“It’s time to begin, so count me in: five, six, seven, eight!”
We’re trying to get in one last practice before the sangeet performance tonight. There are nine of us, I think, trying to coordinate a synchronized dance routine, spread across Seattle, Germany, Taiwan, Tacoma, and DC; we’ve never once practiced it together. Gautam has the hardest role, trying to learn the steps without tipping off Dana: it’s a surprise.
Sangeet is sort of a talent show portion of the wedding. Bollywood and traditional Indian dance routines are, de rigeur, performed by different wedding guests and branches of the family.
This is very much an Indian wedding, with Gautam’s family overwhelmingly represented. But Dana is half of the wedding couple, so we’re doing our best to bring in a bit of culture from her side.
To be quite honest, I didn’t expect my family members to agree to do this. But once everyone was on board, we were committed. We picked out a song last fall, October, I think. Rick and Eileen have been practicing the choreography multiple times a day for months. We have been quizzing each other on the order of the moves all trip, over breakfast, in the pool. We even co-opted some very confused locals into practicing with us in the courtyards of Jaipur’s Amber Palace.
And what gem of Western culture have we brought here to Udaipur to showcase to the full set of relatives?
Country line dancing. A dance style none of us knows or, frankly, respects. But Dana likes this song, and it’s sort of perfect actually: simple enough moves, repetitive and catchy, definitively American in genre.
Practice is an absolute mess. We’re fitting it in after mehendi and before the sari-wrapping, hair-primping getting-ready process starts for sangeet tonight. Some people have only watched the choreography but not actually tried it until today. We can’t get everybody in the same place at the same time, and in the one moment we almost do, Dana drops by for a visit.
The hardest part is a heel-kicking quickstep where we all (nine of us!) form one line and rotate all the way around. The center is fine, but it takes a lot of angular velocity to whip the ends around in the sixteen short counts.
We actually get it, for the first time, just as we’re on the verge of being late to getting ready.
One of the hotel’s lower terraces has been transformed into a disco lounge, complete with checkered dance floor and rotating colored lights. There’s an open bar and lounge couches in black and gold. Chairs face the stage.
I’ve been coiffed within an inch of my life, golden ringlets professionally applied such that the bottom several inches of my hair are irredeemably fried, fragrant flowers strung back and forth across the back of my head. My gigantic dress is blue and gold, with multiple petticoats and a red and gold dupatta, heavy jewelry — and I’m nowhere near the flashiest here.
Dana has been keeping things remarkably restrained, as the bride. Her aesthetic is usually minimalistic, which is not really a thing here. Other than enormous jewelry — she’s had to change the earring choice for tonight because the thick posts of the ear chandeliers could not be gotten through her earholes — her lehengas are richly colored but not flashy. The colors are stunning. She glows.
There’s an entrance staircase, because of course there is. Eileen and Andre descend with me, Eileen in a borrowed beaded gown that catches every sparkle; Andre in a new silk shirt of black and gold.
Our song is up second, apparently. Gautam’s brother Aman is the MC, and he’s keeping us clued in.
When it’s time, Rick takes the mic, while I make sure everyone finds their places. This is the first time through with all of us, and the last.
“Can I get two volunteers from the audience?” Rick asks. “Preferably brothers between twenty and thirty years old?”
“Oh! Me!” Gautam’s hand shoots up from the bride and groom’s viewing platform up front. He’s a plant, and so is Aman. They take their preassigned places, and the music begins.
Lights flash, feet stomp, totally mismatched outfits whirl. But we make it around the hard part, we’re on the timing. We’re in sync, and the act kills. One of the uncles begs for an encore, as we spill off the stage, grinning and panting in the heat of the evening.
There is maybe an hour of programming: cousins with sunglasses dance numbers, aunts and uncles acting out Bollywood dramas verse by verse. The last number is a stick dance, dedias, and everyone is invited up to hit sticks together with each other.
The night is long, and warm, and wonderful. Dana is delighted by our dance, maybe even as much as the aunts and uncles — she knows how much effort it had to take to get this particular group not just onto a stage but actually on rhythm.
I’m proud of us. It would have been easy to just show up for a wedding like this. Nobody asked us to participate at this level. But this is a marriage of two families, and for a party this good, we’re bringing it. As extraordinary as it is to be a part of an Indian wedding as a non-Indian person, I want to make sure we share our family’s energy with Gautam’s, too.