Roarin' Raas, a co-ed dance team from the University of Houston, was established in 2011 by Rakesh Patel and a few others. Rakesh Patel, a Gujarati, was very fond of the culture and the dance forms of Raas and Garba. After seeing other teams, such as Dirty South Dandiya and UMBC Raascals, he had a vision of creating a nationally competing Raas/Garba team from the University of Houston.
How do you go about teaching newbies to twirl dandiya?
We start off teaching dandiya twirls with learning about the technique that goes into it. Then, we go into the different angles that we use and have to hit accurately on stage. These angles are 45°, 60°, 90°, and 180°. We do drills for one week and about 30-45 minutes every practice. After teaching the fundamentals and drilling it to get the technique and the overall follow-through of the dandiyas, we hand each member a pair and make them twirl them everywhere and every day. This means twirling while walking to class, in the library, at home, in practice, etc.. Honestly, twirl them all the time and everywhere imaginable. We truly believe in "Practice makes perfect." We understand that it cannot be learned overnight. The more one practices, the faster they get at spinning and hitting those angles precisely and sharply.
What are your goals for the upcoming season?
Our goals, as a team, are to go into each competition with a mindset to give it our all and to make sure that we portray our team in a very positive and kind manner. Sportsmanship is a huge trait that our team tries to embody thoroughly each year. We also want to be able to showcase all the hard work we have put into practices and be able to proudly represent our team all over the nation.
Raas is a folk dance. How do you personally integrate the American staged performance with its cultural roots?
Raas is a very traditional and folk style. In order to make sure that we stay true to the dance style's authenticity, we focus on incorporating traditional music, outfits that represent the Gujarati culture, and portray the dance form and technique accurately.
How do you handle injuries on your team and how do you get members to come to practice while injuries are prevalent?
Injuries are a very common thing in our practice space. We make sure to let every dancer on our team understand the "boundaries" of pushing their body past the level of healthy. We treat injuries with medicated creams and braces, as most of our injuries are shin splints, ankle pain, flat feet, knees popping out, and shoulder and back pain. Regarding larger injuries that prevent dancers to practice all out at practice, they are still required to come and are asked to do either upper body or lower body only, if not both. If they physically cannot attend practice, that is something we also understand. We highly recommend just sitting in on practices and helping the team with adjusting forms. This way they are still involved and are aware of possible changes to choreography and formations. Every practice is mandatory so our team members understand the value of the practice time we have.
Similar to Bhangra, Raas is primarily based off of a particular set of moves. How do you continue to innovate choreography for your performances and what sets you apart from other teams?
Raas choreography is very standard and does not have a variety moves, unlike fusion. We do request all our dancers and alumni to attend choreography sessions and to jam out to songs that evoke a lot of interesting and unique moves. Occasionally we find inspiration through that and incorporate those moves into the routine. We also look out to other dance circuits and teams for ideas on different moves. We tend to take various Bollywood or hip-hop moves and just “raasify” them, so it brings a unique style and swag to our dance form. We believe that us inviting all members to participate and putting a twist on classic moves sets us apart from other teams.
How do you teach members to increase stamina?
Stamina is absolutely crucial to our practices. We increase stamina by doing half run-throughs of our routine, followed by a full run-through at the end. We encourage all team members to hype each other up on stage and remind one another to keep going when they feel like they are lacking energy and stage presence during a performance. We advocate for cardio outside practice, but focus on pushing through and giving it your all every run through and every song.
Fun Facts & Social Media
1. We are known for having a reputation in the circuit for being "tastefully obnoxious!" We are loud and proud and bring all the hype to all our competitions and performance opportunities.
2. Our team is also known for long chants and we end up chanting the whole thing at competitions. We add like two to three chants a year and it currently lasts up to 2:30 seconds!
3. The main principle that our team is founded and stands upon is the phrase that was vocalized by our founder Rakesh Patel. "Don't worry about anything, just dance." - Rakesh Patel