For Shikha Talwar and her fellow teammates of Temple Agni, becoming members of a college dance team was an aspiration they always hoped would come true. But as Indian-Americans, being able to incorporate their cultural roots into their dancing was not something, at the collegiate level, they believed they would have the outlet for.
“I joined Temple Agni my first semester of freshman year,” Talwar, a junior biology major, said. “Ever since I was born, I’ve loved to dance and as I grew up I saw my friends from my dance class go to college and join their college dance team. It was basically my dream for a while to be on my university’s dance team and dance at the collegiate level.”
Luckily, as members of Temple’s Southeast-Asian dance teams, Temple Bhangra and Temple Agni, they are getting the rare chance to express their heritage and passion for dance all at the same time.
Many members of both groups said they have parents who were born in India and who are thrilled that their children are getting this opportunity.
Although the groups are comprised mostly of students with ties to the Indian culture, both are accepting of anyone who has an interest in the art and a passion for dance.
“A lot of our group members are of an Indian background and have grown up dancing to the Bollywood style of dance, but we have other members who are just interested in our culture and dance who join for the experience because they love it just as much as we do,” Talwar said.
While members of Agni perform dances to represent their heritage. Shikha said the group also works hard to incorporate a modern flair into the choreography, making the dances uniquely their own and to help them generate collegiate level, competitive routines.
“We participate in everything – we do competitions, local campus events, concerts for Indian singers and various other gigs – it’s a lot of diverse events where we get to meet a lot of new people and make a lot of new friends,” Talwar said. “We are a fusion dance team, which means that we take styles of dance from all over India and America and fuse them into our choreography.”
As a part of Indian culture separate from the Bollywood style of dance, Bhangra is a form of both music and dance typically practiced in the northern Punjab region of India.
“Temple University Bhangra was the university’s first team that practices a single style of South Asian dance,” said Bilal Badruddin, a Temple alumnus and founder of the group.
Similar to Temple Agni, the TU Bhangra team also competes locally against other dance groups.
“We mainly dance and have fun at practice, but we also engage in a lot of competitions and exhibitions in Philly,” said Sim Sidhu, a freshman biology major.
Members said being a part of a dance team that is such an important part of their heritage is an experience they cherish. Not only do TU Bhangra and Agni help students learn how to dance at a competitive level, they also bring students from similar backgrounds together.
“I joined Bhangra my second semester of my freshman year and I absolutely fell in love with the dance, excitement, team members and overall aura,” said Puja Shah, a junior management information systems major and captain of Temple Bhangra since Spring 2011. “I have been on the team since then and do not see myself ever letting go of the attachment I have with the team.”
Members of Temple Agni reflect the same camaraderie that members of TU Bhangra feel. As an all female group working together and improving as a team is a challenge that the girls willingly accept and feel blessed to be a part of.
“It’s great to have this team since we have created a kind of family – practice is a time that allows us to take a break from school and the stressful day and be with the girls that we consider family while being away from our own,” Talwar said.
In regards to the future of Agni, Talwar and her teammates agree they would like to continue working hard and building up their reputation by performing as much as possible.
“We have a lot of shows in the area that we are doing as well as hopes to compete in any upcoming collegiate dance competitions,” Talwar said.
Temple Bhangra also plans to continue working hard to grow as a team and would like to expand the group even further.
“We plan to compete in larger competitions and get our name out there for more people to know,” Shah said. “We all joined because we love dance or love to have a good time, and although Bhangra is hard, it is really exciting once it all comes together.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.