May 19, 2017 by Jill Patel
If Drexel University truly supports diversity, then why is it that they only offer specific dance troupes their own practice space?
Despite the fact that five major South Asian dance teams have competed at significant competitions and have incredible accomplishments to prove their talent, they are still not considered significant enough to reserve the legitimate dance studios on campus or stages such as the Main Building auditorium.
Rather they are subjected to practicing in a cramped building hallway.
Every culture depicts their traditions differently. Indian culture is a festival for the eyes and the soul, manifested through customs, language, art, religion, values, holidays, food and especially, dance.
Dance is an expression of the soul, mind and emotions — a sequence of particularly selected movements to accompany various rhythms of music. It captures the facets of an entire culture and its history within a series of perfectly coordinated motions. ance is woven through history, religion and entertainment in Indian culture. It is an aspect of the culture that cannot be escaped, rather it has become a highly praised art.
With that being said, it must come as no surprise that Drexel University, having a very prominent South Asian population, has five South Asian dance teams: Drexel Jhalak, Fanaa, Bhangra, Dandiya and Broad Street Baadshahz. From bhangra to dandiya to bollywood to classical and even hints of western dance, these dance groups keep the Indian spirit and passion for dance alive within the Drexel community.
These teams have been committed to their craft for years, building these teams from the ground up and taking them to incredible levels. All the achievements of each individual team stems from hours and hours of practice and unyielding commitment to placing high at national competitions.
While valued greatly within the South Asian population, these teams seem to have been ignored and disregarded by the university.
Large, available practice spaces exist on campus yet Drexel does not care enough about these teams to make them available as dance practice spaces. When it comes down to creating an audition video or practicing, a tiny hallway will not suffice. These are real dance teams that need real dance studios. They are not provided with the necessary space or with mirrors to use for practice.
Drexel seems to place a major emphasis on performing arts, continuously highlighting its importance and value. Drexel’s Dance Program firstly does not include these five teams listed above and only consists of the dance ensembles.
The ensembles within the Performing Arts Program have two main dance studios on campus — 418 Main Dance Studio and the Ellen Forman Dance Studio — and the Mandell Theater is utilized for their performances. While the entire dance program encompasses a great deal of talent and has an incredible dance ensemble that holds the privilege of having their own studios, it should be noted that the major South Asian dance teams have zero studios. It should also be noted that the two studios for Drexel’s Dance Program are also off limits for these teams.
The history of each individual team proves that they have worked tirelessly to reach the position they are in now and the fact of the matter is that they are all amazing performers who consistently place at competitions around the nation. Yet, they are still dismissed by Drexel.
Ananya Kashyap, public relations manager of Drexel University Bhangra, said that competing and placing at these competitions brings Drexel a good name and heightens their status within the country as the circuit for these dance competitions are huge.
“The lack of practice spaces have been a hindrance for our performances at competitions and has shown major effects on the team overall. Drexel always says they have a lot of extracurricular opportunities but do not help us out with this which I find ironic,” she said.
Drexel has been accommodating to these teams by giving them no place to practice and perfect their routine in an adequate space.
“We have been kicked out of different practice spaces such as Bossone despite being respectful of the space for years and we now use hallways within the Main Building to practice,” she said.
Former captain of Drexel Fanaa, Chris Bijumon, knows first hand how difficult it can be to even find an empty hallway or building to practice in when the responsibility of scheduling practice spaces fell onto his shoulders. He recounts how having multiple dance spaces, such as the Main Building foyer and stage, the Nesbitt stage and the first and third floor of Bossone, soon disintegrated as places like Bossone became off limits.
This left a very small amount of space to practice for five very large teams. Losing valuable spaces and receiving nothing in exchange, all while knowing that there are dance studios available for the ensemble but not them is incredibly hard for the team to deal with. The number of spaces diminished but the teams remained the same.
“It was very stressful communicating with the other team captains to figure out when we could use each space. To make matters worse, the university locked all buildings after 9 p.m. and thus we were kicked out from these spaces after that time. If a studio was made available by Drexel, these issues would not exist,” he said.
These five teams are a representation of Drexel University’s Indian dance community. At competitions, they are the face of this university and even of Philadelphia. Each team wants to represent Drexel and Philly to the best of their abilities but they are unable to do so if their team has been hindered and let down by the very school they compete for.
These teams bring the element of dance to a university bustling with South Asian pride. They have allowed so many individuals to not only cultivate their passion for dance but also to teach others and create their own community. This is such an empowering thing for Drexel and it should be celebrated, not disregarded. These organizations/teams have worked incredibly hard to get to where they stand today.
Drexel should not fail them any further. They are a dance team, just as any other, and deserve dance studios to continue growing as a team. Drexel should want to see all their teams succeed and in order for that to happen, each team deserves equal opportunity.