Penn Dhamaka‚Äôs energetic, arm-pumping, feet-shuffling, body-twisting dance routines are inspired by traditional South Asian dance, but the all-male troupe‚Äôs flair is all their own.
The University of Pennsylvania student performance group fuses a variety of dance styles in their sequences. In addition to classic South Asian dance, their moves are a mix of Bollywood, contemporary American dance, hip-hop and stepping.
‚ÄúTraditional South Asian dance styles have been around for hundreds of years,‚ÄĚ says Ankur Goyal, Penn Dhamaka chair. ‚ÄúBy being a fusion team, we can start with those customs and traditions and say, How can we break the rules? It allows us to have a base, and then we jump off of that.‚ÄĚ
The group‚Äôs high-energy style has cross-cultural appeal.
‚ÄúThe Bollywood style is just evolving,‚ÄĚ Goyal says. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs current, so it inherently incorporates western moves and eastern moves. It‚Äôs a melting pot where you can‚Äôt even draw a line between them.‚ÄĚ
The group dances at events and celebrations on campus and throughout Philadelphia. They‚Äôve entertained at Spring Fling, Freshman Performing Arts Night and the annual South Asia Society show on campus. The team also performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the opening of a South Asian arts exhibit.
Several times a year the group competes in college South Asian dance competitions. In November, Dhamaka, which means ‚Äúexplosive energy‚ÄĚ in Hindi, won third place at the Aha Ka Dhamaka contest at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
‚ÄúSometimes we sit there and think, How can my body move?‚ÄĚ Goyal says. ‚ÄúWhat plane haven‚Äôt I hit yet? We look at videos and get inspired by the videos we see.‚ÄĚ
The group is open to anyone with an interest in South Asian style dance, but most members are South Asian. Currently the group also includes several dancers who are of East Asian descent.
Senior Stephen Ahn, who‚Äôs Korean American, joined the group in the fall after dancing in several other Penn dance troupes as a freshman and sophomore. As a spectator, Ahn admired Dhamaka‚Äôs dynamic performances and wanted to become a participant in the shows. In addition to mastering some new dance moves, Ahn has had an opportunity to learn much more about South Asian culture.
‚ÄúI've danced South Asian styles, seen South Asian popular movies, heard popular music, eaten amazing cuisine and made many friends in Penn's South Asian community,‚ÄĚ Ahn says.
During the day, most of Dhamaka‚Äôs 19 members are studying medicine, engineering or business, but in the evenings it‚Äôs dance time. The group spends about 15 hours a week practicing routines to perfect their intricate and spirited moves.
‚ÄúWe all have the left brain side fully developed, but we all have that creative side, too,‚ÄĚ Goyal says. ‚ÄúThis is our outlet to get all of our ideas out and make a production of it.‚ÄĚ
They‚Äôll get a chance to show off their latest dance moves at their upcoming production, ‚ÄúPaint the Town,‚ÄĚ Feb. 21-22 at the Iron Gate Theater at 37th and Chestnut streets.