The traditional folk dances of Garba and Raas have been practiced in the western Gujarat region of India for centuries. Known for their colorful costumes and high-energy movement, they celebrate the Hindu deity Durga at the annual festival of Navrati.

The dance forms, which have distinctive features like the twirling of dandiya sticks in Raas and rhythmic clapping in Garba, are performed around the globe, often competitively. On March 4, Indiana University Auditorium will be the site of the Raas Royalty Dance Competition.

The competition started eight years ago when a group of IU students formed their own Indian cultural dance team, dubbed HoosierRaas. That same year, members of the group also pulled together the first intercollegiate competition, inviting dance teams from across the country to apply for one of eight spots.

“It has grown to be the largest competition in the country because of the free admission and the size of the IU Auditorium,” says Ronak Tilva, this year’s event director. The show, which is free and open to the public (although tickets are required), has drawn audiences of more than 1,500.

Dance teams from 45 universities submitted audition tapes for the 2017 competition. Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Drexel, Michigan State, Illinois, Maryland, and St. Louis universities were accepted, and HoosierRaas will dance an exhibition performance.

The current HoosierRaas team has 20 members, with two alternates and two managers. They practice for two hours a day, three times a week, throughout the school year. The team will travel to other intercollegiate competitions in February.

While judges may heavily consider traditional elements of a performance, the music is often infused with hip-hop, pop, or other musical influences, which, Tilva notes, are crowd pleasers.

“We try to modernize it a lot with mixes,” he says. “It always reflects tradition in some sense, but there are points of the dance where we add our own theme.” In its exhibition performance last year, HoosierRaas played thematically with The Lion King, holding up a stuffed baby lion in the beginning and adding the chanted musical breaks from its theme song into the sound mix.

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