Mitesh Bhalani, ’19
School of Engineering
For as long as I can remember, dance has been an important part of expressing my cultural identity. Through Bollywood dance classes, I learned about the music, traditions, and celebrations of Indian and South Asian culture, as well as meeting some of my best friends. When I came to Vanderbilt, I wanted to find a space on campus to continue learning about and celebrating my heritage.
To my surprise, this experience was flipped on its head. I joined the Diwali Showcase, an annual celebration of the South Asian New Year, as a choreographer. Instead of learning from others about South Asian culture, I was the one teaching it. I was choreographer for Fusion, charged with the task of creating a performance for 30 participants as well as providing the cultural context for the dance that combined Bollywood, hip-hop, Indian classical, and other dance styles from around the world. It was daunting to be on the other side, choosing the music and moves myself, when before I had just been following along. Above all, I wanted to put together something that represented my culture that would be a memorable experience for everyone involved. After many weeks of practices, we finally danced on stage, and I couldn’t have been happier to share a vital part of my identity with everyone.
A year later, I was chosen to be captain of the Bollywood fusion dance team, Nach Vandy. Once again, I was in the role of explaining and teaching my culture, rather than simply being a passive participant. Unlike the Diwali Showcase, being team captain was a commitment for the whole year. With more time, we had both the time and responsibility to delve deeper into the roots of the art form. With about an even split of members with South Asian heritage and those from other backgrounds, our team truly is Bollywood fusion.
As I developed our dance performance, I became more aware of Nach Vandy’s place on campus and the accessibility dance provided to understand another culture. Within the team, we discussed the meaning behind the dances we did, an essential part to performing with heart. Through performances on campus, we showed campus how vibrant and beautiful our dance and culture are.
By teaching others about the culture that is foundational to my identity, I was able to understand and appreciate it more than I had ever before. Choreographing dances and explaining the cultural background helped me understand better the core values and ideas of my heritage. Through this, dance gained a new significance to me. It became a tool for empowerment, and a cornerstone of who I am at Vanderbilt.