Now, let me acquaint my readers who do not know about this Hindu festival. All others, please go down to the Rules section
Navratri (translates as 9 nights) is the Hindu festival celebrating Shakti or Durga the goddess and the last night is Dusshera. There are different traditions around this festival. In South Indian states, they create a Golu, display of dolls. In my home state of Gujarat, we celebrate with regional folk dance called Garba and celebrating for 9 nights. We have an alter in the middle, and typically women dance in a circle around this. There are a few standard dance steps, but there will be multiple circles of creative dancing.
Here's a link to a popular Bollywood song, Dhole Baje (translates as "The drum beats" but could be a metaphor for my 'heart beats') Zoom up to 1:45 to see the garba steps. Again, this is stylized Bollywood and not a true depiction of "real people" events. But, if I showed actual video, it's too confusing.
During Navrati, women wear colorful traditional Gujarati dresses. It's beautiful to see otherwise modern women pull out the jewelry and clothes of the villagers. Trends now involve body art either painting traditional tribal tattoos or blingy stickers.
At some point, the dance changes from Garba to Dandiya Raas. Everyone finds a pair of sticks and a partner and dances in circles. Here's another Bollywood video that depicts the stick dance and again, it's quite stylized.
Here's one more link of a dance in Gujarat - Hu To Gai Thi Mela Ma (translates "I went to the fair") with real people dancing.
As an Indian American and a Gujarati, Navratri garba meant more to me than Diwali or Holi. In the US, there's no way we could dance for 9 nights. We always manage with 2 weekends of activities.
My parents had friends who would hold garba in their basements. We would dress up and every family brought food for prasad. People would dance in the basement as a few uncles who played the harmonium and tabla. The moms and aunts all sang the songs and tried to make up new steps. I do remember it was a breakthrough year when they had the garba songs on a cassette. Wow - how did they find it?
Kids would drink soda and watch TV while waiting until midnight. At that point, everyone put down their sticks and we sang the prayers. We stood and clapped along to words we didn't understand. Every year I begged for the words in English, and my father would say "no one gave us the words, you just learned it!" Ironically, I did learn it and can sing along to Jai Oh Ma quite well.
I remember my first 'hall' garba - i.e., one that is held by the community in a school gymnasium - was in 7th grade. I wore a sari and my parents teased me because I was walking as if I were still wearing jeans. It was in Jersey City somewhere and awfully crowded.
Fortunately, by high school our local Indian organization held one at the community college gym and we loved that. We saw our friends there, and there was a cute guy that I knew I'd see once a year. That was another plus about garbas. Generally speaking for myself and majority of my peers, we weren't allowed to have boys call the house, couldn't be "just friends" because that invariably led to "more than friends". Dandiya was great because it was very social, your parents are right there, but you could dance with a guy if he happened to be in line. I always had to work myself to be in the line with that cute guy. Also, garbas go on until midnight - so this is a chance for some people to sneak out and hook up. (I was shocked when I heard all that in college. All I wanted was to be in the same line with the one anonymous guy who I never talked to! I didn't know all this happened behind the bleachers.)
Regarding Navratri, there seems to be a passion that resides in Gujaratis, more than other communities. We plan ahead with shopping for jewelry, clothes and accessories. We find out the schedules and locations. We don't let weather deter us. By the way, garbas are also done as one of the pre-wedding ceremony events. It's a great way for families to come together and socialize before the wedding. So there's a stronger sense of this dance being part of lifestyle.
Ashini's Garba Rules
What I love about garba in the US is that everyone comes together. It's not just about being Gujarati. I see Marathis, Punjabis, Sikhs, Muslim (Yes, I saw one girl in a scarf at the high school dancing), Asians, White and Black Americans. Thanks to our enthusiasm to share our culture and traditions, everyone brings a friend along. Years ago, I had dressed up my college friends and handed them dandiyas, and they had a great time.
Now, my friends.. here are the rules.
1. Take off your shoes as you enter the gym. There are sacred images on the alter and shoes must be left outside. As always, no one guarantees your shoes won't be stepped on, kicked around or just generally lost. Keep this in mind when choosing your footwear.
2. Take 10 minutes and go into the hallway and learn the routines. Only when you're sure you have it, enter. Newbies look frustrated and don't enjoy themselves.
3. When you enter an existing dandiya line, come in as a pair. By jumping in solo, the order is upset.
4. When you leave the dandiya line, leave as pair. Don't suddenly decide that you're done and walk away. Find someone else in line with you to leave as well. Again, by walking away, the order is upset and you've just ticked off a bunch of people who will end up dancing alone for 5 awkward beats.
5. Be in the moment. There are people who are spacing out and not in the same beat as everyone else. Either you want to be here, or you don't.
6. Safety first. If your dandiya breaks, find a partner and leave the line. Don't dance with a broken stick in your hand. Also, just be aware of your space and who is around you. I've been accidentally whacked by a friend and had a welt on my arm. Be aware of how you move in and out of the crowds.
7. Don't be an "Airplane" - the guy who takes his dandiya and spins around in the air like a plan, and confuses the partners when he's going to land on them.
8. Don't be an "Air Kisser" - the woman who is so happy dancing and spinning, she doesn't really hit your dandiya, but makes a show of it.
9. Be a "Switcher" ONLY if you have a partner in crime. If not, people will think you're messing up the lines.
10. One stick or two - it's doesn't matter. Just make sure you have one.