While walking through a market in Gujarat, India, Juhie Vyas was approached by an emaciated young boy pleading for food and money. A freshman in college at the time, Vyas realized she could use her passion for dance to combat India’s poverty problem.
Now a neuroscience senior, Vyas is one of the co-directors of Raas Rodeo, an intercollegiate dance competition put on every year to showcase Indian dance teams from across the country. All of the proceeds earned by the competition benefit Baal Dan charity.
“All the hard work Baal Dan does is to provide basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing and education to impoverished children in India,” Vyas said. “Growing up the way most of us do, I think seeing their impact is really inspiring and puts so much into perspective for me. Knowing that all of the proceeds from our show go directly to benefiting these kids is very fulfilling to everyone involved with Raas Rodeo.”
During her freshman year of college, Vyas decided to join Texas Raas, an Indian dance team on campus. Vyas said she has been dancing since she was three, when she would attempt to imitate her mother’s movements.
“[Indian folk dancing] in particular is very dear to my heart because it originated in the state of India where my family is from: Gujarat,” Vyas said. “From a young age, my mother and the rest of my family cultivated this passion for performance in me.”
Vyas eventually had to leave Texas Raas due to a growing course load. Ultimately, she said she had to choose between quitting Raas entirely or staying in the program as a part of the Raas Rodeo executive board.
“Since I previously danced in competitions similar to Raas Rodeo, I decided it would be fun to join in the process,” Vyas said.
This year’s competition, which took place in February, involved almost a year of organizing the event and fundraising. Pooja Patel, a fellow executive board member, said that preparation was key in making the competition happen.
“I think the toughest part is working through all the problems that can come up in a competition where we are in charge of housing eight collegiate teams for the weekend,” said Patel, an international relations and global studies sophomore. “Everything from transportation to hospitality to the show itself was planned to a tee by the board, and I don’t think we could’ve done it without each other.”
In the end, the competition raised thousands of dollars for Baal Dan. Vyas said every time she flies back to India, she sees the necessity of the charity’s work.
“Even when I go back to India now I’m very sheltered because my family back there is considered well off,” Vyas said. “But even that is a culture shock for us — visiting the markets and places where children will come up to you and beg.”
Along with the charity that Raas Rodeo supports, Vyas said the nature of the competition kept her coming back every year, something she said she will miss once she leaves UT.
“At times it is a little hard, because watching the teams perform on stage gives me a lot of nostalgia,” Vyas said. “But it’s a whole different experience being on the other side and organizing it and making it happen. It taught me how to be an effective leader and deal with the other executive members’ leadership styles. For that and much more, I’m grateful.”