UConn Surya charity dance competition puts culture, diversity on display

Performers are seen dancing during “Dancers for Difference,” a charity dance event hosted by UConn Surya, at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. The unique philanthropic competition drew performers from across the country. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

Culture, dance and charity were all on display when the University of Connecticut Surya dance team hosted “Dancers for Difference,” a unique philanthropic competition that drew performers from across the country.

The competition featured 10 teams from different schools and backgrounds. Teams from UConn, Northeastern University, New York University, Tufts, Boston University, St. John’s University, Rutgers, the University of Rochester, William and Mary and Princeton all competed. 

“Eight years ago, UConn Surya hosted Dancers for Darfur, a charity showcase that raised money for the Save Darfur Coalition,” according to a pamphlet passed out at the entrance. “Today Surya’s goal in hosting Dancers for Difference is to raise money for a charity of the winning team’s choosing, while spreading cultural awareness and interest in the world around us.”

The teams were split into two categories: Bhangra, which focused on more elaborate outfits and a combination of traditional and western music, and fusion, which featured performances accompanied by stories.

Surya opened the show with a video, setting up the fictional story of an FBI agent out for revenge, then used the dance to progress through the rest of the story. The choreography was beautiful, and was made more impressive when the group announced that one of their lead dancers was injured prior to the show and could not perform.

“Thank you all for your support,” Tanvi Jain, the injured dancer and president of UConn Surya said prior to the performance. 

The Bhangra performances all featured complex dances that incorporated instruments, flowing costumes and makeshift standard-bearers. The teams danced to remixes that, at times, felt random but never lost the flow of the song or the choreography of their dance. During the most intense performances, when the music was at its loudest and dancers were jumping and stomping, the audience could feel the beat of the song in their bones.

Performers are seen dancing during “Dancers for Difference,” a charity dance event hosted by UConn Surya, at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

The audience became increasingly involved as the performances went on, with friends, teammates and supporters cheering and whooping for the performers on stage. At the conclusion of the Rutgers Bhangra team’s performance, supporters waved glow sticks, yelled into a megaphone and chanted “RU.”

Audience members came long distances to support friends and teammates, such as Melissa Roy, a student from Eastern Connecticut State University who came to support a friend on the Princeton team.

“The whole team did a great job, I’m just waiting for them to announce their victory,” Roy said prior to the announcement of the winner.

The fusion performances, which featured simpler costumes but diverse themes, brought different messages and stories to the audience. While Surya told the dramatic story of a crime thriller, other teams told stories of female empowerment, love, friendship and two different performances incorporated popular children’s stories, namely “Mulan” and “Inside Out.”

Each team did something to stand out, whether it was the story they told, the unique dance moves they performed or even the lighting that accompanied their performance. The University of Rochester team, for example, stood out by having large parts of their performance bathed in darkness, where the dancers were only visible as silhouettes against the backdrop.

In the end, it took a panel of judges several minutes to come to a decision on the winner. St. John’s University, however, took home the victory, which also meant that the proceeds from the competition would go to their charity of choice, World Vision International.

After the performance, students and supporters alike expressed their excitement and satisfaction with the event.

“It was an awesome performance, and there’s not much more to say,” Natalie Osman, a student at Eastern Connecticut State University, said.


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.