Senior hopes to influence community with enthusiasm for dance

October 31, 2022 — by Minsui Tang
On Sept. 23, senior Risha Desai and others performed the Bollywood dance during the senior Homecoming Quad Day.
Senior Risha Desai has been a passionate dancer for the past 14 years, and more people have come to share her love for the sport as she establishes her role as a dance leader in her community.

As senior Risha Desai walked with the rest of the dance team to their designated spot on the stage of USA Dance National Championship Open Division in March 2022, she sat down and held hands with the rest of her teammates, hoping to have placed in the competition for their lyrical category dance. When the announcer moved onto the top three dances, some had already let go, not expecting any wins. So when Saratoga Dance Team was announced as first place, Desai and the other dancers jumped around with eyes wide open, looking at each other with shock and screaming with joy.

This marks the fourth year of competitive dance for Desai in her overall dance journey as a member of the school dance team. Although she started dancing at age 3 at a Russian ballet school, she later quit because of the stressful environment she was put under. Since then, she had been dancing at The Jude T. School, a more laid back ballet school that also allows students to explore a variety of jazz, contemporary, hip-pop and tap dancing, which had been Desai’s favorite.

In seventh grade, Desai tried more cultural dances, although she had found it to be awkward since they did not complement well with the movements she was familiar with in traditional western dancing. However, her opinions changed after participating in the Indian Cultural Awareness Club’s Bombay in the Bay (BnB) performance as a freshman choreographer in 2020.

“I think that BnB was my first actual experience with Bollywood style dancing that I enjoyed,” Desai said. “I liked all the people in it and the costumes. The entire premise of BnB was that we [as students] made it together rather than just us learning and dancing.”

After joining the dance team in 2019, Desai has found that her responsibilities as a dancer have significantly increased — she had to quit dancing at her old dance studio in order to compromise for her time. After two years of being on the team, Desai has taken up the role of one of three captains. Her biggest challenge is getting serious responses she and other captains intended from other teammates when going over dances and correcting other dancers’ movements.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get respect from other team members because we’re all really close with them,” Desai said. “It’s like they see us more as friends rather than a leader.”

To resolve the issue, Desai and the other captains had to talk to the team members individually. While they try to maintain a friendly relationship and minimize harsh words with team members, Desai finds it difficult to stay on the same page with the rest of the team especially since they occasionally need to take on the role of the coach in his absence.

Namaad Jackson, the dance team’s new coach this year, took a week off this the beginning of September to visit his family, which affected the dance team’s ability to concentrate during practices. 

“A few people slack off sometimes, which I understand, since dance is supposed to be an extracurricular that’s meant to be fun,” Desai said. “But we still need to take it seriously and put in all the effort.”

Outside of the dance team, Desai has influenced others to enjoy dance the way she does. For the senior Quad Day performance, she was a choreographer for the All Boys Dance, Hip-Pop/Stunt and the Finale. Most participants had never danced before, adding to her challenges. 

“I think my dedication to dance makes other people happy and brings them together, and I especially enjoy connecting with others over my expertise,” Desai said. “Especially during All Boys Dance practices, so many of them looked super happy and loved the dance so much, which I thought was adorable and inspiring.”

In helping other team members improve, Desai has also grown as a dancer herself. In the process of her breaking down the techniques and giving advice, she found that her mind reinforced concepts to remind her of her own advice even when she was not aware while dancing. An advice she always gave her teammates — “fake it until you make it” — has stuck with her and helped her push through many stressful competitions and laborious practices. 

However, dancing has not always been easy for Desai. There were, and continue to be, times when she was tempted to quit dancing altogether due to the stress she and others put herself under. However, she said her teammates have served as major motivation for her to keep going and finish the dance season throughout high school. She tried to not let one bad day bring her down, sayingm, “Dance is supposed to be fun, and not something that adds unnecessary stress to her life.”

Desai doesn’t plan to join a college dance team in the future, but instead wants to keep dancing through a more relaxing way with less time commitment. 

“Dance has always been my extracurricular, and I wished someone would have reminded me in the past that it’s not my life,” Desai said. “If one thing goes bad, my life isn’t going to be ruined. I still work hard and take it as a serious activity, especially when I love seeing all the people smile and having fun during practices.”

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