Hede: A-Town Showdown Brings South Asian Representation, Community to Atlanta
When Minnesota Junoon’s intro video featured a ragtag group of friends searching desperately for fast food, the entire audience laughed when the friends finally came across the gleaming lights of the Taco Bell sign. Most people would not have been so enraptured, but for South Asian Americans, it’s a love language.
A-Town Showdown (ATS), a premium dance competition that featured Raas-Garba and fusion dance teams, brought dance teams from across the country to perform on February 12. A total of 16 South Asian dance teams performed.
Penn Raas kicked off the show with high kicks, setting the tone for the night. NCSU Nazaare meshed story and dance together effortlessly, with a dancer dressed as Beck from the Netflix show “You” being trapped in a giant prop transformed into a cage. Michigan Wolveraas danced around a giant blender and fridge, hitting the floor as a dancer cracked a prop crafted into a giant egg. Whether ridiculous or serious, story-heavy or choreography-focused, each performance represented a blending of cultures and traditions.
“Everyone meets people that they end up knowing long term, and it’s a life-changing experience.” — Chirag Jain, a member of Minnesota Junoon
Raas-Garba reflects the modern and the traditional, a glimpse into the contrarian yet comforting feeling that embodies South Asian American identity. It merges the distinct identities into one, with each aspect enhancing the other and fitting together seamlessly. While its roots lie in the traditional dance, the RaasGarba we see today at dance competitions is the product of college students’ redefinition of the dance form. The staples of the performance — from the neck-breaking head movements to the seamless weaving of formations — were standardized and perfected at the collegiate level for the first time.
The Asian American community as a whole is often treated as a monolith, despite the fact that the community holds the largest income gap. In fact, the community as a whole is exceedingly diverse in languages, socioeconomic status, cultural traditions, and many other facets. But dance teams provide South Asian American college students to bring together two different parts of their identity — the traditional connection to their culture with Bollywood or Raas-Garba dance with an American influence on the storyline themes.
For many South Asian American dancers, attending dance competitions is a way to meet people outside their bubble. Chirag Jain, a member of Minnesota Junoon, noted he’s been able to “learn more about different cultures within the diaspora itself.” While there can also be pitfalls, such as judgment on how cultured you are, he reflected that “everyone meets people that they end up knowing long term, and it’s a life-changing experience.”
A-Town Showdown also featured greater queer visibility this year. Duke DBS Raas’s Frankenstein theme showcased a lesbian couple in the intro and a wedding skit during the performance. As a part of their training, ATS liaisons underwent inclusivity and sensitivity training, reading firsthand accounts of queer experiences. This year, as part of its fundraising initiatives, ATS also raised money for Callisto, a nonprofit organization that raises money to support sexual assault survivors on college campuses.
Double steps and dandiya spins aren’t the traditional mode to bring stories about Paris or the Mafia to life. But Raas-Garba embodies an intersectional approach to dance that melds art forms and above all, tells stories.