This past weekend, the Indian Regional and Cultural Center (or IRCC), hosted its annual Diwali festival. This Indian festival of lights honors the victory of good over evil through fireworks, food, celebrations and dances.
“Shakti,” the Hindu word representing the tremendous strength of the female form, and this year’s dance competition theme, inspired junior Hemangi “Hershey” Rajpal to gather her team of dancers, known as the Rhythms’ Warriors, to choreograph a dance. “Through our dance, we wanted to emphasize the strength of women in our class society and highlight the struggles they go through, the hardships they face and their final triumphant victory. This theme of women empowerment on an Indian platform is especially important since women often face inequality and horrible treatment in countries like India,” Rajpal said. Freshman Alisha Patel and Sachita Jariwala were among those who partook in this event.
Jariwala interpreted the dance as a story being told. “It was about a girl who was joyful, but with happiness, there is also sadness. A battle between good and evil took place, and in the end, the girl emerged victorious. At the end there was a celebration,” Jariwala said. At this event, Rajpal and her team took part in the high school dance competition, one of the main events of the evening. Student dancers came from all around Florida to compete with different styles of dance. Rajpal captained her fusion dance competition team. The Rhythms’ Warriors began choreographing for this festival in May, and began practicing in July, determined to claim victory.
“While the other teams were performing, we weren’t so sure that we were going to win,” Rajpal said.
Despite the challenging competition, Rajpal and her Rhythms’ Warriors claimed victory against the other teams, including a local rival group and fierce traveling group. “In the end, it seemed that our choreography, expressions (a big part of Indian dance), and unique elements (such as costume changes and lifts) brought us to victory,” Rajpal said.
In addition to practicing within their own group, Rajpal’s team worked alongside an Indian choreographer Divya Warier who works in Bollywood (the Indian Hollywood) with famous actors and actresses. “She came and guided us and held some workshops with us during the summer. As a choreographer, working with her was an amazing experience, and both my team and I learned a lot from her,” Rajpal said.
There are two categories for dance groups at the IRCC: those who compete and those who do not. “The other dances that are non-competition require a lot less preparation and are meant more for entertainment of the general public. The competition category obviously requires a lot more time and dedication and is a far more serious, yet one of the most enjoyable, parts of the evening for both the dancers and the attendees,” Rajpal said. “Competition signifies that we wanted to take our dancing skills to the next level and prove and showcase our talent to the Florida Indian dance community.”
For Rajpal, winning the competition was like a dream come true. “Ever since my team got second place last year, we were determined to work so hard and dedicate everything we could to getting that first place prize and winning,” Rajpal said.
The Rhythms’ warriors received the long awaited trophy and $750 cash prize for winning first place. “The prizes were rewarding in so many ways; it validated every minute, every second of sweat and tears we put into preparing for it. I can’t even describe how gratifying and absolutely incredible it felt hearing our team name called on the stage for first place,” Rajpal said.
A promising future awaits the Rhythms’ Warriors. As Rajpal said, “We are submitting our dance to an online competition to IndianRaga, another Indian dance competition platform, and definitely, we are going to compete in the same competition next year at the Diwali festival. In fact, we have already started preparing for next year. We are determined for a double victory, my last before I head to college!”