This past season, the most prestigious Bollywood-Fusion Competition, Bollywood America, was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Every year, teams from across the nation battle it out onstage to win the title of National Champions. Northwestern University Anubhav proved that their combination of hard-work and talent was lethal and became this year’s victors. Anubhav was established in 2008, by a couple members of Northwestern's Raas team and a graduate student who was a former member of Stanford Dil Se. These dancers had attended Best of the Best, in Chicago, the year before, saw a few of the HFD teams competing, and were inspired to create a new team at Northwestern.
1. How do you recruit new members/hold auditions?
We hold auditions at the start of each school year, usually around early October. We do not recruit beyond posting on Northwestern forums and sites. Most of the students who come to Northwestern have no prior dance experience, so we try to keep auditions fairly simple and fun. We typically slowly teach about three or four 8-counts of choreography and then record them not only as they learn, but also at the end. We then have a callback the week later, where they are able to show us their improvement on the piece we taught them. We encourage them to work on the choreography as much as they can and to reach out to current Anubhav members for help. We care most about their demonstrated passion and dedication.
2. How do you approach training freshman and incorporating them into your team's culture?
Training incoming freshmen and making sure they feel like an important part of our Anubhav family is an integral part of our team process. We spend a lot of time teaching different layers of choreography, which gives our new dancers time to work through the moves and get a feel for dancing. We also work a lot on building up proper technique and form, so that they have solid foundations to be the best dancers possible. We are also a very close-knit team, and we spend a lot of time together bonding outside of practices. At the start of the year, we implement a buddy system so that each new freshman has an older Anubuddy. This system paired with team bondings help our team grow into a loving family.
3. What are your goals for the upcoming season?
This upcoming season, we would love to push the boundaries of not only what we have done historically as a team, but also in terms of the kinds of shows that have been produced on this circuit. We are still transitioning to a new board, so we will see what they come up with.
4. What do you think are the biggest challenges within your circuit?
We feel there are a couple of major challenges within this circuit. The first challenge is that there are many literal boundaries to our ability to produce the best shows possible, such as a lack of funding (Northwestern provides us with 0 funding) and strict competition rules (ones that set parameters/rules for types of music, dialogue, and limits to production).
The second challenge is something that is a little more of an issue with the overall trend of the circuit. We feel that it is often hard for teams to find a balance between staying true to their identities while also satisfying public opinion/interest. The circuit has begun to valorize masculine styles of dance (hip hop and Bhangra), often creating this sense that all of the other styles of dance (classical, contemporary, modern, jazz, ballet, etc) are not as “real” choreography-wise. Our team often receives judges feedback stating that it all just looked like contemporary dance (despite real diversity in different styles), and that we should really consider throwing some hip hop and Bhangra in there. Though we really try to stay true to ourselves regardless, it is a difficult balance that many teams on this circuit likely struggle with when coming up with their shows.
Regardless of these challenges, though, we love this circuit and are so grateful for all of the positivity and appreciation we have received over the years. It is really a remarkable community and platform for art, and we are so blessed to be a part of it all.
5. What do you like most about your team/teammates?
Anubhav really is a big happy family, and we love that about the dancers on the team. We are really lucky to have some of the most wonderfully kind, loving, determined and dedicated dancers around. We do not practice a lot, but when we do, we focus hard and try our best; and when we are not practicing, we usually can be found spending most of our time hanging out with each other anyway.
6. What do you enjoy most about your team?
We love everything about Anubhav - this team means so much to each of us. But something that we especially love is that we are truly an emotionally invested team of dancers. Every single dancer on the team cares deeply about our dance and story each year, and this really translates to a dedicated, loving and positive culture on the team.
7. What makes your team different from other teams in the circuit?
We feel that our storylines set us apart from other teams in the circuit. We care deeply about formulating stories that convey something that is impactful, meaningful and relatable to our identities as second generation South Asian Americans. We have a history and come from a culture that is so rich and storied, and we feel that Bollywood dance is a perfect and natural platform for shedding light on some of the important facets of our history, identity and culture.
8. Are there any traditions your team has?
One of our favorite traditions is our pre-performance huddle. Before every competition performance, we huddle together in a big circle. We share emotional, loving thoughts with each other, tell each other how much this Anufamily means to us, remind each other of the importance of telling our dance and story with the audience, share a lot of hugs and shed a lot of tears. It is a really emotional moment for us, and it is something that bonds us as a family before going on stage.
9. What are your team chants?
What time is it? It’s our turn! Get ready for Northwestern!
A-N-U-B-H-A-V don’t mess with me! Go Anubhav! Go U NU! We Anubhav! Go U NU!
10. Which performance is your team most proud of?
We are really proud of everything this team has done this year, but we are especially proud of our performance at Buckeye Mela 2016. Northwestern’s schedule means that we form a team in mid-October and take a break from right before Thanksgiving until early January when classes start again. That left us with less time than usual to prepare for our first competition, so we really had to push our dancers. We were really proud of how much hard work and commitment the team (especially the 10 new dancers) showed in the weeks leading up to Buckeye Mela, and the performance was one of our favorites of the year.
Here is our video from Buckeye Mela. It is not perfect but it really showcases how hard the team worked in the few weeks of practice beforehand. We especially love that moment at the end when the lights fade and the team runs to hug/embrace each other; it is such a sweet and wonderful moment of pure happiness, love and pride for both our story and each other.
11. Have there been any defining moments or particularly memorable moments for your team?
Historically, one of our defining moments as a team came at A-Town Showdown 2014. That year, we had set out to create something really meaningful and decided to stage queer (South) Asian American issues; we wanted to share a truly important message with our audiences. We worried about perceptions and whether our story would resonate with audiences at all, but we poured our hearts into that show, knowing that the risks were well worth it. ATS 2014 was our first competition of the season and we were all nervous before performing that show on stage. But the audience reaction as we unveiled the story… that is a moment that will carry with each of us forever. We all held back tears as we performed - tears filled with pride and happiness. For the first time, we realized that the audience not only understood our theme, but believed in and accepted our message of love. It was really one of the most memorable and amazing moments in our team’s history.
Please list 3 random/interesting facts about the team.
- We typically have very few people audition for the team, meaning that Anubhav is one of the easiest teams to make it onto. We often hear about other collegiate teams having lots of people show up to their auditions and having to reject an upwards of fifty dancers. This past year we had five boys audition for Anubhav. We took six (we had to find one more -- someone who had not shown up to auditions -- just to fill our roster). We had no more than 15 girls audition, of which we took about half.
- We love how diverse our team is and we usually have have a good number of non-Indians on the team (though few stay for longer than a year).
- Every year for the last few years, someone named Amar has quit the team in the middle of the year.