Welcome. We are students in Communications 218, a journalism class at Lehman College. Our classroom is in Room 122. This course is part of the Summer Arts Festival of College Now, a program designed to help high school students earn college credits. Every day, we report and write articles about our program, the school and the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ruby Nagra- ‘FIYA’ Dancer


By: Prabjot Kaur

“A lot of people underestimated us,” said Ruby Nagra, sitting back in her car and staring ahead. “They were like, ‘Oh you can’t do it.’ That just drove us even more and that’s how FIYA came to be.”

Nagra is an upcoming junior at Baruch College who has decided to add more spice to her life by becoming co-captain to the Asian dance group, ‘Baruch FIYA.’ The name started off as a joke when someone said that their group was like ‘fire,’ and they stuck with name, but with a little twist.

Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., Nagra grew up in a Punjabi family, and her dances reflect her Indian roots. While attending Baruch, Nagra went to various dance competitions with her friends, and thrived on the energy. One night, while watching yet another performance, she and her friends decided: “We can do that too!” Putting their heads together, her captain and fellow junior at Baruch, Ruthba Tabassum, came up with the concept of an all-girl, 12-member team, which was an unusual idea. With each member contributing to the group, the team’s own ‘fire’ was created.

“I always wanted to join a dance team,” said Nagra. “And when you see success stories, like these people, can do it, you want to do it too.” Nagra’s presence in the group, however, was not only fueled by her desire to dance. It also became a means by which she could shed the stress of college, embrace her rich cultural heritage, and meet different people.

“It just gets your mind off everything when you’re in the moment,” said Nagra, referring to the stage. “To go in front of hundreds of people, and dance, and have the spotlight, and contribute all you have into it. It’s an incredible feeling.” Nagra’s captain, Tabassum, agrees. “I always wanted to get away and to keep my mind off everything,” she said. “It was perfect.”

Nagra, a tall and slender brunette, entered Baruch in 2005 as a marketing major, but after experiencing the field first hand, she decided it wasn’t for her. Her interests turned to finance, and she plans on pursuing a career in investment banking after graduation. Along with academics, Nagra works as a cashier at Rite-Aid in order to help with the bills and school expenses. Considering her hectic schedule, finding time to rehearse and practice is a feat in itself, but she enjoys the challenge. “It’s so fun!” she said.

The dance team first began to make its mark this year and is gaining popularity amongst the CUNY students. The dances range from classical Indian steps to bhangra, a traditional Punjabi art, to moves inspired by Bollywood film songs, and are held at places like Lincoln Center and Hindu Community Centers, which have large auditoriums. The groups plan out the competition themselves, and get sponsors to help them carry out the presentations. The members of ‘FIYA’ all contribute to the choreography, with Nagra and Tabassum in charge of arranging rehearsals, practices, and planning performances. Half of the girls are novices, while the other half is experienced. “It was a real mess the first time we did it,” Nagra said. “But we’ve learned from our mistakes and we’ve moved on.” The group has entered a few competitions, done performances, and has even headlined at weddings, mostly for practice.

“Competitions are nerve-wracking,” Nagra said. “But it’s inspiring to see other dance teams. To see how they’re different from us. You just learn from each other.” From going to countless competitions, and competing as well, Nagra has experienced the dos and don’ts of performing on stage, and feels that the team has grown from them.

Being in a dance group that’s focused on Indian culture has led Nagra to get a better understanding of her heritage. Nagra went to Queens Vocational High School., where the student population is predominantly Hispanic. She really wasn’t in touch with her Indian roots. Except for her family, Nagra didn’t have a lot of contact with other Indians in her age group, increasing her alienation from her culture. “I was never into the Indian thing in high school,” she said, smiling. “But getting into dance, you learn from each other. I was such confused Desi,”- young South Asian-“But nnow I’ve embraced t.”

Others around campus also take pleasure in Indian cultural dancing. “I enjoy watching Indian dancing,” said Navjot Kaur, a senior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “On TV, all you see all day is American dancing on music videos. It’s nice to see your culture. I mean, you can’t go to your country, but when you see these shows, you get a little taste of India.”

Baruch College welcomes cultural diffusion by sponsoring clubs that emphasize the importance of different cultures. Such clubs include the Asian Cultural Exchange. Another big one is Club India. The people who run the club are part of successful dance teams, one which is ranked third in all intercollegiate Indian dance competitions in the U.S.

Nagra feels that dance has allowed her to meet a lot of different people whom she normally wouldn’t get a chance to talk to because of the vast swirl of students in the CUNY network. “My team is so diverse, it’s not even funny,” she said, laughing. “You get to meet so many people and really get a great social life. You meet people in different majors and you get connections to everything.” Her team ranges from sophomores to seniors, all from different parts of the school, with different aspirations for the future.

“In college it’s hard to find people of your own nationality,” said Kaur. “It’s hard to meet people in general, but these groups help a lot.” She saw ‘FIYA’ perform at a Hindu Temple in May, and said she loved the way the girls brought new energy to the competition and the way they synchronized their steps so well.

Although Baruch encourages cultural diversity, it does not offer financial support the teams need to perform at various competitions. With so many groups at Baruch, it would be impossible and financially draining to support them all. Nagra and her team fund raise on their own in order to attend competitions. “It’s all about marketing,” she said. “The more you promote, the more people will show up.” Facebook has also been a great help in promoting ‘FIYA,’ reaching the maximum amount of audience in the minimum amount of time.

Her family is very supportive of her dancing. “Like 50 members of my family filled the seats at the first competition,” she joked. Bakshish Nagra, her mother, is especially pleased by Nagra’s accomplishments. “She dances beautifully and I’m full of pride,” she said.

At the moment, Nagra is preparing for her next competition, which will take place on September 8th at the Fashion Institute of Technology. As excited as she is, she can’t help but feel nervous. Her group is going to be belly dancing and ribbon dancing for the first time, and now they are practicing as hard as ever. “The more your team progresses, the more you want a challenge,” she said. “You always want to step it up a notch. You know, you get on stage, you have a whole bunch of people cheering for you, and you’ve worked so hard at something. You just want to present it.”

With so much energy going into the art form, could dance become Nagra’s career aspiration? “I’d rather more focus on my education,” she said. Even though it’s just for fun, she feels that it’s helped in academics as well. Learning new moves and memorizing steps helps to enhance a person’s memory, and in the long run, helps her with exams too, she said.

“When I started dancing, it was something different to do,” said Nagra. “And life just got a little more exciting. Anything you like or passionate about, take it up, ‘cause life gets interesting.”

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