UW Indian American students' cultural show
An Expression of Cultural Fusion
By M. Eric Lima
Culture is a chameleon adapting to changes along the global landscape shaped by each new generation. Like a childhood
game of “telephone,” tradition’s story varies slightly with the next voice that tells it. In mid-November, two Indian student
organizations brought their narratives to the Madison campus over a weekend of events.
Bhangra & Kanye West
In front of a Union Theater crowd of family and classmates, UW-Madison students gave performances speaking to the cultural
experience of their generation definable in one word: fusion.
Bhangra and Kanye West, piano over beatboxing, rap entrance music: These are a few examples of Hip-hop’s salient presence
throughout this year’s annual fall show hosted by the Indian Student Association. The variety show christened the weekend of
events on a Friday for a mixed audience ranging from family to strangers, young to old.
The MC hosts, Harpreet Brar and Jyoti Gill, delivered multiple skits between performances for the show’s theme. Shaadi.com.
The website represents the fusion of new social media with old cultural expectations of early marriage. In a skit, Gill described
the matchmaking marital site as “EHarmony for brown people.”
New dance routines from UW Surma and the UW School of Bhangra bookended both halves of the show receiving the loudest
applause. Both groups have established a skillful mixture of Bollywood/”traditional” Indian and contemporary choreography-
based Hip-hop dance styles over original music mixes from those genres. In an interview with the Bhangra team, newer
members admitted that the incorporation of Hip-hop guided their decision to join.
Traditional elements of Indian culture were sewn into the night including the clothing of many performers and hosts, a fashion
show of Indian attire and a Carnatic classical music piece delivered by Arun Kousik. However, conservative values were
definitely confronted by the butt bouncing choreography of guest performers UW Hypnotic dancing to T-Pain’s song “Booty Work.”
The Western Nightingale Sings
|If you want to make a difference in the lives of our residents,
visit our website to view and apply for our current openings.
Oakwood Village is a Lutheran church-sponsored, not-for-profit,
locally operated organization consisting of two continuing care
retirement communities, Oakwood Village East and Oakwood
Village West, in Madison, Wisconsin.
|Caring for older adults through compassionate and excellent service
Sunkara performed five pieces in Kathak, a
Northern Indian dance style, deftly executing sharp
turns and rapid footwork that vibrated his ankle
bells. According to Sunkara, a dancer uses the
bells, or “ghungroo,” to create swift rhythmic
patterns with the music. “So your body becomes an
instrument along with the bells.”
According to the president of ISA, the cultural events
from both student organizations just happened to
land on the same weekend without overlap. Guided
by serendipity, the events hint at a life cycle of Indian
culture as a chakra wheel still spinning, but with a
few contemporary adjustments to the spokes.
M. Eric Lima is a student at UW-Madison School of
Journalism & Mass Communication, a First Wave
Hip-Hop Theatre Ensemble Scholar, and a member
of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He is
Asian Wisconzine's new contributing writer.
Seated cross-legged at the front of a rectangular room with a smile
peeking beneath his gray mustache, Warren Senders gave a Khyal
recital for the Music of India – Dhwani. The Indian Graduate Student
Association hosted the event the Saturday night following the fall show.
While Senders’ background as a Caucasian American from Boston
seemed untraditional, his fluctuating vocals and rapid singing were
undeniable signatures of Khyal singing.
Senders’ impressive resume and vocal virtuosity vouched for any
skeptics of a Westerner dressed in traditional Indian garb. Additionally,
he mentioned his tactic of appealing to different audiences in India by
singing regionally specific folk songs that they would appreciate too
much to be bothered by any imperfect pronunciations.
Senders performed the two-hour recital over live tabla percussions and
|Warren Senders in a Khyal recital
the entrancing tones of a shruti - an electronic box imitating a tanpura. The music told narratives ranging from a young girl
decrying the actions of the Hindu God, Krishna, to a piece that extolled the natural beauty of the world beginning with a song
from a nightingale.
While Senders’ lower half remained seated his torso swayed and his arms vigorously gestured to embody the stream of notes
he projected. He also directed his lyrical stream toward different members in the audience in moments of connecting with
strong eye contact and a light smile.
The years of studying Hindustani music in India under Pandit Shreeram Devasthali showed in Senders’ ability to bounce
syllables off his tongue with ease. As custom among Khyal singers, he experimented with the different variations of tones
between two or three notes while holding them before he would run out of breath or reach the end of the rhythmic cycles in the
After his performance, Senders narrated his discovery of Khyal music as a 16-year-old listening to a borrowed vinyl disc and
becoming instantly determined to harness the sound. Admiration from the Indian audience members during the question and
answer portion suggested no concern over a Westerner carrying their South Asian culture.
Bells Chiming for a Male Return
In the intimate stage of the Union’s Play Circle Theater, three male dancers stepped into the spotlight of Indian dances
commonly dominated by female performers. Their movements of swift and conscious footwork echoed with the gentle rumbling
of bells strapped to their ankles.
The weekend of Indian Culture events concluded with “Nayaka,” an exploration of the male form in the Indian dances also
hosted by the Indian Graduate Student Association. Dancers Yatin Agarwal, Venugopal Joysula and Sunil Sunkara rotated their
stage presence throughout the night with solo performances.
“Traditionally speaking, thousands of years ago [these dances were] done by men,” said Agarwal defending the male presence
in the Indian dance. “It is taught by men, but women usually perform it.” Agarwal also noted the recent return of males to the
form in the late 1970s and notably much more in the 2000s.
Shirtless with a draping cloth slung over his shoulders and into the front of his lungi, Agarwal performed Bharatnatyam, a
Southern Indian dance style in the first half of the night. Agarwal coordinated his defined facial expressions with calm calculated
story-telling hand gestures, which are common in classical Indian dances.
Joysula, dressed similar to Agarwal, switched between two Southern Indian styles, Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. His feet held
a rhythmic precision with his left foot switching between heel taps and flat steps while his right foot consistently held the tempo.
Joysula’s footwork was capitalized further in sharp cross-steps and dramatic squat dips in which his heels didn’t touch the