Revolutionary Tales: Dhvani Modi Is Student Leader of Bedazzling Bhangra Blowout

Being co-executive director of the Indian folk dance is just another way the junior has connected with GW’s South Asian community.

April 22, 2024

Dhvani Modi

In six days’ time, the Lisner Auditorium at the George Washington University would glow in Punjabi pageantry as South Asian students from around the country would fill the air with leaps, kicks and vigorous bends of the body. Bright colors would illuminate the stage, and the grandeur of traditional Indian harvest folk dance and music would bring a little bit of South Asian culture to GW.

Eight collegiate teams were set to compete in the 31st annual Bhangra Blowout on April 13 at GW, which has morphed into the largest South Asian dance competition in North America. They would deliver eight-minute performances in front of a panel of judges and an audience of thousands. As it is every year during the springtime, Bhangra Blowout was set to be a spectacle and vibrant celebration of GW’s diversity and character.

Intense planning was required to transform a spring Saturday evening into a memorable and everlasting experience highlighted by eccentric props and costumes, lively music and expressive dancing.

On the final Sunday before the big show, GW junior international business major Dhvani Modi led the last board meeting inside a windowless room across the street from Lisner on the third floor of the University Student Center. Modi, along with sophomore Divya Kothakapa, is the Bhangra Blowout Executive Board co-director.   

On this night, they went over a bit of everything with their board of 50-plus members of the GW South Asian community to ensure everything Saturday night would go as smoothly as possible. From practicing the execution of crisis communication scenarios such as what to do if someone has an allergic reaction to food to quizzing fellow members on what to do if they encounter a team in the wrong place backstage.

All this work in the dimly lit conference room was so that the lights at Bhangra Blowout could shine at their brightest.

Being a director of this nationally renowned competition, all while fielding a full-time student workload, is a daunting undertaking. But fostering this cultural celebration, especially after growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Philadelphia, is incredibly important and meaningful to Modi. She’s beyond grateful to have found such a community of South Asian students at GW and perhaps even more grateful that she can share it with others.  

“When I got here...I was really able to connect with that culture and find a place where I belong,” Modi said. “A lot of my friends that are many different cultures really want to learn about the dance form, and they want to attend the events.

“People at GW are very open to learning about new cultures, and it makes us feel like we were accepted and that we belong here.”

Dhvani Modi

Having a role of this magnitude was not something Modi envisioned when she arrived at GW three years ago. Despite being a first-generation immigrant—her mother is from India, Modi didn’t feel as strongly connected to South Asian culture as others and didn’t quite fit into other groups more represented in her home area in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, she felt a little alone.

But one of the first things she noticed about GW, which she chose for its acumen in international business, was that its South Asian population was larger than any place she had previously lived. Creating those connections only intensified her desire to become more involved in that community.

“Learning more about my culture has meant a lot to me because I can find exactly where I belong in this world and exactly what I want to do with my culture and how I want to celebrate that,” she said.

Her first year on campus, she joined the Hindu Student Association. Later, she would join the South Asian Society, where she would eventually become co-executive director of Bhangra Blowout, which GW has hosted as the nation’s premier collegiate bhangra competition since 1993.

Requiring almost a full year of planning, Modi makes sure things run smoothly for the roughly 275 student participants from around the country. Throughout the year, Modi and her team find judges, raise money—about $70,000 worth—for food, merchandise and lodging and take care of all things logistical.

She takes great pride that her own institution hosts an event of this magnitude for South Asian students and is proud to attach her name to the Bhangra Blowout, which has gotten publicity in outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“It's really important for me that GW is the host of something like this,” she said. “Just to know that our college puts on something like this, and we get to be a part of it, is something that's so important to us, being immigrants that are coming from all the South Asian countries and being able to know that we can still make a mark within our South Asian heritage while being in America.”

While Modi has relished in finding community within her own culture, she’s equally excited about sharing it with others—evidenced by her work putting on the Bhangra Blowout for a large, general audience. She believes GW is a place that can foster those kinds of cross-cultural connections and is excited to see that continue so that events such as Bhangra Blowout can be even bigger and better in the future.

That mindset is also what excites her the most about pursuing international business. She wanted to know about many cultures not just on a political or surface level but also have the chance to integrate herself into them. She’s been intellectually stimulated by classroom discussions, especially in seminar conversations that have increased her understanding of the world that is.

Couple that with the experience of running a marquee celebration of her own culture, and Modi is getting quite the training in Foggy Bottom, and it has all been accelerated by her finding a sense of belonging at GW.