Culture Jam: South Asian Alliance expresses identity through dance

The music is barely audible over the audience’s cheers. On stage, a group of 15 dancers clad in traditional South Asian garb gyrate and twirl about the stage. Lights reflect off their sparkling outfits, flashing the audience with hues of deep pink and gold.

The South Asian Alliance (SAA) along with the Tamil Students’ Association (TSA), have just closed Ryerson’s annual Culture Jam Showcase.

This is the third time the SAA has collaborated with the TSA for the showcase. The hybrid group has won first place each time, but this year, they were awarded “Most Overall Cohesiveness.”

Asian Alliance Dance (8 of 8)

Founded in 1999 by students from York University and the University of Toronto, the SAA is an established group amongst Toronto universities. The group came to Ryerson in the same year and has been preserving and promoting South Asian culture through different activities like dance.

Pamesha Pande has been president of SAA Ryerson for three years. She said joining the SAA was akin to a rite of passage in her family. She’s known about the group since she was 12, as her cousins and siblings have all been members.

“It was something where I knew that the moment I stepped into Ryerson, I had to try out for South Asian Alliance,” said the 21-year-old. “Probably the only thing that I was sure of at that point was that I had to do this.”

The SAA’s dance group is made up of choreographers from the Bollywood, classical, fusion, and bhangra genres. Pande herself is a classical choreographer, and she specializes in a form called bharatnatyam.

The third-year creative industries student described dance as a huge part of her identity. She finds it to be a form of expression and said she loves how she can tell a story with each movement.

“Dance is the way we express who we are and how we express our identities,” said Pande. “It’s important that we keep pushing those boundaries and incorporating dance into as many events as we can.”

Nikita Jariwala, also a dance coordinator at SAA Ryerson, has been dancing since she was five. She joined the group when she came to Ryerson because of her Indian background and the group’s fluidity when it comes to genres.

Asian Alliance Dance (6 of 8)

The 20-year-old said she was introduced to dance with Bollywood and hip-hop fusion before training classically when she was 12.

“It was completely contrasted to what I did in the first half of my dance life, but I’m really happy that South Asian Alliance is allowing me to bring those two things together,” said Jariwala, a third-year environment and urban sustainability student.

Jariwala said she’s glad she has the opportunity to represent her ethnicity at an event like Culture Jam. The showcase allows her to display both her cultural identity and her Ryerson one.

“Not everyone has that opportunity,” she said. “It feels good to be able to show other students what we do.”

On Feb. 20, the SAA will compete in the North American Culture Show, which is the biggest event they participate in. The show will take at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Images courtesy of Khristel Stecher