Med Student’s Joy in Sharing Indian Folk Dance Earns Prestigious National Scholarship

After earning his medical degree from Albany Medical College, Sapan Shah may come to be known as the Dancing Doctor. A third-year medical student interested in pursuing a career in health policy, Shah takes great joy in sharing his love of a traditional Indian folk dance that features explosive, coordinated movements and colorful loose-fitting costumes.

In recognition of his longstanding commitment to the arts and his pursuit of a career in medicine, Shah recently received the $30,000 Joseph Collins Foundation Scholarship. Students attending medical school in good academic standing who have been actively and consistently involved in the performing arts, fine arts and literary activities are eligible for the prestigious national scholarship.

Shah has always felt a connection to the arts. Growing up in a tight-knit Indian community in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis., he played classical piano in statewide competitions, and was involved in his high school’s musicals. He danced in annual Diwali celebrations. As a freshman at Union College, he discovered Bhangra -- a northern India folk dance that traces its roots back to 18th century Punjabi farmers celebrating the harvest season. The dance combines high kicks, squats, spinning, stunts and formations.

”Bhangra is a dance form that’s heavily team- and community-based. You really depend on your team members, different formations and these coordinated movements to execute a good product,” said Shah, whose teams performed at campus and community events throughout college.

At Albany Medical College, he connected with former Union classmates and other new classmates who danced. While the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily curtailed plans to share their talents with local and online communities, they eventually resumed rehearsing and even conducted community dance workshops in Washington Park. During his time at Union, he organized events to merge Bhangra with other dance styles from India and the Caribbean and conducted ‘dance battles’ with clubs from RPI, Siena and Albany Medical College.

With Bhangra’s physical fitness components, Shah said he finds great satisfaction in “sharing the joy with as many people as possible.” He hopes to introduce the energetic dance form to underserved children in Arbor Hill, as he did as an undergrad for underprivileged children in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood.

“Hopefully in the future as a physician I’m able to continue my involvement with Bhangra and other forms of art and dancing,” said Shah, “and introduce that to greater communities and see if that’s a way that people can stay healthy just as the farmers in Punjab did way back in the day.”