My freshman year at the University of Kansas was when my eyes were opened to a completely different culture. As I was searching for organizations to become a part of on campus, I attended a Bollywood fusion dance workshop. After attending the workshop, I decided to try out and join the Bollywood fusion dance team on campus, KU Jeeva. The teams in the competitive dance circuit fused multiple dance styles, both “Western” dance and South Asian dance styles. I was exposed to many dance styles that I had never even heard of: bhangra, garba, raas, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and others. Each dance has different origins and varies in intensity. I found that the dances really focused on expressions, especially the forms of classical dance, Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
KU Jeeva offered more than just a look into different forms of South Asian dance, and I built friendships which allowed for further exposure to South Asian culture. The first thing that I noticed about South Asian culture was the hospitality that was demonstrated by my friends and their families. Anytime I visited a friend’s home I immediately felt welcomed and as if I was an extension of the family. Something that was constantly offered to me was copious amounts of food and mango-flavored beverages. In addition to hospitality, South Asian families are extremely family-oriented, beyond just immediate family. Within the community there are very frequent dinner parties with all of the aunties, uncles, nieces, and nephews who come to share food, drinks, and conversation.
Lastly, I was able to learn a lot about the clothing and style in South Asian culture. There are many different outfits that people wear for different kinds of occasions. Formal wear would be a sari, ghagra, or legha choli. Informal clothing would be a salwar kameez, plain sari, or a kurta. Beyond clothing, mehndi or henna, is a form of body art that is used in South Asia. This is heavily used in Bollywood films, but is also used in some formal events and weddings.
I am extremely grateful for all of the experiences and friendships that I have built while competing nationwide and sharing my passion for dance. Beyond this I have enjoyed being a part of many families and celebrations such as Holi and Diwali. I hope to continue learning about South Asia and other cultures.
Shane Smith is a senior at the University of Kansas, majoring in Global and International Studies, with an emphasis in Latin American Studies.