When Elon University junior Shriya Baru joined Surtal, she hoped to meet new people and explore her Indian culture. Surtal helped Shriya establish connections with others who share similar beliefs.
Surtal is Elon’s first Bollywood-fusion dance club and began in the fall of 2021. The club gives members the opportunity to learn about various Indian dance festivals. Members have performed at the Festival of Lights and Luminaries, the Festival of Colors and World Dance Day.
“Surtal gave me something which is very important, such as confidence and belief,” Baru said. "I had zero confidence that I was going to be able to pull this off because that is something I never did in my life. Being on the executive board this year also helped my communication skills as well. The best part is it gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of belief and it helped me in a lot of different ways.”
Before joining, Baru said, she was shy, reserved and curious and felt like she needed a push out of her comfort zone. For Baru, Surtal was an opportunity to express her individuality and discover new friendships through dance. She worked with other members to learn unique and beautiful dances that would bring diversity to Elon.
“I personally connected with many interesting people who have graduated recently,” Baru said. “Elon doesn't have a lot of Indian students or a lot of Indian community. That never really affected me, … but finding a few people who do have similar values and similar beliefs or opinions like me felt really good. And the best part is all of them were extremely nice and we became really good friends in a short period of time.”
Baru’s favorite memories made in Surtal involved the traditional Diwali celebration.
This festival celebrated Indian culture and brought diversity to Elon. Baru said she indulged herself fully into the Diwali spirit by performing a dance with Surtal at the festival. This celebration symbolizes light over darkness and humans’ ability to overcome any obstacles.
Baru said the club’s Diwali 2021 performance was her most memorable moment.
“That was my first ever dance performance in my life. … We practiced a lot, and all of us did well,” Baru said.. “It was during COVID-19 with a mass panic, but still we were able to pull off an amazing performance with confidence. That was the best moment for me.”
Baru said the former president of Surtal, sophomore Alena Jain, wanted to bring diversity to Elon through Indian culture. Sophomore Rece Raju will be the president this spring semester and hopes to continue the tradition with new members.
Raju said she believes the club can bring an international connection to the Indian students at Elon to remind these students that Elon accepts their culture. She said she wants to recruit new members who are willing to learn about their culture and create new connections like Baru.
“I think it brings diversity,” Raju said. “It's something that you don't really have here. To experience an international version of dance — it’s amazing. We also collaborate with other groups in the spring show. We did a Bollywood Fusion piece which mixed aspects of western and Bollywood culture.
Raju, who grew up in Mississippi and is half Indian and half white, said Surtal has transformed her values and beliefs about Indian culture. She said she got the chance to connect with her roots and explore another world, which left a significant impact on her future as an Indian at Elon.
“There isn't that much diversity and then not many Indians there. and so getting to Elon and joining Surtal helped me connect with a part of my culture I didn't even realize I could connect,” Raju said.