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6B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, March 17, 2005
INDflN CIASSICAL NUSICiND DANCE
By Christine Beamer * Daily Arts Writer
he musicians sit cross-legged in
a circle, keeping the beat on their
legs as a singer recites foreign
words to the tune of a drone and
two small drums. If you close your eyes, it
no longer feels like you are in Ann Arbor
but instead in the heart of India thousands
of years ago. In reality it is just another
rehearsal of the University's Indian Clas-
sical Music and Dance group.
According to Ashish Deshpande, an
Engineering graduate student and leader
of the group, ICMD branched out from
the Indian Student Association in 2003.
A few musicians had played popular
Indian music for several years for the
ISA, but as Deshpande said, "We found
there was an interest in classical Indian
music and dance as well."
The music and dances were origi-
nally religious compositions designed
to be performed at temples and tell the
stories of religious figures or events.
Now, as group member Arun Rajageo-
palan said, it is "a way to experience
your roots again." The atmosphere in
the 25 to 30-person organization is
informal; there is no sense of perfor-
mance but rather a warm camaraderie
that emanates from the group.
Performers of classical Indian music
are formally trained, just as classical
Western musicians are. That, however, is
where the similarities end, for the music
and instruments are vastly different from
a New York Philharmonic concert. Indi-
an music has "a lot more improvisation
than Western music," said group mem-
ber Prashanth Gururaja, an Engineering
junior. "It's nothing like anything else."
According to the ICMD website, any
piece of classical Indian music is struc-
tured around a melody, called a raga,
and a rhythm, called a taal. The ragas,
which may be up to 3,000 years old, are
usually only about a minute long, and
the music truly begins when the artist
begins to improvise on the raga, still
keeping its structure but adding their
own interpretations. "You have a small
set of rules," Deshpande explained, "and
great artists can perform the same raga
for 45 minutes."
When Indian students are trained in
classical music, their teachers have them
memorize the minute-long ragas, which
are not learned from sheet music. In fact,
Deshpande said, "the teachers all teach
them a little differently." Musicians then
get together and play from this common
learned "list" of ragas.
To make it more complicated, there are
two distinct types of classical Indian music,
North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indi-
an (Carnatic). The two types are sung in
different languages, and, in addition, the
instruments, the structure and the mood
of the styles are all different. According
to Deshpande, most Hindustani groups
use one vocalist, and four or five instru-
mentalists to play the tabla, sitar, tambura,
harmonium and occasionally a bamboo
flute. The tabla is a percussion instrument
similar to the bongos, a sitar is similar to a
lute, a tambura is an instrument that plays
a drone and the harmonium looks like a
box with keys and a bellow similar to an
accordion. In contrast, Carnatic groups
use a vocalist, a violinist, a mridangum (a
double-sided drum) and a ghatum (a clay
pot) for percussion.
The real difference though, is in
the sound. "It's sort of a feel you get,"
Deshpande said. According to other
members of the group, Hindustani music is
more tune-oriented, while Carnatic music
is more oriented around words. "Carnatic
music is very rigid in the composition,"
said Business School sophomore Suneeta
Tatapudy, "and North Indian music is a lot
The group also puts on dance shows
with Hindustani and Carnatic dances.
The different dance styles, like the differ-
ent musical styles, create similar moods..
And like the music, dances have
a basic structure that has been
passed down for thousands of years.
According to Deshpande, though
dancers can choreograph within that
structure, "it is not
their complete free
f it weren't for the all-too-
familiar glow of fluorescent
lights radiating off the bare
linoleum floor, the exotic
Latin music emanating from the
room may have
very well fooled
will" that deter-
mines the dance
emphasis in the
dancing is on the
which tell about
Hindi stories that
the dances depict. A
dancers wear brigh
ored costumes thatf
"Each style of danc
a particular costume
own," said Deshpand
and dance is not the
popular music in
right now accordin
Deshpande. "It is k
like classical music
there is a certain
who listen to it and
it," he said. However
3l the this ro
t col- nos A
follow in Mia
e has the ba
of its Hall,
music and th
ng to founde
ind of ago, it
group the sL
watch ited to
ing visitor into
believing he or
she was enter-
ing a dance hall
miles south of
om is not in Bue-
ires; it isn't even
ami. It is, however,
G115, located in
sement of Angell
and to Rackham
t Ramu Pyreddy
e 100 or so loyal
ers of the Michigan
tine Tango Club he
ed over three years
's good enough.
h his exposure to
ultry dance lim-
a viewing of the
Ft i tH bHUI ~ I I INI LC " Lu iiy
Engineering junior Prashanth Gururaja practices in the Michigan Union.
people in India are involved in some kind
of classical music training. Hence, ICMD
is not a training-based organization. All
the instrumentalists and dancers have been
trained either in India or in schools around
the United States. However, ICMD works
closely with Saadhanai, a group on cam-
pus that provides lessons for beginners in
Indian Classical music.
Although the members of the group are
dedicated, the main purpose of the ICMD
is merely "to have meetings where people
come together and just play," Deshpande
said. Moreover, the group is extremely
diverse. "I think there is someone from
every school except the School of Music,"
Deshpande said with a laugh.
Though Deshpande is half a world
away from his native India, he still plays
the tabla, which he started in high school.
"For me, (Indian music) is more melodi-
ous than other styles," he said, adding that
"there is a math behind it, and I like it."
On the other hand, for Srilakshmi
Bhagavathula, Rackham student, the
opportunity to create this music results
in an important spiritual and musical
feeling. "Each song talks about a divine
feeling. We understand more and more
each time we sing it. This is essential for
The next concert for the instru-
mentalists is tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
in the U-Club of the Michigan Union.
Admission is free. The next classical
dance concert is March 26.
set off to South America in April 2000
with the sole intention of visiting a
friend. However, after-randomly trying
out some tango dance moves, Pyreddy
- growing more and more tired of
ballroom dancing - was hooked.
"I was just doing tango during the
day and during the night," he said. "I
was pretty pathetic - it takes many
years before you can get good - but I
Pyreddy, originally from Kurnool,
India, founded the club with seven of
his friends in the fall of 2001, follow-
ing a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina,
the site of the dance's founding and
Since then, the club has grown expo-
nentially, and not just among University
students; Pyreddy estimates that around
40 percent of the club's members are
from the Ann Arbor community.
In addition to providing tango
enthusiasts with a venue to practice
their moves, the club offers lessons for
every ability level.
Kurt Wheelock, a 76-year-old busi-
ness owner from Stockbridge, says he
drives 35 minutes each week just to
practice the South American dance
with his girlfriend.
Wheelock, who has been taking les-
sons since last November, assertively
praises the dance for providing him a
break. In a word, he characterizes the
dance as "satisfying."
The intensity and subtle passion that
underlie the dance may be the main
reason for the Michigan Argentine
Tango Club's popularity.
"It's a beautiful dance, a nice way to
connect to people," Rackham student
Olivier Poudou said.
And "connect" is exactly what mem-
bers have done. Over the years, sev-
eral romances have developed between
members of the club, Pyreddy said.
This comes as little surprise, consid-
ering the intimacy and sexuality of the
dance - in most cases, partners stand
barely more than inches apart, arms
wrapped around, facing eye to eye.
However, it is not uncommon to observe
pairs seeking an even closer connection
by dancing the tango chest-to-chest.
Developed in Buenos Aires in the
late 1800's, tango, an extremely inti-
mate and improvisational type of
dance, was originally practiced almost
exclusively by the lower-classes, par-
ticularly among prostitutes.
Although the dance eventually
worked its way up through the main-
stream and is now accepted by the upper
class, Pyreddy said that the ambiguous
attitude by Argentinians towards the
dance over the years has contributed to
a sort of "tango subculture" throughout
Buenos Aires. "There is almost a seedy
side to it," he explained.
Club member Stacy Frigerio, an
LSA freshman of Argentinean descent,
enjoys her participation in the club so
much that when she visited Buenos
Aires over winter break, she had to see
the dance performed live. In fact, she
even purchased a pair of authentic tango
shoes to wear on Wednesday nights.
Frigerio said that the dancing being
practiced in Ann Arbor is not so differ-
ent from the dancing that is practiced
in Argentina, despite the distance.
"The tango (in Ann Arbor) is very
similar to how it's danced over there,
but there's a different feeling. It's
just the matter of getting to know the
music," she said.
In many ways, the descriptions
often reserved to describe the dance
by members could similarly be used to
depict the Michigan Argentine Tango
Club itself: exciting, spontaneous and
varied. The heterogeneity of the group
is one of its most conspicuous aspects
- at any meeting, it is not at all sur-
prising to see people of all ages and
nationalities. All pretensions are cast
aside in Angell Hall room G115, where
young students wearing T-shirts share
the dance floor with middle-aged men
The intensity with which the mem-
bers express their passion for the dance
and the club appears to be quite indica-
tive of the Michigan Argentine Tango
Club's popularity. To Pyreddy, this
comes as no surprise.
"Many times when you're dancing
- and it happens a lot - you're free
in the music, just living in the present.
We call this the 'tango trance,' " he
says. "It's almost bliss."
The Michigan Argentine Tango
Club meets at G115 in Angell Hall on
Wednesdays from 8 to 9:30 p.m., and
is open to anyone. The cost of mem-
bership is $10 for seven weeks of les-
sons. For more information, visit www.
"Many times when you're
dancing - and it hap-
pens a lot - you're free
in the music, just living
in the present. We call
this the 'tango trance.'
- Ramu Pyreddy
Argentine Tango C lub
=- - The Argentine Tango Club meets i
John Churchville practices drums for the Indian Classical Music and Dance Group Saturday.
Linda Wojewuczki and Corinne Shurma receive beginner tango instructic