story in Sochi: There were burritos somewhere. And they were amazing.

The Winter Olympics hold a lot of mystery for Americans—we don’t usually watch a biathlon, and placing the Games in Russia added another layer of confusion in language, alphabet and food.

Despite the reports of missing shower curtains and brown tap water, the lost-in-translation moments are what made covering the Sochi Games wonderful. And I do mean full of wonder. We wondered about the boiled meats and how often to say thank you and what lugers are really trying to do. And for me, answering questions that arise from natural curiosity is what makes journalism fun. If you see something, ask about it. Then say something.

So we asked: “What are lugers trying to do, anyway?” (As little as possible, it turns out.) “Do Russians celebrate Valentine’s Day?” (Yes.) “How much does skiing before you shoot a gun alter your aim?” (A little.) “What does the Russian letter that looks like an asterisk sound like?” (It’s a “J.”) “Why are downhill ski poles bent that way?” (To bend around the skier’s body.)

And, of course, where did the Russian guy at the Ekaterininskiy Kvartal media village learn to make such amazing “fajitos?” Turns out he spent some time in Colorado, where he learned to make some incredible wrapped goodies filled with crunchy vegetables (a rare treat) and spiced pork worth the 40-minute round trip to grab a bunch for some coworkers.

A taste of home like that was a welcome respite from feeling like the ugly American who can’t understand anything. Staring at a string of Cyrillic text and having the symbols look completely meaningless was, as one coworker pointed out, as close as we’ll probably come to understanding what it’s like to be illiterate. Trying to translate kilograms to pounds on a rare trip to the press center gym was nearly impossible on three hours of sleep. And giving directions to a cab driver? Well, an hour to wait for the next bus isn’t so bad, I guess.

But it was something we were all learning together—not just my fellow USA Today Sports folks, but other media, including a pile of Northwestern alums. Ten of us gathered for a photo on the last day, recounting confusions and questions we’d raised and reminiscing with our fellow Americans and media from Australia, Korea, Japan and China.

It’s with the Chinese guys that we finished. After the Olympic flame was snuffed out and the last of our video gear packed, we celebrated with a dinner that devolved into a sing-off, with a table of Chinese journalists singing one song and our group singing another. They took us to school with a string of not-in-English tunes that included Pavarotti and a bunch of stuff we couldn’t identify. But the crown jewel of their dominant concert was a three-part harmony rendition of a song that wasn’t lost in translation at all: “Jingle Bells.”

Medill alumni in Sochi

Some of the Northwestern alumni covering the Olympics in Sochi gather for a group photo.

Do you know any Cool ‘Cats? We’re looking for Northwestern University students, alumni, faculty and staff who are having cool experiences or have unique stories to tell. Let us know at socialmedia@northwestern.edu