With so many dance groups on campus, it’s not uncommon for some to be lesser known. But lately, UConn Surya has been working hard to change that. The Daily Campus sat down with co-captains Sanjanaa Sushanth, a sixth-semester biomedical engineering major, and Shivali Gupta, an eighth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, to learn more about one of UConn’s stand-out cultural dance groups.
According to their website, Surya is Connecticut’s premier competitive fusion dance team. They incorporate many different styles of dance, including Bollywood, Bhangra, Classical, Raas, lyrical, hip-hop and more. As mentioned in their mission statement, Surya’s goal is to blend western and eastern dance and music styles to foster a learning environment, create friendships and share culture through dance.
Surya was created here at UConn in 2004. According to Sushanth, when it was first founded it was a different kind of cultural dance team, with a heavier focus on Indian classical dance. They only recently evolved into their unique style of Bollywood fusion, around the same time that they became a competitive group.
“Part of what distinguishes us from other dance groups is that we are a Bollywood fusion group. We incorporate so many different styles of dance; really anything any of our dancers can bring to the table,” said Gupta. “We take ideas from everyone, even new members and freshmen. We love fresh ideas. One of our girls this year is really into K-pop, so we’ve been incorporating some of those moves into our routines. We mesh the traditional and the nontraditional.”
Surya is more than just dancing, though. There is a dance set, but it also involves a theme, set design and production value, according to the captains. The theme usually involves a storyline, that changes year to year. This year’s theme was about two sisters, one who is a vampire and the other, who is a vampire hunter.
“We try to embody one emotion,” said Sushanth, explaining the different feelings involved with different dance styles, a common pattern in Indian dance. “We want the audience to feel every emotion we’re trying to portray. We want them on the edge of their seats.”
As for their inspirations, both girls reference popular hip-hop dancers on YouTube, World of Dance, other collegiate Bollywood fusion teams as well as their network, The Desi Dance Network. Surya tries its best to keep up with the ever-evolving dance world, which the captains say has its challenges as well as its rewards. They also draw inspiration from their personal dance and cultural backgrounds.
Surya is a competitive group and has recently performed at Nachte Raho, a national bid competition at the University of Iowa, which they had to audition for, and Nach Ke Dikha, an intercollegiate Bhangra & Fusion Dance Competition hosted by The College of William & Mary, where the team placed second. On campus, they’ve performed at such events as Asian Nite, the Tap Team Showcase, Open House and the Asiantation Mentoring Program. They performed at the CT Miss India Pageant a few years ago. Surya also dances in paid, off-campus gigs, such as weddings and parties, as well as nonprofit volunteer events.
Typically, Surya is host to the Dancers for Difference charity showcase here at UConn, in which they invite teams from around the northeast to perform. All proceeds go to a charity that’s voted on at the showcase. The two-day event has grown into a national level competition for their dance circuit and last year Surya was able to raise $1,000 for World Vision. Due to scheduling complications, they were unable to host the showcase this year but plan to do so again next year. Both Sushanth and Gupta stressed the importance of building a sense of community between the regional dance groups that participate and having the support of their dance network, but also of bonding within the team.
“Building the bond between teammates is super important to us. We put a lot of emphasis on the family aspect of the team. If you talk to anyone on our team one of the first things they’ll say about Surya is that it’s a family,” said Gupta. “You have mentors there already.”
“We’ll have dinners together, do Secret Santa and dance for fun with choreography challenges, as if we don’t spend enough time together,” said Sushanth with a laugh. Both captains expressed how important personal growth is in Surya. They aim to foster learning, leadership, organization, communication and service.
“On Surya, our dancers learn a teamwork dynamic and how one person contributes to the whole picture,” said Gupta. “Overall, as a Bollywood fusion dance team, a message we hope to spread is the general fusion of cultures that we portray through our dance.”
Although both girls’ time as captains is coming to a close, they will remain involved in some aspect next year, be it as a choreographer or advising alumni, and both want the best for the group and to see it grow. Surya just recently went through the election process for their new executive board. Tryouts will occur next semester, and are preceded by a workshop to learn choreography. The team encourages anyone to try out, emphasizing that you don’t need experience or to be of south-Asian descent to join, but it is an all-girls’ team. Usually, Surya has about 15 to 20 members but they are hoping to grow in numbers.
“We are looking for diverse dancers from different backgrounds. You produce a better set when you have more eyes and more minds,” said Sushanth.
“It’s sad to leave but exciting to see where the team heads in subsequent years,” Gupta said. “I’m so proud, knowing I’m leaving the team in good hands.”
Julia Mancini is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.