(Photo courtesy UChicago South Asian Students Association)
A journey to the stage
A graduating fourth-year reflects on her final performance in the annual South Asian Students Association cultural show.
Every winter, tryouts and practices begin for the South Asian Students Association’s annual performance, a combination of song, dance, and acting. The SASA show, one of many cultural shows on campus, has been going on for 28 years. (It’s also a charitable event. A portion of the ticket proceeds went to this year’s cause: Indian literacy and education.) It began as a small-scale production; this year 200 students took part in the April sold-out show in Mandel Hall. I’ve danced in it for two years now, and it has been one of the most joyous and meaningful—and exhausting—experiences of my College career. Auditions for the show’s 10 acts began during first week of winter quarter. Dozens of students, including me, spent several days learning new choreography and trying to contort our bodies into unfamiliar or long-forgotten shapes; the delicate lotus hands, a one-legged balance. The auditions varied in intensity. Bhangra, a loud and bouncy Punjabi folk dance and one of the show’s most explosive and exciting acts, held auditions in the dance room in Bartlett. Auditioning students packed into the room. As a fourth-year, I signed up for the relatively quieter Seniors Act. The dance audition took place in Ida Noyes and slowly transitioned to the Pub, where we discussed possible ideas for the piece: we wanted more linguistic diversity and a broader range of dance styles that reflected our individual talents. Our nostalgia began kicking in as we discussed using South Asian songs that were popular when we were younger. Every year the show attracts a few comments about not being diverse enough—in the past it has been accused of promoting the India of Bollywood films and ignoring other aspects of diversity, especially from the other countries in South Asia. But the SASA show aims to represent all of the cultures of the region, in all their variety. This year’s production was titled “SASA Journey,” and its wanderings were not only geographical and cultural but also emotional, artistic, and political. Paras Mehta, ’16, one of the show’s scriptwriters, explained: “We decided early on that to give a holistic perspective we would include both entertaining scenes and scenes that were more politically charged.” The skits centered on a group of students on their way to the University of Chicago’s Center in Delhi for an internship. But their travels were thwarted by a storm, so instead the protagonists embarked on a road trip across the subcontinent, visiting historical sites such as the Hindu Dwarkhadish Temple in Gujarat, India, and the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi. The show’s journey also took the students through Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. There were skits about fashion from Bhutan and Sri Lanka, the slums of Mumbai, and political violence in Pakistan. Dance performances have always been the epitome of the show. Fusion, one of the acts I was in, was a combination of Bollywood, classical, and folk dances. It also closed the show, and as the finale, it was a big number that required tons of energy. Every Sunday, 30 students practiced for hours. Our creative directors, Arushi Tomar, ’16, and Mythili Vinnakota, AB’15, danced alongside us and yelled out reminders as we ran through the performance. “Angles! Remember your angles!” “Don’t forget, we’re turning clockwise now!” “Pretty hands, pretty hands, fierce faces!” “Do the banana peel formation! Peel away!” And of course, the rallying cry of the show, “DON’T FORGET TO SMILE!” More emotional for me, though, was the Seniors Act. After weeks of work and sweat, we spent the final practice, days before the show, mostly goofing off and reminiscing. Twenty-five sentimental fourth-years, we joked about dance moves from past years and how we struggled to learn them, and we laughed about the hours spent putting on stage makeup, only to sweat it off onstage. We’d tried to make this year’s act different from that of previous shows, in part by including songs we’d grown up hearing and singing. One of them, Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai translates to “the party is just now starting.”