Hurricanes Score ‘Hat Trick’ at TampaFest

Last weekend, three University of Miami dance competition teams took center stage in one of Florida’s premier Indian dance competitions, IndiaFest, in Tampa.

The teams – Hurricane Bhangra, Hurricane Raas, and UM Garba Girls – disappointed none, as they wowed the audience, earned the respect of the judges, and left the competition dead in their tracks.

Leading up to the competition, the trio of teams had put in over two months of rigorous practice. It all paid off last Saturday, as the teams raked in seven out of a possible nine awards.

UM Garba Girls, who were competing for the first time, were first of the Hurricane teams to take the stage. The 12-girl team, captained and choreographed by Reema Bakarania and Sonia Gandhi, performed very well, earning themselves a third place finish in the Garba category.

“Garba was an experience we will never forget,” Reema Bakarania said. “There’s no better feeling than placing and seeing our school and team rise above.”

Next up was Hurricane Bhangra, captained and choreographed by Menaka “Soni” Dhand and Neil Shah. From start to finish, the eight-guy, eight-girl team looked sharp, in terms of costume and choreography, and they performed to near perfection.

Thus, they swept up all three awards in the folk dance category; earning awards for best costume and best choreography. They also placed first overall, beating out, among others, the University of Florida Bhangra team.

“The experience was overwhelming. Winning the best choreography award was definitely most heartwarming, as this is my first year choreographing for Hurricane Bhangra,” Soni Dhand said. “A lot of our dancers are first-year members, and with only two months of practice, we beat an established UF Bhangra Team.”

Hurricane Raas, captained and choreographed by Amar Mandalia and Ami Panara, was the final Miami team to take the stage. Of the three teams, though, Hurricane Raas came in with a chip on their shoulder, as they had placed second at the same competition last year.

This time, though, they made sure they left everything out on stage, earning themselves first place overall in the raas category, beating a list of teams that included University of Florida Raas. They also earned awards for best costume and best choreography in the raas category.

“This smile still has not come off my face. Finally sweeping Indiafest, after performing eight times on that stage, is one of the best feelings,” Amar Mandalia said. “The routine was harder this year. I was able to choreograph everything during the summer; so coming up with ideas was not on the spot like last year. There was a lot more creativity involved this year.”

The performance these three teams put on was nothing short of impressive. This, though, is the easy part to see, as the teams’ dedication and hard work is as visible as a book cover. The aspect that might be less easily understood is what garba, raas, and bhangra actually are.

Garba originates from the Indian state of Gujarat. It is mainly performed by females, and it is mostly done in circular formations. It is in reverence of goddess Ambaji. The basics steps of the dance include singing and clapping rhythmically, while dancing around a symbol or statue of the diety.

Bhangra is a lively form of folk music and dance that originates from Punjab, India. During Bhangra, people sing Punjabi Boliyaan lyrics, while others play the dhol drum, flute, dholak drum, and other musical instruments. During the last thirty years, Bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae.

Raas is played with two sticks, dandiyas, each about 1.5 feet long. The sticks are hit together to the beat of the accompanying music, while people move from partner to partner in a choreographed dance. Raas is a very energetic, colorful, fast-paced and playful dance.

Returning to matters at hand, both Hurricane Bhangra and Hurricane Raas are not looking to sit on their first place finishes.

As for Hurricane Bhangra, they have submitted applications to compete in University of Virginia’s Bhangra competition and South Beach Bhangra.

Hurricane Raas, on the other hand, is all geared up, as they will be going to Maryland this weekend to compete against some of the nation’s most elite Raas teams: Boston University, NYU, Cornell, Tufts, Virginia Tech and Maryland.

Pravin Patel may be contacted at