Brains, beauty, or Bollywood dance skills — one would think you could only pick one, maybe two if you are lucky. However, UCSD’s nationally recognized dance team, ZOR, proves you can have all three.
Since their on-campus establishment in 2009, they have been taking Bollywood dance competitions by storm through their innovative choreography, precise dance moves, and strong team chemistry. Though their competition season has not yet begun, they have been performing at different gigs throughout the year and perfecting their routine.
Despite having loads of schoolwork and being involved in other organizations on campus, ZOR members practice every day of the week, four hours each day. By attending one of these practices myself, it is apparent that the whole team is in tip-top shape. After an hour of warm-ups, stretching, and singing along to the music, they begin practicing their routine. Set like an actual Bollywood film, this routine consists of both dialogue and dancing. The storyline and characters are introduced, followed by the actual dance routine. Their music is a mash-up of multiple songs — with stylings ranging from Bollywood to Justin Bieber music — while their choreography combines swift, contemporary dancing with sharp hip-hop moves.
ZOR is made up of 21 members, with 4 captains: Teji Dulai, Saleena Khamamkar, Rishi Modi, and Vamshi Muvvala — each of them having their own unique backgrounds in Bollywood dancing. I sat down for an interview with the four of them to further discuss their individual responsibilities, competition season, and inspiration behind dancing.
Ana: With all of you being captains, I know this entails a lot of time and work. What responsibility does being a captain entail?
Saleena: So actually, we have it split up by responsibility. Because in our performances, we are basically in charge of the choreography, the music, the costumes, the lighting, the props, all of that — we split it up between all of us. I am choreography captain, so I do the dancing.
Vamshi: I’m the production captain, so all the lights and props.
Teji: And, we [Rishi and I] are the team managers, so we handle everything behind the scenes — finances, transportation, and all the planning.
Ana: Can you tell me a little about how you participate in these competitions?
Rishi: So, we go to about four competitions a year generally across the nation. We apply to them in the fall and see where we get in. From there, we choose, and if we win certain competitions then we get an invite to the national competition, which is Bollywood America. If we don’t win first place, we still garner points based on what placings we get and if those points meet a certain ratio, then we’ll still get an invite. So, that’s what we are hoping for this year.
Ana: Well, good luck! Are all of these competitions against other college campuses?
Rishi: Yes, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Northwestern, UCI…
Ana: And do you have any close relationships or rivalries with any of them?
Saleena: Yeah, we have friends around the country actually because of these circuits. We’re close to some teams just because a lot of the California teams go to similar competitions, and a lot of the East Coast teams go to similar competitions too, naturally, you’re closer to the ones in your region. We see people at USC and UCLA a lot… Irvine and Berkeley, too. We’re all really friendly and help each other out. I feel like we don’t really have any specific rivals.
Rishi: Yeah, at the end of the day, everyone is just excited to meet each other.
Ana: What are your favorite parts about competitions?
Saleena: My favorite is the competition weekend in general. There is no feeling that you can really describe when you are on stage with your team, which is like our family. There is no way to describe it. It’s so much fun, and also meeting everyone from around the country. You get to see your friends and cheer them on. It’s just the whole experience in general.
Vamshi: For me, it’s all of comp weekend as well. It is what adds up everything. We all work for this one day, and we’re dancing on stage, meeting other people. It’s a good weekend.
Teji: So basically, they summed it up. Comps are always on Saturdays, so we go on Fridays or Thursdays depending on where it is. We have a mixer on Friday night, where we just meet the other teams and get to know each other. Saturday is the competition, and Saturday night is the after-party.
Ana: Do you guys choreograph all your dances yourselves?
Saleena: Yes, we may have help from past people who were on the team. But yes, we come up with everything ourselves.
Ana: Where do you get your inspiration? Is it difficult?
Saleena: Good question. (laughs) No, I’m just kidding. Well, you listen to the song and whatever you think you see, I guess you just put into dance. But it is, it is very creative. Similar to writer’s block, I get choreographer’s block where I just don’t know what to do. But, it hits me all of a sudden and it works.
Ana: Alright, so apart from being such a talented group of people, I know that you are a very tight-knit group of people. How would you describe the social aspect of ZOR?
Rishi: Well, for me, I loved it because when I joined I was a freshman and I got to meet people who were juniors and seniors. Just having them help me with what classes to take or just advice in general, it’s awesome we have that bond with people who are up to four years older than us.
Saleena: I would say it’s like an extended family, kind of. It’s just a bunch of people who you know will be there for you, who practice with you for four hours a day, and then you all go to Geisel together to study. We are all obviously studious so we feel a struggle with ourselves trying to balance school and everything. We all empathize with each other.
Ana: Now, are there any ways to find out about your performances?
Rishi: We have a website actually — ucsdzor.com. We remade it this year so it’s nice and new. We also keep our Facebook page fairly updated. If anyone wants to contact us, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teji: We also do gigs. So if people want to book us for, say, weddings or parties, we do that as well. Also, if specific colleges want to contact us for their cultural nights.
Ana: Oh, very cool. Well I’ll be looking forward to watching you guys perform. Thank you for this interview!