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Diwali festival exposes youth to Indian dance, culture

Helping youths to learn Indian culture through dance during the Diwali festival, children gathered to perform classical Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Bhangra and Bollywood-style dances on Saturday, November 4, 2017 at JFK Middle School in Port Jefferson.  Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

A half-hour before showtime Saturday one member of a Bhangra dance group admitted he didn’t know anything about Indian dancing before he took part in a Diwali festival.

“I had no exposure to it, so doing this was really great for me,” said Varun Jindal, 16, of East Setauket, performing for the fifth year at the Diwali Stony Brook festival. “I was able to learn a little more about the culture.”

Festival organizers said they hoped to foster connections to Indian culture in youths who took part in the event at JFK Middle School in Port Jefferson. Children performed classical Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Bhangra and Bollywood-style dance Saturday.

This year, more than 400 people were expected at the 10th annual festival, according to organizer Harbinder Singh.

Scores of children from Suffolk and Nassau counties came together at the festival to broaden their understanding of Indian culture, Singh said.

“It’s a means for kids to dress up and feel something about the culture,” Singh said. His daughter Anjuli Singh, 17, of Stony Brook, was among the performers.

The festival started in the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University, according to Singh, but over the years moved to larger venues to accommodate the growing crowds.

Sanjiv Mehra, 56, of Miller Place and his daughter Moksha Mehra, 17, who was performing a Kathak routine, said they made many friends during the 10 years Moksha has performed at the festival.

“She not only learns, but she teaches the new kids at our house so they become encouraged to dance,” Sanjiv Mehra said.

He had become friends with many people from South India through the festival, he said. “It’s a great connection, not only for Indian people, but Americans who come to watch the show.”

Most of the children who performed prepared their dance routines months in advance.

Haasi Korlipara, 16, who has performed at the festival since she was 7, called it a “great, great experience.”

“It’s building friendships not only between the kids, but between the parents as well,” Singh said.

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