This weekend, the traditionally bland halls of Knox exploded with life. There were paper yellow brick roads, authentic costumes, scattered sneakers, laughter, and ethnic bodies frolicking around effortlessly. But through it all, there was one constant theme: Indian culture.
The Indian Student Association (ISA) and UB Zeal are two different groups that have formed a partnership. Their alliance was fully on display this past weekend at the International Fiesta. ISA is the on-campus embodiment of Indian culture, and UB Zeal is the dance team – working on becoming an official club – that works with numerous international Student Associations. Though not technically linked together, the affiliates have mutual love for two things: Indian culture and a good time.
UB Zeal co-founder Crista Mathew, a senior psychology major, chose the club's title for a reason.
"We're all very passionate about dancing," Matthew said. "Zeal came about because zeal is another word for passion and we just thought that was fitting."
Passion oscillated through the crowd as the seven female members expressed their versatile moves on the Fiesta stage. Though not competing, the team practiced ardently every night last week while balancing schoolwork and everyday life. The amount of time spent together formed a team of individuals into a close-knit family with a sisterly bond.
"Dancing is an outlet, but it is also like a family, so when we have a team event it's like a family event," said Vrinda Tarneja, a freshman biological sciences major.
This family ‘zeal' is exactly what ISA shoots for. The current president, Mira Pandya, started with ISA after joining UB Zeal, and established connections with other ISA members.
"I went to the [UB Zeal] events and really liked it…and I always wanted to be a part of an Indian SA when I came to college," Pandya said.
With the new duties of being president, one of the top priorities at hand is to add new members and grow as a club.
"We want more members to come to our events," Pandya said. "It's something to come to, they're great, and there are dances. If you don't like it, it's OK, you gave it a shot. What we don't want is for people to not come because they're too shy, because that's how our non-Indian members started and they've stuck around for the last year and a half, so give it a shot."
Several non-Indian students, including members Alexa O'Brien and Lindsay Cunliffe, both sophomore psychology majors, have taken this shot. They exemplify the ISA mission statement: "to bridge the gap between Indian and non-Indian students on campus and in the Buffalo community."
Though the two hesitated at first, the ISA members made the girls feel at ease.
"We came from a predominantly white high school and we knew nothing about the culture," Cunliffe said. "At first I was kind of like: ‘I don't know what I'm doing'…but I'm so glad I did it, I really warmed up to it."
Taking duties a step further, Cunliffe decided to give back. She fills the role of community service chair on the ISA e-board. Pandya said some of the board's most loyal members are not Indian.
Members are allowed to be a part of both ISA and UB Zeal. Henna Khanijou, a sophomore psychology major, was a choreographer of Bollywood (ISA's own dance team), and is also the co-captain of UB Zeal. UB Zeal is the more competitive team, holding tryouts, while Bollywood does not.
"We've gotten to the point where a lot of people know who we are on this campus, but we really want to expand that a little bit more," Khanijou said. "We're on Twitter, we're on Facebook."
ISA achieved third place this past Saturday with its Bollywood performance in the Fiesta, and the number of members continually grows. There are 42 now – a number that has doubled since last year.
The ISA is hosting a Hindi Movie Night at the end of March, and UB Zeal will be taking its passion for dance to the University of Rochester on March 31 for a live performance.
As ISA and UB Zeal continue to grow, so does Indian culture at UB.