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UNC Chalkaa dance club continues successful season

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UNC Chalkaa is a competitive co-ed Indian-American dance team at UNC. Entering the competition season, the group recently won 1st place in two competitions. 

Photo Courtesy of Sahil Sethi.

When members of UNC Chalkaa stood on-stage during the awards ceremonies for their February competitions, they did not expect to hear their names called.

However, they placed first at both competitions. 

“They (the competitions), frankly, went amazing. Quite literally, I feel like my dreams are coming true,” Meghana Sankaran, a senior and second-year co-captain of Chalkaa, said about the results.

Chalkaa is UNC’s nationally competitive Indian-American Fusion dance team. Its members perform styles varying from Indian classical dance to hip-hop.

In February, Chalkaa competed in two of the three events it plans to attend this year. The third competition will take place this Saturday. Each of these competitions is organized by the Desi Dance Network, a national South Asian collegiate dance competition circuit. 

“It’s just so interesting and cool to meet such diverse people from across the country every time I go to one of these competitions,” Sreya Boggarapu, a junior and Chalkaa’s production manager, said. 

The end goal of every competition season is to place high enough to qualify for the DDN’s Legends – a final championship for Bollywood fusion dance in April. 

Chalkaa placed second at Legends in 2019, but the team has not experienced similar success until this year. Sankaran said she believes that last year's season went "particularly bad."

At the start of the 2021-2022 season, previous team captains had graduated, and most of the dancers were new and lacked experience with the demands of the competition circuit, she said.

“COVID really tore people apart and made it really hard to communicate and dance together — feel connected to each other,” Pallavi Maladkar, a junior and second-year Chalkaa co-captain, said.

Maladkar said it was consistent “trial and error” last year for her and her fellow first-year co-captains.

“I’m glad I was able to take that journey of starting from basically nothing to learning all of this,” she said.  

The team began preparing for this season before the school year even started, which included curating the set that is performed at each of their competitions. This set consists of multiple dance segments that come together to tell a story.

This year’s captains planned the theme — Pirates of the Caribbean — first, and then thought about the segments they needed to tell the story, the styles of dance they wanted to feature and stage formations. Specific choreography comes last in the planning process, Aditi Jain, a senior and co-captain of Chalkaa, said.

And this year's story has been met with positive remarks. 

“Some of the judge’s feedback that we got from the previous two competitions was that whatever Chalkaa has found has kind of been the formula to creating the perfect set,” she said.

The team's success has been borne out of its seven hours of practice each week in the fall and nine hours or more in the spring. Jain said sometimes during the season, she might spend more time with her teammates than with her family members or roommates.

She said the team is like her rock and that every time she doesn’t feel good, attending practice with her teammates instantaneously lifts her mood.

“It’s just a group of people that really love each other and really love this set, and I haven’t found that anywhere else to this extent at UNC,” she said.

Sankaran said Chalkaa has been “the most important experience” of her college career.

“It’s a source of a community for me and a group of people that have always encouraged positivity, and support, and inclusivity, and learning, and growth, and a lot of other really important values,” she said.

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Besides competitions, the team performs volunteer gigs at the University and paid gigs such as weddings and anniversary parties throughout the Triangle area. 

These events and other fundraisers throughout the year supplement the funding they receive from UNC Student Government that helps them pay for travel, competition fees, sets and costumes. 

“The reason I love to dance and perform is I love seeing the smile I can put on people’s faces,” Maladkar said. “Especially at gigs, it’s really nice to see people getting pumped and energized just by watching us dance, because that’s the effect I want to have on people.”

No matter the results of their competitions, Sankaran said she always wants the team to stay humble and focus on what really matters.

“I still think what’s important to us as a team is the dance,” she said. “And the experience of being on-stage, and being proud of ourselves, and impacting an audience and things like that go a much longer way than placing in a competition.”

@emimaerz

university@dailytarheel.com


Emi Maerz

Emi Maerz is a 2023-24 assistant lifestyle editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously covered UNC for the university desk. Emi is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and dramatic art.