Pulling a lion head from the trunk of his car, Rich Simental lugs the equipment to the front of Gregory Gym. As the team sets up for yet another practice, each member prepares to use movement as an outlet for storytelling.
Members of cultural dance teams perform not only for fun and exercise, but as a form of expression and a way to learn more about their culture.
UT Alumnus Simental is one of the leaders of the Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team, which is made up of current students, alumni and Austinites. The group performs representations of Chinese folklore in which a lion descends from the cosmos to help a village. Simental said the tradition of lion dancing is significant to the Chinese New Year and intended to bring good luck and drive away bad spirits.
“(The organization) allowed me to learn more about this martial art that’s part dance, part athleticism, part cultural event,” Simental said.
Like Simental, alumna Cynthia Nguyen-Nikolovska, is an active member of the organization and helps mentor younger members. Nguyen-Nikolovska said the group is special to her not only because it has allowed her to pursue and learn more about martial arts, but also because it’s how she has made many of her closest friends.
Other cultural dance teams around campus, such as Nach Baliye, a Bollywood team, echo a similar sentiment about the tight-knit communities formed in these groups. Bollywood dance is an expressive, upbeat dance usually performed to modern songs from popular Indian movies.
Isha Patel, nursing sophomore and member of Nach Baliye, said members join the group to dance and stay because of the family of driven, talented and diverse individuals the team cultivates.
“Bollywood allows our members to stay in touch with their roots and explore the Indian culture,” Patel said. ”What makes UT Nach Baliye special is our sense of community.”
While Nach Baliye and the Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team are well-established organizations that have existed for years, some dance organizations, such as the Texas Folklorico Dance Company, are brand new.
Business sophomore Alejandra Luna was part of the group that founded Texas Folklorico in spring of 2019. The group has enjoyed folklórico in high school and wanted to form a similar community at UT.
“Our purpose here on campus is to teach others about Mexican culture,” Luna said.
There are a multitude of other cultural dance teams on campus, from Texas Latin Dance to the Korean Dance Crew. No matter what style, Luna said each performance is about more than movement — it’s about telling a story and seeing it come to life.