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'Stay humble, and stay hungry': Bollywood fusion group Chalkaa tells stories through dance

Chalkaa is a Bollywood-fusion dance group at UNC. Photo courtesy of Aishani Tingare.

Chalkaa, a Bollywood fusion dance group on campus, is showing off its interwoven cultural and storytelling skills for its 11th year at UNC. 

Chalkaa incorporates Indian, South Asian and Western music and dance in a way that sets the group apart from others on campus. 

Shweta Bhatnagar, UNC senior and choreography captain, said happy, loud and proud are words that come to mind when she reflects on Chalkaa. 

“I think of it as a celebration,” Bhatnagar said. 

Each year the team holds tryouts the second and third week of school, and no dance experience is required. People are encouraged to learn the routine even without joining the team. 

“College is one of the last times to learn something new for free,” Bhatnagar said. “Come learn a slice of someone else’s culture and passion.” 

This year the team consists of 27 coed dancers. Though only 20 to 24 compete, everyone attends the two-hour practices held at least three days a week. 

“It is a big time commitment,” Bhatnagar said, “but you might as well spend time each day doing something productive.”

Team captains create a main set for the season. It is composed of seven to nine segments intermixed with short skits that coalesce to tell a story. Zara Mehta and Aishani Tingare, co-presidents of the group, said Chalkaa is unique because it combines an array of cultures. 

“We are willing to learn from each other,” Mehta said. 

Bhatnagar, Mehta and Tingare said the close ties between teammates create a familial atmosphere that entices hard work and persistence while learning challenging sets. The team leaders said they expect a successful season. 

“Team morale is high,” Tingare said. 

Tingare said in the past, judges noted this tangible chemistry and camaraderie. 

Chalkaa is judged in national competitions that begin in fall and end in early April. This is the 11th year Chalkaa has competed at UNC, and in the past few years the team has traveled as far as Los Angeles and Miami. 

The team also hosts a competition with UNC Sangam on campus every year: Aaj Ka Dhamaka, held on Nov. 17, 2018. Teams from across the U.S. are invited. 

Aside from competing, Chalkaa loves performing to entertain and inform peers.

“It is amazing to show our South Asian culture on campus and bring together people of different backgrounds,” Tingare said. 

Already the group has performed for Relay for Life, FallFest and several other events.

Chalkaa continues to strive for betterment by perfecting sets and being diligent at practices. Eager first-years even show up to practices early to set a high standard of excellence.

The presidents said on and off stage, members of Chalkaa are like a family — one that sweats, smiles and tells stories together through dance. 

“Stay humble and stay hungry,” Bhatnagar said. 

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