Bansri Shah: Stony Brook Junoon Captain

Bansri Shah tried softball, swimming, tennis and gymnastics. Ballet, tap and hip-hop didn’t interest her either. However, there was one genre of dance Shah couldn’t stay away from.

Classical Indian and Bollywood dance styles captured Shah’s attention at a young age. “Whenever I was at home and we’d watch Hindi movies and the songs would come on, I’d dress up and dance,” Shah said. Noticing her deep level of interest in the music, Shah’s mother knew which dance classes to sign her up for. At eight years old, Shah started dance classes at Arya Dance Academy, an international dance company. She took lessons at the New Hyde Park location, where she lived. Shah was one of the youngest students in the class.

It was important for Shah to keep in touch with her heritage. “My entire family is very modernized. They’re not as traditional as most Indian families are,” Shah said. “This gives me an opportunity to stay tied in a way to my traditions and some of my culture. This is one of the things that keeps me tied to where I’m from”

“Bansri was a very shy little girl. She was a very good dancer, but she was super shy,” Apeksha Tayal, former classmate at Arya Dance Academy said. “She wasn't very talkative or outgoing with the group.” Despite this, Shah didn’t shy away from a good challenge in the studio.

At age 13, she and a group of other top performers were chosen to join the larger Arya Dance Academy in New Jersey. Three times a week, Shah and her dance troop would pack into two cars and take the two and a half hour journey to New Jersey. They danced and prepared for the competitions. As the dance events neared, practices were almost every day.

Supportive parents of the dance troop would rotate driving the dancers to New Jersey. The other car was driven by Shilpa Jhurani, a troop leader who was a college student at the time. Jhurani was one of Shah’s dance instructors for about four years. “She definitely trained well and her body became disciplined” Jhurani said. “She definitely worked her way up and over the years.” 

At age 16 after eight years of dancing, Shah graduated from classical dance. She decided to focus more on school. “Junior year I took a year off, and I realized how much I missed it,” Shah said. She continued dancing her senior year, but finished as her graduation approached.

She danced even less during her freshman year of college. Shah commuted to Hunter College in New York City on a music scholarship. She tried to take dance classes with a former Arya dance coach who gave lessons in the city, but the difficulties of taking trains and commuting made it hard for Shah.

Stony Brook University seemed like a better fit for Shah, so she transferred from the city scene to a new, suburban setting. Missing the role dance played in her life, she found the right dance team on campus. Stony Brook (SB) Junoon, a Bollywood fusion dance group, was the first club she joined.

“When she came to Stony Brook she was very much involved in taking charge of wanting to be on the dance team and making initiatives in practices and putting effort towards things and voicing her opinions,” Tayal, also the founder of SB Junoon, said. “I think she drastically changed.”

It wasn’t until Shah engaged with the campus community that she began to speak out. In addition to being on the wind ensemble, Shah was an orientation leader. “That was a leadership role, so you have to take that step and just say what’s on your mind. That helped me grow out of my shell more.” she said.

The amount of classwork she has, majoring in information technology and double minoring in music & technology and entrepreneurship, puts a lot of stress on her. Dancing helps relieve the college-student stress she endures regularly. “It distracts me from classwork sometimes. It’s a good break from that.” Shah said. “When I’m dancing, it’s distracting me from everything else I should be worrying about.” 

Shah decided to change her role from a general body member to president of Stony Brook Junoon. “In the beginning of Junoon, I had envisioned so much for Junoon and I think that after putting Junoon in Bansri’s hands, I’ve really seen that vision slowly come true, and I feel like it’s on the way of coming really true” Tayal said. “We couldn’t have thought of anyone better to elect as president.”

The stress from being president is weighed out from the joy she receives from dancing. “Bansri’s been a really good president. She’s been on top of her game,” Divya Kumar, vice president and co-captain of the club said. “I think she’s definitely the most vital part of this team because without her, I don’t think we could have done anything that we currently do.”

What stands out the most about her role as president is her commitment to fairness and taking charge. “She’s very neutral about a lot of things. She never puts her own feelings into it, which I think is a good aspect a leader should have.” Mohua Sultana, secretary of SB Junoon said. “She definitely knows how to speak up and actually take leadership when she needs to.”

Shah continues to guide the team with her strong set of leadership skills and dance skills that she has gained over the years. “From being the youngest, and not being as strong as she is today when she walked in, over the years she developed herself. Now if you look at her today, she’s not the same person she was,” Jhurani said. “I see her dancing professionally.” 

Beneath the many titles pertaining to dance Shah has had over the years, the art form has a deeper meaning. “Dance has definitely kept my confidence level. It’s definitely a big part of my life. I don’t know what I would have been like without it.”