When Janki Thakar was just three years old growing up in Gujarat, India, she would go to her local park to watch dancers practice their routines.
She would sit transfixed watching the dancers, hoping one day to be just like them. She remembers the sound of ghunghroos, the small bands of metallic balls tied to the feet of traditional Indian dancers that would make a jingling sound as they danced.
“I loved hearing that sound,” says Thakar, who along with twin sister Javni are third-year human biology students at U of T Scarborough and members of the South Asian Alliance (SAA) student group.
“I saw them dancing and thought it was so amazing – I imagined myself doing that.”
After moving to Canada both Janki and Janvi took traditional Indian dancing lessons, becoming adept at the Bharatanatyam, a traditional style that incorporates sophisticated footwork and hand gestures. They danced with their club throughout elementary and high school, often in competitions against other clubs.
Noticing a lack of clubs focused on South Asian arts at U of T Scarborough, the sisters recently teamed up with Anushree Patel, Rahul Gupta, Renata Indar and Tharmiya Thana to revive the SAA on campus. The group’s dancers are experts in traditional dancing, but they also add contemporary elements from Bollywood, western hip-hop and other styles.
In addition to competing in large intra-university dance competitions, they also have smaller groups that perform in shows that are more for fun, like Mosaic.
“Mosaic is really the only event where you get to see all these different styles and cultural performances all at once,” says Thakar.
Mosaic is an annual event bringing together song and dance routines from performers that showcase the incredible diversity represented on campus. Sponsored by the SCSU, this year’s event aimed to highlight the cultural aspect of the performances.
“Our campus is so diverse and it’s important for us to engage with these different groups,” says Nafisa Mohamed, SCSU’s VP of Campus Life.
It’s more of a celebration than a competition, inviting both experienced dance groups and first-time stage performers to perform on stage.
Jonathan Gardon and Megan Fernandez danced the bachata, which originated in the Dominican Republic but is now danced all around the world.
“When I started university I thought I had two left feet,” says Fernandez, a fourth-year mental health studies co-op student. After trying different classes at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC) she soon discovered an ability for salsa and bachata.
“What I love about dancing is that it’s like meditating – I can just be in the moment, forget about what I have going on in my life and just express myself,” she says.
Gardon wants students to know that Latin dancing is for everyone. His family is originally from the Philippines while Fernandez’s family comes from El Salvador and South Korea.
“I’m really passionate about dance, and it’s my way to de-stress,” says Gardon, who picked up Latin dancing in his first year and now teaches classes at TPASC.
Gardon has attended Mosaic in the past as a spectator, but this was the first time he performed on stage. His advice to students is to find a dance they’re passionate about, even if it’s a hobby because you never know where it can take you.
“Latin dancing isn’t as prominent on campus and we’d like to bring it alive. We want to show fellow students what we have to offer,” he says.
Vickie Kan is a second-year psychology and media studies student who has been dancing since she was three years old. She started dancing ballet, tap and contemporary before getting into hip-hop in high school.
As a member of Twelve65, a student group dedicated to promoting hip-hop dance culture at U of T Scarborough, Kan loves dancing because of the healthy lifestyle that comes with it.
“I have to eat healthy because if I don’t, I don’t feel like dancing,” she says.
In addition to the 20-member club that dances competitively, they also have a partner group called the Scarborough Urban Dance Collective that hosts free workshops for students without formal training.
“I mainly focus on hip-hop, so I haven’t really grown up doing other styles of dance or ones tied to my own culture,” she says.
“What’s so cool about Mosaic is seeing students from different cultures express themselves in one big show.”