By Annika Champe, From USA, Hosted in Gandhinagar

“I have been playing Garba every night for Navratri. I’ve found it to be not only an incredible cultural experience unlike anything I have ever done before, but also an eye-opening view into the open-hearted community that is India. I have been dancing since I was four years old. I dance mainly Ballet, but I also practice other styles like Contemporary and Jazz. Dance has always been my passion and inspiration, however as long as I have known it, it has always been a discipline to me. To me dancing has always been focused on the outward appearance and the beauty of movement to an audience. Ballet is undoubtedly the most strict about appearance. The entire focus of the dance is to match others perfectly and perform to the audience. The other styles I practice do put some weight on the feeling of movement, but the main focus is still the outward appearance and the performance. Here, for the first time, I saw and experienced dance in a completely different light.

Garba is unlike any other style of dance I’ve practiced before because it’s not about the look. Playing Garba is about everyone of every age and walk of life moving together. It is not about performing and looking good for anyone. Instead, everyone is dancing purely for themselves and the feeling of dancing together with friends and strangers alike. No one gave a thought to whether or not their dancing was technically correct or not, it was simply about dancing and relishing in the freedom of it. It was amazing for me to see how people I had never met would take me into their circles and dance with me as if I was as close as family. Realizing this familiarity that I saw in Navratri led me to notice it everywhere in my daily life. Not only during Navratri, but every day as well, Indians treat everyone like family. Every person I have met has welcomed me with open arms and hearts into this country and community. Everyone goes out of their own way to treat others with kindness and acceptance. I’ve noticed this in the way that my classmates always offer to share their food, the way that everyone calls each other Bhai and Ben, and how everyone is eager to talk with me and ask me how I find India. Everyone here is family to one another, and that is what makes playing Garba so unique.”