Dance Team Gains National Recognition

Photo: Ishaara, a UC Berkeley Bollywood dance team, beat out more than 70 other teams to appear on the hit show America's Got Talent.
Lara Brucker/Staff
Ishaara, a UC Berkeley Bollywood dance team, beat out more than 70 other teams to appear on the hit show America's Got Talent.

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Student Dance Group Featured On Television

UC Berkeley Bollywood dance group Ishaara appeared on the latest season of America's Got Talent.

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Recent national exposure has the members of UC Berkeley Bollywood dance team Ishaara planning for a future beyond graduation.

Despite falling short in making the next round on NBC's hit show America's Got Talent last week, members of Ishaara said performing before a national audience would aid their efforts to make Bollywood dancing a more mainstream element in American culture.

The group was founded two years ago by UC Berkeley students Shahil Patel and Sian Bentson, who both graduated last May. Out of the 20 current and former UC Berkeley student members, 10 were given the chance to perform on the show when the group was first featured last month.

After several months of dance practice leading up to their debut on the show, the group beat out more than 70 other Bollywood dance teams to become the sole representative of the style on the show in July, said Patel, a double major in economics and psychology.

Though relatively unknown to their peers on campus, Ishaara has won first place in many local competitions from Bollywood Berkeley to competitions across the country like Phillyfest, a major South Asian dance festival in Philadelphia, Pa.

By the time their audition tape was viewed by the show's casting directors, the group had already made a name for itself within the South Asian community nationwide, said Nickesh Viswanathan, a Ishaara member who performed on the show.

"We feel pretty unknown on campus and that's partially our fault," he said. "But in the South Asian community we're pretty well known."

Ornate and colorful costumes, playful gestures and an ability to engage the audience caught the notice of the show's judges, including former newspaper editor Piers Morgan who described their performance as "unbelievably exciting to watch, original and fresh."

Patel and Bentson said that the experience and support they received while filming for the show was rewarding.

"It's nice to be recognized for what we did because we put a lot of effort into it," Patel said. "It's exciting for us to see that the school and people affiliated with the school are supporting us. We did our best to represent Berkeley on the show."

Bentson, who graduated with an environmental science degree, said that she studied tap dancing for ten years before trying Bollywood dance. In contrast, Patel had little interest in dancing before coming to UC Berkeley.

"I never liked dancing growing up, I was anti-dance," Patel said. "But when I came to UC Berkeley, I thought to try something different and it has the competitive drive and a lot of skills and footwork."

They said the experience would aid them in fulfilling the group's long-term ambitions.

"America's Got Talent was a good avenue for (Ishaara) because it's a variety show," Patel said. "It's not limited to one dance style or any style of talent. It provided the best avenue for us to showcase Bollywood dance."

Bentson added that since their first television appearance in July, changes have been made in future plans.

"We're hoping to take our team to a more professional level," she said. "That would be my ideal profession right now. I am hoping this can open a lot of doors for us. I don't really see myself having a normal, mindless job."


Contact Kelly Strickland at [email protected]

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