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‘It goes beyond dancing’: UNC dance groups prepare for 2023-24 season

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Students dance at the UNC Bhangra Elite tryout on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2023, on the top floor of Craige Deck. Bhangra Elite is a high-energy, traditional dance group that educates and promotes Punjabi culture.

Anjali Keyal said that when she is performing, all that matters is her, her body, the audience and the lights. That’s all there is. 

Keyal is the co-captain of UNC Bhangra Elite, one of the many UNC dance groups preparing for the 2023-24 season. The groups perform in showcases and competitions throughout the year.

Many of the dance groups hold auditions for the school year within the first few weeks of class and spend weeks to months preparing choreography, often done by students, before performances even happen.

Performances can be for various events on and off campus, including competitions and final showcases. 

Bella Dunn, vice president of Star Heels Dance Team, said that the process of choreographing is different for everyone. She typically works within the styles of modern, lyrical and contemporary as they allow her to evoke an emotional connection to the dance.

“I think sometimes it’s hard to express in words the way that certain events will make you feel,” Dunn said. “But I think, at least for me, I feel like dance kind of eases that burden a little bit. I don’t feel like I have to say exactly the right thing at the right time. I can get my emotions in a completely different avenue.” 

Sasha Sagar is co-captain of UNC Ek Taal, a competitive dance team that performs the Indian classical dance style of Bharatanatyam. She said that choreographing can be a lengthy process — a dance can go through many renditions until it reaches the final product.

Ek Taal tries to create a story in their competition pieces, she said. The use of hand gestures, facial expressions, music and costumes allows them to further convey the theme to their audiences. 

“It’s honestly like a dance form that’s not as prominent in the Indian community, as, say, Bollywood or Bhangra, or other dance forms like that,” Sagar said. “I feel like it’s really important for us as dancers to continue that art form in the UNC community and even further.”

Bhangra Elite is UNC’s all-inclusive and competitive Bhangra dance team and performs the high energy dance style of Bhangra – a traditional folk dance from Punjab, India which was typically performed during the harvest season.

This will be Keyal’s second year serving as co-captain for Bhangra Elite. She said that for her, it’s not about winning competitions, but seeing how each individual on the team grows from the day they auditioned to the very last practice.

“It goes beyond dancing,” Teju Kashyap, Bhangra Elite’s other co-captain, said. “You just have a real family as soon as you join the team.”

Luisa Penaflor, co-manager of Qué Rico, UNC’s premiere and only Latin dance team, auditioned for the group in her first year at UNC. At the time, she didn’t have a dance background but decided to give it a try. 

Through the team, she discovered a Latine community that she missed while she was growing up in a predominantly white area of South Carolina. 

Penaflor said that the majority of the dances they perform are partner-based. She said that dancing with a partner requires a lot of trust and in practice they implemented trust exercises, which lead members to become closer over time.

“Being able to meet people that grew up similar to me and grew up listening to the same music was kind of a game changer for me, to meet other people like me,” Penaflor said. “But also everyone there has a sincere devotion to the dances and to each other. And it’s just a community that I don’t know what college would be like without them.”

Dance groups are also working to build community with each other. Penaflor said that she wants to rebuild relationships between different dance groups by attending their performances and workshops.

UNC Kamikazi, a co-ed hip-hop dance group on campus, says they are more than just a team, but a family. 

Shanise Alexander, Kamikazi’s artistic director, said that when she was looking for dance teams to join in college, she wanted to be more involved in a community. Her previous dance studio had trouble making everyone feel like they were a part of the team.

As she watched videos of Kamikazi’s past performances, Alexander was drawn to what Kamikazi stood for: family, diversity, inclusion and communication. 

Layah Clinton, event coordinator of Kamikazi, didn’t have much of a hip-hop background when she auditioned for the group her first year. She was only one of two first-years selected for the team. 

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“You should try new things, push yourself out of your comfort zone, because you never know how it may work out,” Clinton said. “And even if it doesn’t work out this semester, this time around, maybe you’re meant to be on a different dance team. Or maybe you’re on a different journey. Just don’t give up on yourself.”

@madisongagnon9

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com