Maryland Manzar, a South Asian fusion dance team on campus that formed in the fall, entered its first ever competition with little to no expectations. With little funding, experience and props, the team felt like the underdog.

But by surprising the judges with a performance like no other, Maryland Manzar came out on top at Bloomington Ki Badtameezi, a Bollywood dance competition held at Indiana University on Feb. 3. The team won Best Male Lead, Best Theme and walked away with the first place trophy. 

“We were able to prove our point with the fact that sometimes you just can’t overlook the underdogs,” Mihika Panicker, captain and founder of Maryland Manzar said.

Maryland Manzar has both a competitive dance team and an exhibition team that performs at on-campus events. Dancers, such as Bhavika Buddi, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, were drawn to this new team due to its inclusivity and welcoming aura.“It’s just so nice to find kind of a community here at UMD because it’s just a big school,” Buddi said. “There’s so many people that are out of state or they’re super far away from their families. So it’s just really cool to have that community here.”

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The team was initially waitlisted to Bloomington Ki Badtameezi before receiving contact over winter break that a spot had opened up, Panicker said. Soon, the team moved from the waitlist to being the winners of the entire competition. 

With a theme inspired by the 2012 film “Life of Pi,” Maryland Manzar’s approach revolved around the value of storytelling.

For one of Manzar’s choreographers, sophomore communication and dance major Julianne Garnett, two things differentiated their performance from the others — production value and style.

“Our set, it’s more emotional. We end with my slow, lyrical piece,” Garnett said. “We want to make [the audience] cry.”

This goal was met. Audience members went up to the performers to express how the performance affected them, and some even cried, according to Panicker.

“It’s for your audience to feel that impact that you’re trying to put out there,” Panicker said. “As a performer and as an artist that’s all you could ever wish for.”  

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Shaunak Roy, a sophomore computer engineering major who has been dancing for more than 15 years, played the role of Pi and received the award for Best Male Lead. To take on such an important role, Roy said he tried to “find the synergy in the chaos.”

Roy said Maryland Manzar getting such recognition and praise feels like a huge weight off their chest. The underdogs secured their first win by slowing things down to tell a meaningful and memorable story.

“People are actually enjoying our performances,” Roy said. “It’s definitely not wrong to do something, to try out something and experiment like unconventional stuff. And we’re probably going to take that forward into our future seasons as well.”