SAAN: An original display of cultural identity

Venturing into community beyond diversity week


Photo by Rishi Verma '23

DANCE, DANCE From left to right, Sasha Doshi ‘26, Mira Jayaraman ‘26, Parini Rao ‘24, Mina Dewar ‘26, Chakor Rajendra ‘23, and Manya Tijoriwala ‘26 prefrom for the upper school. “It was a lot of fun, and we definitely made some mistakes and it wasn’t perfect but it was great to share some of our identity with our peers and I’m excited for opportunities to come,” said Rajendra.

Rishi Verma '23, School Staff

“I was curious when they got up on the stage fully dressed, and then when they started dancing it all made sense,” said Orrin Batts ‘23. “I really enjoyed it though and it was cool and different.” Among the 9 affinity groups at Greenhills is SAAN (South Asian Awareness Network), which took a more unique and creative way of sharing their culture.

Most groups went up and shared a slideshow or a skit, but SAAN performed a choreographed dance that took months of preparation.

“In past years, I don’t feel the leaders of SAAN, and other affinity groups for that matter, have gone out to really share their culture or identity with others outside their group,” said SAAN leader Chakor Rajendra ‘23. “I’m not saying they don’t do anything, I feel as a SAAN member in the past it felt more about the members sharing in their culture and identity[with each other] but not much about sharing it with those who don’t associate being South Asian with their identity. It felt more like just attending a meeting and then waiting for the next one. “We didn’t do anything extra.”

Members of SAAN also felt like they are doing more this year.

“I was a member last year and we met a few times and though it was nice to have that shared community, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was learning more about my culture and growing as a person because of it,” said member Riya Narayan ‘23. “It was a lot of work this year but I felt more connected to who I was and the sense of accomplishment after seeing it all come together was great.”

Some minds may jump to the conclusion that a dance isn’t the best way to share aspects of one’s culture or identity with those who are on the outside, however there was a lot of thought behind the dance and how people would take it.

“Though it may look like a dance from a Bollywood movie, it is actually rich in history and is even based on a traditional cultural dance known as Bharatanatyam,” said Rajendra.

Bharatanatyam originated in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India and is believed to have been developed over 2,000 years ago. It was initially performed as a temple dance, with dancers using intricate hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to tell stories from Hindu mythology.

“Though our dance doesn’t take all aspects of Bharatanatyam, such as a prayer before and wasn’t necessarily themed to depict any certain South Asian mythology, it still followed the use of intricate hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to tell stories,” said member Rayhan Bhalwani ‘24. “For our dance we choose all songs made by those who share in our identity and had the stories the dance portrayed be based off of the song lyrics.”

There were more reasons for SAAN doing a dance apart from culture and doing something different.

We wanted to make it easier and more entertaining for those who we were sharing our culture with to understand it,” said Bhalwani.

SAAN also hopes to branch out from the Greenhills community. SAAN club sponsor Reeti Katoch-Rouse is also a volunteer for the nonprofit organization Asha for Education.

“I’m hoping sometime in November when the Detroit chapter of Asha for Education has one of its two yearly events that Greenhills SAAN would be able to share something similar to what they did during diversity symposium week,” said Katoch-Rouse.

The members of SAAN also welcome branching out and sharing their identity with those outside of the Greenhills community.

“Though the Asha for Education event is in November, I’m still really looking forward to it,” said SAAN member Kabir Rajendra ‘25. “Some of us are even trying to find other opportunities for us to perform as a group outside of Greenhills.”

The SAAN group is trying to bring their small community together by hosting more events and doing activities out of school. 

“We are trying to do more activities outside of school, like hosting movies at people’s houses or supporting Indian businesses,” said Chakor. “SAAN is trying to do things more outside of school, instead of just being a meeting every week in a class, we are trying to do things outside of school that will bond our class.”