Think U of M and Michigan State, then think ‘classic rivalry’, and what pops into mind?  Football?  Basketball?  Even intercollegiate debating?

Likely not raas, the traditional mock-fight folk dance of India.  But as our impromptu trip to Ann Arbor’s historic Michigan Theatre on Saturday, February 2 proved, the competition between these two schools is as fierce on the stage as it is on the gridiron.  The 7th annual Dandia Dhamaka competition was a whirl of sound and color as not only MSU and U of M, but a total of ten schools fought to win a cash prize and become eligible for the Best of the Best competition to be held in Chicago later this year.  Beside the home teams, dancers came from Case Western Reserve University (Indiana), Stanford, University of Illinois, University of Maryland, Washington University of St. Louis, New York University and Pennsylvania State.

Raas or Dandiya Raas, along with Garba, is the featured dance of Navratri evenings in Western India, originating in Gujarat and Sindh. Navratri is the longest Hindu festival celebrated all over India for nine consecutive nights in praise of Rama (hero of the epic Ramayana) and goddess Durga from the end of September to early October.  Traditionally, two circles formed by men and women move in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction carrying sticks known as ‘dandiyas’.  Modern dancers, such as the teams that competed on February 2, have modified the traditional formations of raas into inventive choreography, allowing for variation and modernization.

A spirited competition, 7th annual Dandia Dhamaka it brings together students, parents, friends and the surrounding community to celebrate India’s colorful culture.  In fact, competition was as fierce as the fight it symbolized, and the audience participated with school fight songs, painted faces, and cardboard signs touting their favorite teams.  Without a doubt, the fans were as rabid as at any sports event. 

In the end, neither U of M or Michigan State took top honors; that went to New York, followed by U of I.  Third place, however, was award to MSU, which somewhat softened the blow of 2007, when Michigan won the match.  From our vantage, the fusion of western and South Asian dance styles that we witnessed would have been impossible to judge, so we’ll trust that the outcome was just… and as they say, ‘just wait till next year!’







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