Sisters Anika Yechuri, 21, and Nithika Yechuri, 18, perform during the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sisters Anika Yechuri, 21, and Nithika Yechuri, 18, perform during the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

EvCC celebrates ‘a sense of belonging’ at first Desi Dazzle event

Dozens of people gathered for dancing, cuisine and more on a sunny afternoon to celebrate South Asian heritage in Everett.

EVERETT — Anika and Nithika Yechuri have each been training in Kuchipudi, a form of classical Indian dance, since the age of 4.

Now college students, they are pros at the craft. The duo, dressed in bright shimmering saris, performed a piece dedicated to the Lord of Dance, Nataraja. Their eyes were wide open, lined with dramatic makeup that takes hours to perfect. Rows of bells on their anklets jangled to the beat.

It was the first-annual celebration of Desi heritage Tuesday at Everett Community College.

“We wanted to choose something that we knew well and that we liked, so we chose this piece,” Anika Yechuri, 21, said before hitting the stage.

Dozens of people gathered at the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center on a sunny afternoon to watch performances, design henna tattoos and devour cuisine from the Desi cultures of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Desi Dazzle is just one of several campus events in May celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Jewelry glistens in the spotlight during a performance at the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jewelry glistens in the spotlight during a performance at the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Minutes before the event, political science professor Farhana Loonat eagerly greeted performers, students and faculty members as they filed in.

South Asians are the fourth-fastest growing population in Washington, making it a “very significant demographic,” Loonat said Tuesday.

“We are an extremely diverse country, with extremely diverse people,” Loonat said. “Often times, we don’t have a sense of belonging. There is not much effort to make us feel like we belong.”

To kick off the day, dancers of all ages performed a variety of Indian dance styles, from classical forms to Bollywood fusion.

Kahaani, a dance team from the University of Washington, performed a fusion of Bollywood, hip-hop and a classical dance known as Bharatanatyam. The group primarily specializes in Bollywood, a theatrical dance form often seen in Indian film that mixes traditional and Western styles.

“On our dance team we honestly have a lot of different backgrounds,” dancer Anu Ghosh said. “People come from Western, hip-hop, Indian, so we kind of just blend our styles together.”

Kahaani, a dance group from University of Washington, performs during the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kahaani, a dance group from University of Washington, performs during the Desi Dazzle event at Everett Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Audience members held up their phones to capture the dancers on stage, loudly cheering them on.

After the performances, attendees got in line for lunch consisting of vegetable curry, butter chicken, kahari lamb and Dal Darahani. For those lacking spice tolerance, they also served Domino’s Pizza.

Next to the line, a student sat with a smile on her face as she got a henna tattoo on her wrist.

Students Abril Gonzalez and O’Neal Louine were strolling on campus when they heard about the event at the last minute. They try to attend as many school heritage events as they can.

“People from that culture are doing this event, not people from outside the culture,” Gonzalez said. “And they show how beautiful the culture is. Ugh, I love that.”

Loonat is ready to continue organizing Desi Dazzle events for years to come.

“Each state has its own culture, its own different dress, its own foods, its own dance performances, its own festivals,” Loonat said. “We are here to celebrate the diversity of our cultures.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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