Bridging cultures through ‘Element of Illusion’
BENJAMIN MICHAEL SOLIS
LEONORA LUPASTIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Indian dancers perform a dance as part of ‘Samasti — The Elements of Illusion’ at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Friday, Nov. 12.
Ashwin Korde is an Indian American, and up until four years ago he didn’t know what that really meant for him. He was not forced to actively participate in his religion; he did not hang out with other Indian children.
Korde felt more like an average American, without much of an identity.
Then he was accepted into the University of Michigan, and he joined the Indian American Student Association. Now Korde is the vice-president of group, and he speaks of passion and of service, and can expound on one of the most important lessons he’s learned here in Ann Arbor: to love, honor, and to respect his culture.
Oh, and he can dance. Sort of.
On Nov. 12, IASA members like Korde showed their unity as Indian Americans through the organization’s annual cultural show, Samasti: The Element of Illusion.
Samasti, which translates to the word “element,” was a dazzling display of color, sound, and heritage. And the performance, produced and choreographed by UM IASA students, presented a dance showcase that exhibited the myriad traditions of their homeland.
All the proceeds from the event went to One World Health Organization, which gives medical aid and resources to children in developing nations.
Styles like Bhangra, Raas, Classical, Gypsy, South-Indian, and Bollywood were all performed with passion and dedication.
“Samasti is about culture, and diversity, and happiness,” Monica Patel said with a proud smile. She is a senior at UM, and the president of IASA.
Indian culture is a virtual gumbo of different religions and ethnic groups, said Patel. Samasti was a way to show off those elements, and to promote deep connection among their members in the Ann Arbor community.
“Just like here in America, each region and group has different stereotypes,” explained Patel. “One region likes to drink and party a lot, one region is really cheap, and so on.
“We are trying to break down some of those stereotypes.”
LEONORA LUPASTIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Dancers from the troupe ‘Sharara Sharara’ perform in Gypsy style.
IASA, which was founded nearly 27 years ago, focuses on three established principles, or pillars: culture, community-service and political awareness.
“We feel that if we come together and say, ‘Oh, well this is where I’m from and we do this type of dance and celebrate this festival like this,’ we’ll have a greater understanding of who we all are,” said Patel.
Throughout the show, video segments detailed the historic innovations India has given to our modern world, such as the first documented university.
The segments also hailed influential Indians from around the world, like CNN’s resident doctor, Sanjay Gupta, a UM alum and former president of IASA.
The performance itself was much more than a blatant display of ethnocentricity said the 22-year-old Korde. For him, the show is just another great aspect of IASA.
When he started as a freshman, Korde said that he had few friends who were of the same background, and saw IASA as a way to change that
“It’s really all about the energy and emotions that went into to building these new friendships,” he said. “You can see it in all of our faces while we do this show.”
Although culture is their core pillar, Korde states that building common bonds with students of all cultures is at the heart of IASA’s mission.
“This show is really a springboard for people to get involved in our organization,” said Korde. “We have all types of races, outside our own, who are a part of IASA. The show is the first thing we all get to do together.”
Most of the dancers had no formal training and learned each step as the show was created.
This, however, was not the case for Patel, one of the few classically trained dancers in the group.
“My parents took me to the temple a lot when I was a child, and they taught the classes there,” she said. “I started doing it when I was six, and it’s just something that has been a part of my life ever since.”
Korde, on the other hand, was of the majority of those just looking for something fun to do.
“If I do something embarrassing on stage, it’s no big deal,” Korde said with a laugh. “We have no dance experience and we make it look as professional as possible. People really seem to enjoy it, and so do we.”