Indian dances to feature at Washington Wizards-Brooklyn Nets game at Verizon Center March 24

Studio Dhoom wins Excel India dance competition, will showcase Indian culture on national platform.<

The winning team, Studio Dhoom, will open the Washington Wizards game against Brooklyn Nets March 24 at the Verizon Center, with colorful and energetic Indian dances. Seen standing in the center, from left to right, are: Studio Dhoom founder and creative director Aanal Sheth; Chandni Navodita, creator of Bollywood Magic; and Jaclyn Baker, NBA dancer.

When Washington Wizards play the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, in an eagerly awaited NBA Eastern Conference game at the 20,000-plus capacity Verizon Center, students of a local Indian dance school will open the game with performances reflecting the rich, resplendent culture of India.

The artistes: Indian-origin students of Virginia-based Studio Dhoom; the audience: mainstream American; the purpose: to promote Indian heritage and culture in the US through dance.

Studio Dhoom, founded and directed by Aanal Sheth, an exceedingly talented choreographer and performer, was declared the winner of the Bollywood Magic dance competition presented by Excel India, March 3, at the spacious Verizon Center, home of the Wizards.  It will now be the game opener at the match on Friday.

Studio Dhoom dancers competed against those of two other stellar dance schools: Virginia-based Rhythmaya Dance, founded and directed by Nirathi Rao Kalavapudi and managed in partnership with Sheila Oak; and Arya Dance Academy — Maryland and Virginia locations.  All three teams performed vibrant, well-choreographed dances in Bhangra, Bollywood, hip hop, folk and fusion styles.

The event was the first of its kind in the nation’s capital and part of a larger celebration, Bollywood Magic and India Day, which also included a business networking opportunity and an Indian dance performance by Top Naach at the basketball game that night between the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors.  Excel India, an event management company that promotes Indian heritage and culture through mainstream platforms such as the NBA partnered with the Wizards to host the event.

Amish Parikh of Excel India noted, “Bollywood Magic allows us to take these awesome children, put them in an environment which allows them to showcase what they love, and what the care so much about, to the general American public.  That’s what we’re really about”, he said.  “We are about taking our Indian culture and bringing it out to a traditional American platform where our culture is going to be visible to tens of thousands of people in the stadium and then with our media partners, to millions around the US.  That’s what we really need to do and that’s the focus of Excel India – to bring awareness of Indian-Americans throughout America.”

Judges of the Bollywood Magic dance competition at the Verizon Center in Washington: Jaclyn Baker, NBA dancer (center); and Chandni Navodita, creator of Bollywood Magic. Seen in the background are students of Arya Dance Academy.

Chandni Navodita, the creator of Bollywood Magic, informed us that the competition was launched over two years ago in collaboration with Orlando Magic, the NBA team based in Florida, and is now being held nationwide in partnership with the major professional basketball league in America.

“The intent is to try and show our culture to people who don’t trace their roots to India,” she said.

Navodita was optimistic that Indian “culture will spread very quickly.  We have to educate the American community about who we are and what we do,” she emphasized.

At the Verizon Center, Navodita co-judged the competition with Jaclyn Baker, a member of the Wizard Girls squad which is the official dance team of the Washington Wizards.

Baker has been performing for the NBA team for two years now and gushed, “All of the dancers today were so amazing.  I started dancing when I was two or three years old,” she told the audience.  “Seeing all these young people out here makes me so happy.”

Students of Arya Dance Academy performing in the Bollywood Magic dance competition at the Verizon Center.

She works for the US Defense Department and encouraged the students “to continue to pursue their passion for dance.  I am a computer engineer with a full-time job, but I continue to pursue my passion for dancing”, she said.  “I love it so much”.  You don’t have to choose a career over dancing or vice versa; you can have both, she affirmed.

Baker said, “Every year we offer a dance clinic at which we teach the routine and the participants get to perform with us. We do that once a year and it’s usually in March or April.”

It is noteworthy that, among other dances, students and instructors of Rhythmaya performed an empowering piece dedicated to the Girl Rising movement with the intent, “We will bring change, one dance step at a time”!  Rhythmaya is one of the largest Kathak and Bollywood dance academies in the Washington metropolitan area with 300 students and 25 instructors in five convenient locations.

Students and instructors of Rhythmaya Dance at the Verizon Center. Third from left is Nirathi Rao Kalavapudi, founder and director of Rhythmaya, and standing in the center, fifth from right, is Sheila Oak Maggin, Managing Director of the school.

Dr. Amita Bhatt Vyas, a professor at the George Washington University and one of the most prominent and passionate leaders of the Girl Rising movement, explained, “Girl Rising is a global campaign that uses the power of storytelling to change the way we all think about and value girls.  Since its inception in 2013, Girl Rising has inspired millions of parents, teachers, leaders and young people around the world to take action for girls – to support programs and to continue to spread awareness for why a girl is the greatest investment opportunity in the world.”

An Indian dance performance dedicated to Girl Rising, a global movement for girls’ education, performed by artistes of the Rhythmaya Dance company. The piece was part of the Bollywood Magic dance competition held at the spacious Verizon Center in Washington, DC

Kalavapudi said “students and troupe members supported the girl rising campaign by showing that the power of the arts can create a cultural revolution and bring change to a world where we struggle for peace and equality.  Dance and music are not just lessons of technique, but are lessons on how to live a life of discipline, sincerity and grace,” she said.

Kalavapudi extolled Excel India for providing national exposure to the arts and pressing issues.  “Through these platforms at sports arenas, we are able to bring movements like Girl Rising to life and make people aware of how to get involved”, she said.

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