CofC Raas team acts as celebration of Indian culture

One way College of Charleston students can adapt to their own heritage or explore new cultures is through some of its clubs and organizations. One such club at CofC wherein students have accomplished this is through the dance team Chuck De Raas.

The original eight core members of Chuck de Raas

The original eight core members of Chuck de Raas

Dandiya Raas, or Raas, is a traditional Indian folk dance native to the Gujarat region. It’s often performed during the Hindu festival Navratri (meaning ‘Nine Nights’ in Sanskrit), a celebration dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Durga, that takes place in the fall. This year, Navratri will be celebrated, starting today, from September 25-October 3.

Chuck De Raas was formed in the Fall of 2013 by two members: head of the Raas team, Monica Patel, and senior Nilopher “Nilu” Dossaji. Each having been raised in traditional Indian households, both Monica and Nilu have done traditional Indian dances, mainly Garba, for most of their lives.

Though Garba is similar to Raas in that it also originated in Gujarat, it has its differences: mainly that it focuses more on hand and feet movement and involves a group of people moving in a (circular) pattern around a central object. Sticks are also not required. Monica describes Raas as being much more “choreographed and organized” than Garba.

That being said, Raas is a dance in which sets of partners, each with one guy and one girl, dance whilst holding onto two sticks, or dandiya. The dandiya themselves often strike against each other to the flow of the traditional, Hindi music.

In dancing to mostly traditional Indian music, most teams that compete incorporate some kind of theme; examples of this are jailhouse and hospital themes. Often this includes interpolating different types of music, moves or skits in the performance.

Though initially the club was started for the dance aspect and for students to meet each other, the team has since expanded and committed to much more than the 4 hour practice week, unintentionally growing values and relationships. “We’re like a family here.” Monica says. “Lots of times, even when we’re out of practice, we hang out and have movie nights.”

The team has also unintentionally become a place for the university’s American-Indian students to get to know each another and hang out. “The Raas team created a comfort space for the small but existent Indian population on campus.” Sophomore Anjali Naik, part of the eight original members of Chuck de Raas, says, “Its purpose has become more than educating people, but restoring a part of ourselves that we’re not fully able to display anywhere else on campus.”

A group of men doing Dandiya Raas (photo courtesy of Brian Glanz)

A group of men performing Dandiya Raas (photo courtesy of Brian Glanz)

Through observing rehearsals, the main thing noticeable about Raas is that it’s highly energetic. Each member’s movements are rhythmic and highly systemized. There are choreographed gymnastic-type flips and pirouette-style moves known as “stunts” that add more to Raas’s degree of difficulty. Monica herself describes Raas as an ongoing “learning process.”

Raas also takes an incredible amount of precision. Performers must be able to hold onto their sticks whilst staying with the routine and keeping up with their partners. “The main thing about Raas is that [everyone] has to be sharp.” Nilu says. “You’ve got to be able to keep up with the formations, movements and counts, all while smiling.”

Though the team performed at venues such as Seneca in Columbia, SC as well as College of Charleston’s own World Cultures Fair, last year was mainly a time for the team to establish its bearings, and assemble its core members. Goals for this year include adding at least four to eight new members and, more importantly, competing. 

Events such as ‘Raas Chaos’ held in Washington D.C. are competitions held annually where Raas teams from all over the country go to compete. “Schools like [University of Tennessee-Knoxville] and UGA have long since had well-established Raas teams.” says Monica. “Our ultimate goal is to get teams to come compete right here at CofC.”

A photo of a team performing at the 'Raas Chaos' event in D.C. in 2006 (photo courtesy of Shmpictures)

A photo of a team performing at the ‘Raas Chaos’ event in D.C. in 2006 (photo courtesy of Shmpictures)

The Chuck de Raas team is an group of talented, cultured dancers that come together to commemorate Indian customs. Dandiya Raas in itself is highly enjoyable to participate in and to watch.

“Chuck de Raas as a school sponsored club not only shows that we take pride in our heritage.” Anjali adds. “It also shows many [of] CofC’s values [include] supporting pro-culture building in the many identities its campus holds.” The Raas team is definitely worth checking out, and is a lot of fun.

Practices/interest meetings are held at the F. Mitchell Johnson Physical Education Center (located on George Street) in Room 201 Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 pm.

For more info, contact Monica Patel at                                                                                    

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