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SLU Raas Wins National Championship for Gujarati Dance

05/09/2019

Whirling and wielding traditional dandiya, the dancers of SLU Raas not only connect with their Indian heritages, but they also wow national crowds. They have a national championship title to prove it.

SLU Raas is the University’s dance troupe devoted to Garba-Raas, a style of traditional of folk dancing that originates in the Indian state of Gujarat.  The group took home a first-place nationals win at the Raas-All Stars XI competition in Dallas earlier this semester.

Garba is the expression of energy and grace, typically performed with just the body in repetitive, circular form around a central podium, senior Neej Patel, SLU Raas captain, explained. Raas is performed in a similar manner with sticks that are called “dandiya” with even more energy and power, he said. Both men and women perform these Garba-Raas dances, often with partners.

Dancing as a Divine Tradition

The dance form is most traditionally celebrated during the Hindu festival of Navaratri, which translates to “Nine nights”. For these nine nights, according to Hindu scripture, Goddess Durga fought off evil villains, eventually resulting in victory.

“Therefore, we emulate Her swords with our dandiya and ask Goddess Durga for strength and guidance to fight the evils in our lives,” Patel said. “Being connected to this dance form year after year allowed me to stay close to my roots and celebrate my religion with my family. Coming to SLU, I knew I didn’t want to lose this touch and thus, I tried out for SLU Raas.”

SLU Raas

SLU Raas members perform on campus and in the wider St. Louis community to showcase their Gujarti traditions. The team's members are: (top row, left to right) Savan Patadia, Nikhil Patel, Dominic Antony, Priyanka Patel, Vikram Tammana, Neej Patel, Jaimin Shah, Yash Patel, Prem Yesudian, and Nilay Patel; (bottom row, left to right) Priya Baxi, Priya Shah, Aneri Shah, Shanaya Shah, Siddhi Soni, Eline Zachariah, Akanksha Shekar, and Meghana Mani. Photo by Praneeth Gogineni

Reaching Out from One's Roots

“Since my freshmen year, SLU Raas has not only been a constant in my college experience, but it has provided me with some of the best experiences in leadership, teamwork, perseverance, expression, and passion,” Patel said. “To be able to grow as an individual dancer, but also a collective team is what I value so much about this team. On top of that, to be able to express my Gujarati culture here on campus has allowed me to create a deeper connection to my background and origin. Not only that, I love how I get to showcase my culture to others through dance.”

SLU Raas has 18 members and is in its 12th year. This year’s team included 10 first year dancers guided by four co-captains, Patel, a graduating senior in the College for Public Health and Social Justice and Spirit of the Billiken honoree, senior Siddhi Soni, of the School of Education, and juniors Shanaya Shah and Yash Patel, both studying in the College for Public Health. The co-captains run practices, choreograph the dance and coordinate the team.

The troupe performs regularly at campus showcases, and in the St. Louis community at events including Gateway to Raas, a local Graba-Raas dance competition hosted by SLU Raas.

Fostering Friendships and Growth Through Dance

SLU Raas at nationals

SLU Raas wowed crowds in Dallas at a national competition earlier this spring. Photo by Praneeth Gogineni

The club fosters the ability to connect to others, without losing ties to one’s home culture, Patel said, something he and others have found helped them grow in their years at SLU.

“I have found the leadership aspect of this team the most fruitful because it’s not only helped me grow individually, but I have gotten the chance to impact the lives of many other SLU students,” Patel said. “Whether being there for my dancers at any hour of the day, teaching both in practice and outside, or mentoring others through new and common college issues, I was honored to have been a part of my team’s SLU experience. I am privileged to call myself the captain of such a disciplined and hardworking group of people and to have represented my culture to others on and off campus.”

“Dancing with SLU Raas has made my SLU experience unforgettable as it’s an integral and enormous part of my life here on campus,” Patel continued. “As I prepare for graduation, I can reflect on all the love, support and guidance the team has provided me over the years in the form of camaraderie, mentorship and stress relief.”

Want to Learn More About Busting a Move at SLU?

SLU Raas is one of a number of campus dance groups that foster connection through Movement, including Elevation, a troupe that puts a contemporary twist on traditional Irish dance, and the University’s chapter of Movement Exchange, a student group that holds dance and movement workshops for children with disabilities in partnership with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), a St. Louis nonprofit.

Check Out SLU’s Dance Groups

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications