SLU Omkara Dance Team Reaches Goal Eight Years in the Making
As final exams concluded and Saint Louis University students scattered to the corners of the country for the holidays, SLU’s Omkara dance team was still hard at work.
The group met frequently throughout the break, finalizing choreography, configuring sound and lighting and tightening their eight-minute routine. When classes resumed after the break, the group’s anticipation ramped up even more.
Finally, the day arrived, and SLU Omkara was able to take the stage in San Diego, competing in the group’s first-ever collegiate competition, a culmination of a vision set out years ago.
“The opportunity to compete for the first time was such an achievement for our team,” said Kavya Harish, one of SLU Omkara’s captains. “There was so much work that was put into getting our team to this point, and to say we were able to compete as a group and put together the best possible routine is such a great feeling.”
SLU Omkara is a student organization dedicated to the performance of classical Indian dances. Founded eight years ago, this year’s group has 13 women, all of whom have trained for years in various styles of Indian classical dancing, such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Kathak. In years past, the group has performed on SLU’s campus and throughout the St. Louis region but has always had their sights on competing on the collegiate circuit.
While January was the first time SLU Omkara was able to compete, the groundwork for getting there took place much earlier. Harish credits last year’s seniors with much of the foundation for this trip, compiling applications, budgeting and getting all of the administration information ready to go. When they graduated, Harish took over along with co-captains Jessica Michael and Saachi Kumar, ready to get everything over the finish line.
Finally, during the fall semester, SLU Omkara learned they were heading to San Diego for the Swara Bid competition. This competition was the first in the Origins Championships this season, and the first-ever for the team.
Every dance tells a story, and SLU Omkara’s “Nameless Grave” told the story of Begum Hazrat Mahal, the Queen of Awadh and a Kathak dancer who helped lead the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British East India Company. Their routine focuses on a young girl who travels back in time to see first-hand the story of Begum Hazrat Mahal leading the farmers in arms against their oppressors and their eventual victory. Seeing this historic moment and feeling a great sense of responsibility, the girl returns to the present day to continue her legacy and share Begum’s story with the rest of the world. SLU Omkara chose this performance because it was both educational and inspirational, and consisted of many themes the group wanted their story to tell.
“The whole routine is a love story to the arts,” Michael said. “Saachi was the one who brought the idea to the group, and we all loved it. Many of us hadn’t heard of her story before either. From the beginning, it was an important and educational message to share, and many on the team had never even heard of Begum Hazrat Mahal. Through researching her life and creating the choreography, we all got to learn her story and share it with the audience, just like the girl in our routine.”
While the group did not place at the Swara Bid competition, SLU Omkara was proud of their first competitive dance. They also received great feedback from the judges, including the fact they were the only team to incorporate Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancing in their routine. And truly, placing wasn’t the goal, but rather hitting a benchmark for SLU Omkara and coming together as a dance team.
“At first, we were apprehensive to combine both dances into our routine,” Michael said. “We didn’t want to mess up either form, but it was really encouraging to hear the judges were impressed by it and we were able to execute them both properly.”
“We all had this attitude of ‘no regrets,” Kumar added. “We wanted to perform well, but it wasn’t about the results. We were proud of how much energy and work we put into our routine and that energy carried us throughout the competition.”
Next up for SLU Omkara is the Navarasa Bid competition in Raleigh, North Carolina, where they hope to once again have a strong performance and hopefully bring home the team’s first recognition.
“North Carolina is another chance for us to continue our journey and get better in competitions,” Harish said. “Now that we’ve been to one competition, the next one will hopefully be that much easier. We know what to expect and we know that we can perform well, and now we can focus on fine-tuning things and just getting better. Our goal is ultimately to hold a trophy in our hands and be able to say we brought SLU Omkara to a national level, and hopefully, that’s not too far in the future.”