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Penn’s South Asian co-ed fusion dance group Penn Masti won the Best Mix category in the dance competition Bollywood America | Courtesy of Mithin Thomas

The curtains opened to reveal flashing shades of deep crimson, sparkling gold and jet black. The audience erupted into cheers and a medley of music played as Penn Masti’s dance began at the one of the largest Bollywood dance competitions in the country, Bollywood America.

This April marked a big win for Penn Masti, Penn’s South Asian co-ed fusion dance group. After months of practice and preparation, the group recently won Best Mix at Bollywood America, one of the largest Bollywood dance competitions in the country.

Competition at Bollywood America is fierce and stakes run high, so the weeks leading up to the competition were filled with intense practice sessions.

“We practiced from eight to 12 at least, but it was really till one or two,” College freshman Anjali Mahadevia said. “We had people come watch us, like Dhamaka, Naach and SAS Board — alumni as well. We had this huge support group behind us and we would drill each sequence and get the facials right — it was a really great bonding experience for us.”

This year, Bollywood America was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Penn’s team rented out a bus and embarked on the eight-hour drive the day before, along with other members of the Penn community who came out to show support — including alumni, and newer members of the team who joined just three weeks prior to the contest.

Masti mixes a vast array of dance styles in their routines, including Hindi film dance, bhangra, hip-hop, jazz, raas, bharatanatyam, lyrical, modern, folk, Broadway and even some Filipino styles. Different teams also incorporate different overarching storylines into their dances.

“[Our] theme was the rift between India and Pakistan. It touches upon the divide and how that created a separation between the two populations but that can be bridged because ultimately we’re all the same people,” Mahadevia said.

Gupta added that the theme is also relevant to current events as well. “The end moral is not to generalize the views of a few extremists to an entire group of people,” he added.

The road to Bollywood America is a long one — in fact, some preparations started before school even began.

“We started [choosing the mix] during the summer so [Anjali] wasn’t even on the team when we had decided this theme. We first found something relevant and current and constructed a theme out of it and then we had the general idea of the mood of every piece and [tried to choose a song that fit that mood] and we constantly refined it,” Wharton and Engineering junior Gagan Gupta.

Preparing for and performing in the final competition come with unique challenges as well. Women go through three hours of hair and makeup prep beforehand and on stage, both men and women go through three or four costume changes. According to Gupta and Mahadevia, members will dance off stage in a matter of seconds, change in the sidelines in around five seconds, and quickly dance back on stage for the next sequence.

This year, 11 teams from across the country competed. Six teams, including Masti, were selected from automatic bid competitions where winners automatically earned a spot in the competition while the other five were selected based on the number of points they accrued from competing in other contests. This marks the second year Masti was selected to dance in the competition.

Gupta and Mahadevia said that each member of the team played a crucial role in earning the win and gave a special shout out to their dedicated senior members, especially team captain and College senior Nikhil Naidu, who made the mix.

“There are a lot of people in the dance circuit who are solely DJs and they only make the mixes for teams but Nikhil was not only [our DJ but also] our captain, our lead, and ran all the practices and it was awesome to see him win that because he put so much into the team,” Gupta said.

Finally, they are looking forward to their tenth anniversary show next year and what the future holds.

“The goal is to be BA-ck to BA next year,” Mahadevia said.

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