For a change of pace, our most recent feature is about a non-science hobby of one of our fantastic students. Srihari Sritharan (Sri) has been involved in South Asia dancing and DJing for a number of years. At Penn, he continues to DJ, making mashups of Western and South Asian music; as well as dancing with Penn Dhamaka, a dance troupe that combines Western and South Asian dance styles, such as hip-hop, step, Garba, Raas, Filmi and Bhangra.
Ever since I was a very small kid, my parents used to play Indian music in the car all the time, and I continued to listen to a variety of music throughout my childhood. I began experimenting with very novice audio software when I was in high school, but I made my first actual remix for my freshman year cultural show dance, which was coincidentally also one of the first times I had ever performed a dance on stage.
Did you get any formal training?
I didn’t have any previous training in dance or in music, actually. The remixing was self-taught over the last few years, and improved heavily with the help of other peer DJs. As for dance, I entered freshman year as a lifelong baseball player, with very little dancing ability. On a whim, I decided to tryout for a South Asian fusion team on campus; they fortunately saw potential in me and trained me through my four years to get to me to where I am now. After spending some time in the music and dance scene, I have very high respect for those who are formally trained, and wish I had the opportunity to learn in that setting when I was younger.
What do you like better: performing on stage or dancing off with your peers at a party?
I feel like they’re entirely different vibes; performing on stage is choreographed and constructed, and even with the attitude and body language in a performance, it’s still a rehearsed art piece. A dance-off I think is much harder mentally, takes a lot more experience to be effortless and impress. More specifically, I can perform in far more styles than I can freestyle in a dance-off. I’ll choose a performance, but it’s a tough call.
How did you get involved in the Penn dance community? Is it easy? What has your experience in dance at Penn been like?
While I was on my team at Brown, there was an annual fall exhibition show at Harvard (called Raunak) where many teams from the east coast would perform. Of those, Penn had two teams performing, Naach and Dhamaka, the all-girls and all-boys team, respectively. I had watched Penn Dhamaka for years, and considered joining since they were an established team. Getting involved is certainly as easy as any other extra-curricular, just a simple tryout process. I know other Penn grad, law, and dental students on dance teams currently, it’s very feasible. The one note I would point out is that Penn dance teams have this internal fire to be the best, which is fantastic from a performance perspective, but would make some hesitate to join due to time commitment. Regardless, I’ve found it to be a very rewarding experience.
What has been your most memorable performance?
My senior year, my old team Brown Badmaash performed in Philly itself at the Merriam Theater on Broad St. It was a competition called Phillyfest, with a full audience of about 1,800 people. Each competing team was required to have a theme to their piece; ours was the Olympics, since it was 2012. The dance was full of sport-related gimmicks, which the audience loved. We got 3rd place that year against other college teams in the nation, but we had so much fun performing for that huge crowd, the placing didn’t matter to us. All we wanted was to perform a piece people would talk about for years.
How do you balance your time commitments?
Like most people, I allocate a daily number of hours to sleep and going to the gym. Any time needed for dance practice would simply replace the gym time, and if it must, would cut into sleep a little as well. That only really happened near show time; after it’s over, I’d have no more practice so I could sleep all I wanted. As for music, I intentionally walk around campus rather than bike, using my phone to listen to new songs as I travel from place to place, using my time as best as possible to stay up to date.
How does dancing and DJ’ing help you in your day job as a neuroscientist?
I’ve always tried to strike a balance between science and art in my life to stay happy, and I feel that dancing and choreography fill my need for some creativity in my life. The neuroscience program itself keeps me more than happy with my interest in the sciences. As for the DJ-ing, I don’t fully know yet how I want to utilize this idea, but neural recordings and music are both waveforms when plotted on a computer. I feel that with some more development, I could figure out ways to apply my knowledge of computer music production to systems neuroscience. Both realms deal with noise, filtering, etc.
Do you see more dance in your future?
I do, but I also foresee a considerable dropoff in the coming years. While I’m sure I could physically continue after this year, I’ve now been on a dance team for six consecutive years and want to see what other skills I can develop. I’m sure that if/when I decide to return, the dance community will be just as strong and welcoming.
I do however plan to continue with music, I can’t live without that in my life.
That being said, the Penn Dhamaka show is this February 21st and 22nd, all of you should come watch if you’re not too busy in lab! It’ll be worth your time, I promise.
For more information on Penn Dhamaka, visit: http://www.penndhamaka.com/