Fort McMurray Indian community takes dancing online for Navratri

·2 min read

On Monday, a number of women in Indian households across Fort McMurray dressed up in colourful and sparkly chania choli, a blouse with a skirt and a long scarf, fancy jewelry, flowers in their hair and danced a routine either in their garages or their backyards.

The dance was to commemorate Navratri, a Hindu festival that spans nine nights and is celebrated every year during fall. The festival is a celebration of good versus evil. Eastern states of India celebrate the goddess Durga emerging victorious over the demon Mahishasur, while in northern and western states the festival is synonymous with the victory of Rama over demon king Ravana.

Every year for Navartri, around 700 people would gather at a hall or gym in Fort McMurray for an entire week of hours of dancing that begins in the evening and can sometimes go well into the night. Men and women move in a circle following coordinated choreography that has been passed on over generations. It consists of spinning, clapping or smacking two colourful sticks together to the beat.

But this year, because COVID-19, Shivani Desai, a Fort McMurray resident and volunteer at Sanatan Mandir Cultural Society, had to get creative. She came up with e-Navratri.

"Everybody was depressed and we couldn't meet socially so we decided to come up with this," she said.

Instead of everyone coming together, Desai asked 30 to 40 people, part of cohorts, to record themselves doing the dance called garba. Then she made her son Vivek Desai put the footage together for a video on Wednesday.

"Because of [the video] the festival spirit is on," Desai said.

Vivek Desai/ Supplied
Vivek Desai/ Supplied

She said they decided to keep the dance component online as the whole point of the festival is the dance. The festival is like a real life Bollywood movie or musical where people from different walks of life come together, join the dance and everyone just knows the choreography.

"It's a spiritual feeling when you are dancing," Desai explained.

"The music just gets to you. It's also a religious thing, so you are worshipping a goddess and you are just involved in it and you feel like you are on top of the world."

The dance video was posted on the society's WhatsApp group and on Vivek's social media. He said after watching the video, many other members of the community asked to participate in the e-Navratri as well.

"People are interested in doing something similar again. They said, 'Can we do a round two sort of a thing,'" he said.

However, he said there haven't been any concrete plans as the University of Alberta student is currently busy with school.

He said they might put something together from the rest of the community in the coming days.

Navratri began on Oct. 17 and ends on Sunday.