The Jikaria Sisters on TikTok, trends, and South Asian fusion dance
May 29, 2020
By Pritika Gupta & Samia Abbasi
The Jikaria Sisters (Omika, Rishika & Aashika Jikaria) are based in New York City, NY. Their TikTok, launched in March 2020, quickly gained 325,000+ followers with 4 million+ favorites with their South Asian and fusion dance choreography.
photo credit: the Jikaria sisters
Getting to know the Jikaria Sisters:
“Once we were on our own away from home, we've learned how to really stay close and find what we all have in common.”
OMIKA: We were born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Our parents moved from India to the US in the 1980s, so we're all first generation Indian-American. Being a New Yorker is a huge part of our identity. I went to college at Georgetown University, where I studied International Relations. Post-college, I spent a good deal of time in Asia across Cambodia and India, and that definitely shaped a lot of my worldview and how I think about things now. After working for a bit, I'm now pursuing my MBA at Dartmouth. After I graduate, I hope to be back in New York.
AASHIKA: Growing up in New York, one of the greatest things was being able to dance, because there are so many dance opportunities. And throughout my life, I've struggled with choosing between dance or academics. I actually went to a performing arts high school in New York, where I trained in dance, and then I left that behind when I went to Georgia Tech University. Now, I’m a rising 4th year, and at Georgia Tech, I'm studying Industrial Engineering. What's really great is that I get to do both dance and engineering and a variety of different extracurriculars at Georgia Tech. I'm looking forward to graduating within the next year and going into the industry—hopefully back in New York as well.
RISHIKA: Being a New Yorker is a big part of my identity, too, and being away at college also contributed a lot to how I see myself. I just graduated from Emory University with a degree in International Relations and Economics, so I was in Atlanta, Georgia for the past 4 years. After graduating, I decided that I wanted to pursue a legal degree. So, I applied to law schools this past year, and I will be starting law school in the fall. I'm definitely looking to stay in the Northeast and then hopefully be back in New York.
OMIKA: For me, the biggest blessing is having 2 younger sisters. Our dynamic has definitely evolved over time. Growing up, our parents always made it clear that our sibling connection was really special and we never really liked to fight—only a little bit. We are very close and have a lot of similar interests. It's easy to be close. But it's also different because I am 5 and 6 years older than them. When I went away to college, they were still in middle school so they were a lot younger. I feel like I've gotten closer to them as we become adults. It's different because Rishika and Aashika go to college in Atlanta, so they kind of have their own thing going. A lot of people think they're twins!
RISHIKA: Yeah, when we were younger, we’d get asked that a lot, because Aashika and I would often wear matching outfits. Omika has always been an inspiration to us, and we look to her for her path and what she's done. When you're younger, your parents facilitate what it means to be a sibling and how you should interact with your siblings. But now that we’re on our own and away from our parents, we've learned how to really stay close and find what we all have in common. We talk to each other about literally everything. It's cliché, but we are sisters and I really consider them my best friends. There's nothing that I wouldn't tell them.
AASHIKA: I remember, when I was a Junior in high school, we all took a sisters trip to Colombia. That was just really fun, because it was our first time being away from our parents and doing something together and alone. We started learning more about each other, and ever since then, I feel like that's what shaped what our sister bond has been like.
“We didn't realize that people would start doing our dances, but it's really great that people find happiness in what we create.”
RISHIKA: I had never really had a TikTok account before we started doing this together. Aashika would send me and Omika TikTok videos that she thought were funny. So I didn't really understand what TikTok was and how much of a platform it was for anyone. What's really cool about TikTok is that anyone can get onto the app and create something. That's when we realized that this could be really cool. You know, they're like 15 second to 1 minute long videos and we can decide how that looks. We decided to start creating some dance videos. We've come to see it as a platform to showcase what we like doing—a way to dance and spread that dance rapidly across the world.
AASHIKA: TikTok is very unique compared to the other social media apps, because all you need is a camera. You just make something and when you upload it, you don't need a follower to watch it. It just goes on to your For You page. So anyone can discover what you make. The way that the algorithm works, it showcases so many different types of people, which is just awesome. We didn't realize that people would start doing our dances, but it's really great that people find happiness in what we create.
OMIKA: It's been really interesting to be on this journey, because I feel like when we uploaded our first video, we didn't really expect much to happen from it. Aashika found some choreography from Charli D'Amelio and then she was like, “Oh, let's learn it.” And it was my first day of class in the spring term. I was like, “Okay, just teach it to me,” and we filmed it in our living room. Then, we started finding music that we liked. We looked at some trends and looked at that music, and then we found some Indian music that we liked. We started putting that up and it became more about us creating our own content. Within a couple of weeks, people started discovering our page and commenting more. Then, we noticed that people were doing our choreographies. A couple of videos went viral, and people were using those choreographies a lot. In that moment, we all sort of reacted differently. I was at first like, “Oh, I'm not really sure what's happening. But this is really cool. Okay, what do we do now? Do we keep doing this?” DJs started reaching out to us, saying, “Oh, I have this mix that I think you guys would be good at,” or “Can I make a mix for you?”
For me, I felt like it happened really fast. I was really grateful that people were finding joy through watching these videos, and trying to recreate them, too. One of our videos went very, very viral, and that was a dance to Kamariya. We literally would watch through hundreds and hundreds of renditions of it. And every time we got a notification, it was just so fun to watch. It was amazing to see people smiling, especially because right now when you turn on the news, it's a lot of sad stuff. So, it's nice to feel like we were able to create a space that people were happy about.
AASHIKA: With the Kamariya trend, it's great to see people getting ready in their garba outfits doing this dance. People go out of their way to wear these dresses, but also one of the craziest things was the first video that actually started gaining traction wasn't even a dance challenge. It was just the Oh Na Na Challenge, but we did it with dandiyas. That was the first video that people started noticing. Our dancing wasn't what got people to notice us, but then people started looking at our other videos.
RISHIKA: Yeah, with the Oh Na Na video, we realized that we want to showcase our identities more. We want to do more stuff with South Asian culture. People really like that we were using dandiyas and that we’re Gujarati. So, they got really excited about seeing that trend and how we were able to put a twist on it. We always want to do things that we find really fun, and we've stuck with that philosophy. We will do a trend or do something that we will genuinely enjoy doing. People have been able to see that through our videos. That's part of the reason that people want to recreate the choreo, because it looks fun to them. We always try to come back to just having fun.
AASHIKA: You know, a lot of the songs that are popular on TikTok right now are just mainstream American songs that you'd hear on the radio, but we try to use songs that are more South Asian, because people can see our culture and see us bring culture to TikTok.
RISHIKA: When DJs started reaching out and as we started finding more mixes, we ended up realizing that we enjoy dancing to those fusion or South Asian mixes the most compared to the trending songs on TikTok. When you think of TikTok, people think about Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae, people like that. It's nice to transform that image of who you think about when you think of TikTok, and we are so grateful to be able to be at the forefront of that. There's power in representation. It's important—you need to see what you want to be. If you don't see it, you'll never realize that's something that you can do or that it’s something attainable.
“In college, I realized that I can be both Indian and American at the same time. It doesn't make you less of one or the other.”
OMIKA: I think there's so much around what society tells us we should be. You go to a certain school, you get this degree, and you get a job after. I've had a lot of different professional and personal experiences. Over time, I've realized what really grounds me. It's not defined by where I work or my career; there's so much more to each person. And I really want to lean into that more. When I was graduating from college, I thought, “Oh, I can only go down this path. I have to be one type of person.” And I realized, no, I actually love doing a million things. And that's okay. I'm able to show up fully to everything that I'm doing. If I can't dance, if I can't practice yoga, I can't be a great friend or sister. I think something that's become true for me, during this time especially, is that this sense of art and creation through dance feels like something I’m exploring within myself, but it’s also bigger than just myself.
AASHIKA: Everyone kind of knows each other within the dance community. That's what I think is so great: you can connect with so many different people through dance. I was in the Desi Dance Network in college. It’s so great that there are people that are just like us, South Asian-Americans, who are also interested in dance and are the same age as us. You get to go to all these fun competitions and events and just dance with them. It's great to have that community and those friends while you are dancing.
RISHIKA: Yeah, definitely. I found that dance is deeply connected to my identity. A lot of people will ask me, “Oh, you're starting law school in the fall, so can you keep dancing? Is that something you can keep doing?” And that's actually never even a distinction I've made that just because I'm starting law school, I can't keep dancing. Dance is part of my identity. If you are passionate about something, if something fuels you as much as it does, you will always find time for it. It’s not mutually exclusive.
photo credit: the Jikaria sisters
OMIKA: A revelation I had a couple weeks ago is that I feel like when I was growing up, I loved listening to South Asian music, but it wasn't cool to do that in high school. I had a friend in high school who would check my iTunes playlist and say, “What are you listening to? Why don't you know these popular songs?” I felt really self-conscious about that. I was like, “Wait, but I really like listening to this music and I like to dance to it. Sorry that you don't know about it.” Now, I feel like I'm at a place where I can embrace all of that. I love that I can help other people see that it’s cool, too. Especially because our follower base on TikTok is a lot younger. So, it reminds me of myself in high school dealing with that identity confusion.
RISHIKA: Growing up, I didn't really understand that I can be both Indian and American—that being one doesn’t make you less of the other. Embracing my South Asian American identity really happened in college, when I was away from what I know. We did ballet, Bharatanatyam, and Bollywood fusion dance when we were younger—but those were always separated. We never saw those coming together. Like, the jazz choreography we were learning was never paired with Bollywood music. So, I viewed identity as something that was separated. We would speak Gujarati with our parents at home and English at school. In college, I realized that I can be both at the same time—that it’s possible. The refreshing thing about being in college was that I was surrounded by other South Asian-Americans who helped me understand my identity better.
AASHIKA: Yeah, the first time I was able to embrace my Indian-American identity was in college. In high school, it was only ballet and modern dance. Even parts of the college dance team that I'm on right now, I only do hip hop and contemporary. I don't mix the Bollywood part of it, but coming home and being with my sisters, they understand both and were also trained in both styles. We have fun creating fusion choreography together.
OMIKA: I started to grapple with my identity when I lived in India for a couple years right before business school. In America, I never felt American enough. And then, I also sometimes wouldn't feel Indian enough. When I moved to India, for the first time in my life, I fit in. I looked like everybody else. I could speak the language and I was not a minority anymore. It was empowering. But when I talked to people in India, they'd be like, “Well, you're just American.” It was a weird internal struggle. And I think that's when I realized that, “I'm Indian-American. I have this unique identity, and a lot of people don't understand me.” There are people who grew up in South Asian and America and have had those same experiences. So that was the turning point for me when I was living in India.
photo credit: the Jikaria sisters
Claiming, Re-defining, & Basking in South Asian Identity:
“We got a comment that said: You shouldn't use #Desi because you're not Desi. But that's who we are.”
AASHIKA: Our TikTok follower base is both in India and the US. What's cool is that we can reach out to both populations and they’ll be able to relate. But once, we got a comment that said: You shouldn't use #Desi because you're not Desi. But that's who we are. The people that are repeating the dances come from both places and that's what's connecting them, so I think it's great that there are still a lot of similarities, a lot of common features that they share.
RISHIKA: It's almost like we've been made to feel that if you're Indian growing up in America then like, you almost can’t identify as Indian. And I understand that the experiences definitely would have been different if we had grown up in India. But the identity intersects at so many points. There are so many ways in which we share the same history and similar traits. Finding that common ground is so powerful.
OMIKA: When I moved to India, I was met with a lot of confusion. People were like, “Your parents moved to America to give you a better life. You went to this great college, so why would you go work at a nonprofit in India?” But I did meet a lot of people who were like me; I felt very connected to them, because they had those same motivations and curiosities. My parents and our family friends moved to the US in the 70s and 80s. Preserving Indian culture for their children meant listening to music and enrolling their kids in dance classes, the foods, the language—all of what we experience as Gujarati-Americans. They’re symbolic of what it means to be Indian. That was my expectation, but I was finding out that young people in India were also having similar experiences to what I was having in America. I had a more holistic experience and understanding. I'm able to better relate to people who are raised American and those who are raised Indian. I have more friends that span both groups, which wasn't really the case in college.
RISHIKA: I took Hindi in college for 3 years. All of the students in my classes who had grown up in India were like, “Why would you do that?” But for me, it was my way of connecting with what it means to be Indian. There’s this interesting divide between American-born Indian students and international Indian students. I haven't really heard a good reason as to why that divide exists and what makes us so different. One thing I've noticed, though, is that Indian-American students have to prove to themselves by going to various South Asian events and club meetings and guest speaker events. I think that we need to take that burden off of ourselves and realize that we don't have to do that just to connect with our identity.
AASHIKA: My second year of college, I joined the Georgia Tech dance team, which is primarily white, and I'm the darkest person on the team. And I introduced myself as “A-SHE-ka” and then one time I was with my friends on the team, and I saw one of my Indian-American friends and they said “Hi, Aashika (pronouncing it correctly).” And my dance team friends were like, “What? Why are they pronouncing your name like that?” After that, I realized I shouldn’t be changing my name to make it easier for people to pronounce. Growing up, I always changed my identity to fit in. When we did ballet class, people always had this misconception of how you have to look. But we can't just grow lighter skin or blonde hair. In college I’m able to have that revolutionary moment. Simply changing how I pronounce my name has done so much for me.
RISHIKA: I relate to that. Growing up, I would say, “My name is RE-SHE-ka.” That's how I would pronounce it because I didn't know any better in school. I remember when I went to the info session for Emory’s Ras team my first year, I introduced myself like that. And people looked at me like I had five eyes on my head. They were like, “That’s not how you say your name! You can say it correctly.” I think that was a really defining moment for me. Something as simple as how I introduce myself to people has made me more confident. If someone has trouble pronouncing my name, then I help them through that, not just take the easy way out.
OMIKA: Embracing how I look and how other people perceive me has been important for me. Growing up, people in New York would be like, “Oh, what ethnicity are you? You look ethnically ambiguous because you have lighter skin.” Back then, I thought it was a cool thing that people didn’t think I looked Indian—that I could pass as anything else. It's so sad now that I think about it. I felt like I was hiding from myself. As I've gotten older, I've actually come to embrace that I am of Indian origin. And that's who I am.
Searching for South Asian Representation:
“Anytime we would see a South Asian person in a show or movie, they would always fit into a stereotype that was written for that character.”
AASHIKA: We're actually rewatching the Harry Potter series right now. We talked about how the first Indian people we saw on TV were Parvati and Padma Patil from Harry Potter. We were like, “Wow, we’ve come so far.” Now, there's a whole show like Never Have I Ever with a Indian main character. It's so amazing to see that on TV and how people that aren’t just South Asian are watching the show. Growing up in the arts, this is what we would have wanted to see.
RISHIKA: Definitely growing up, we didn't see a lot of representation at all, especially with the dances that we interacted with. Like with Russian ballet, we never really had someone that we could look up to that looked like us. Anytime that we would see a South Asian person in a show or movie, they would always fit into a stereotype that was specifically written for that character. They were never the lead character. With the rise of social media, we see that evolving more. There are platforms for people to create their own content and be an inspiration for others.
OMIKA: The first time I saw South Asian representation in American media was, like, Harold and Kumar, haha. Or—I don't know—that guy Raj on The Big Bang Theory. I feel like I can count all those people on one hand. So, yeah, it's so great to see that things are evolving.
“We want to venture into getting creative with makeup looks and tell a story through dance, outfit, and makeup together.”
OMIKA: For me, beauty definitely feels like a holistic endeavor. There's a lot of cliché stuff around being beautiful on the inside and what-not. I think a lot of even external beauty and glow comes from how I treat my body and how I treat my mind. So, that's a huge part of what makes me feel beautiful: eating the right foods, being hydrated, reflecting, exercising. It's not necessarily a certain look but, rather, taking care of myself. That's really important for women to prioritize.
AASHIKA: Yeah, I agree. I think being healthy equals being beautiful, you know? So, taking care of your body and what you put into your body is important.
RISHIKA: Something that's important to me is knowing who I am and what I stand for. I think it's really easy to let other people's perceptions of you change how you think about yourself. This comes with reflecting and thinking about yourself in a way where you know that you're beautiful and that you are happy with what you're doing and the choices you're making.
AASHIKA: In terms of dance, finding the perfect makeup is important. For example, I dance at college football games, so I have to make sure that my makeup stays on my face for 8 hours in the sun. So, I really love Fenty foundation; it just stays on your face and doesn't really come off when I sweat. I love makeup and used to be an intern for L’Oreal. I use their voluminous mascara, and that one's really good for making my eyes pop out.
photo credit: the Jikaria sisters
RISHIKA: I love the Winky Lux lip stain that gives you the color based on your skin tone or pH. For a long time in high school, I would try to find that perfect nude lipstick, and when I tried on these shades that non-South Asian beauty gurus recommend, my lips would make me look like a ghost with how pale they’d become. Obviously because my skin tone is different. I love that with the Winky Lux lipstick, I can embrace a nice pinkish, reddish color based on how that lipstick applies on me. And it would look different on Omika or Aashika and fit their skin tones.
OMIKA: Yeah, I also love Fenty foundation, too. Some of their eyeshadow palettes are also really cool. For things like brows, I love Benefit’s products. Growing up, we used to do a lot of dance recitals and performances with a lot of heavy makeup. So, now that we’re older, we know what suits our faces more. We also love the Urban Decay Naked palette for darker eyeshadow looks.
RISHIKA: Something that we're trying to figure out is stepping into that space of getting creative with makeup looks and tell a story through dance, outfit, and makeup together. We haven't really tried that out yet. But I think that that's something that we want to do. Makeup has that power to be able to tell part of the story we want to create, along with dance.
The future of the Jikaria Sisters:
“The core of what we enjoy doing is creating content that connects with a bigger community and being part of that process of honing in on representation & identity.”
OMIKA: Because things have moved so quickly, we haven't necessarily come up with a set plan for the future. But we do know that we want to continue this in some way, shape, or form. You know, even if we're not all in the same place in the fall, maybe we can do more YouTube videos, more things on Instagram, or expand beyond dance. The core of what we enjoy doing is creating content that connects with a bigger community and being part of that process of honing in on representation and identity. I don't think any of us are going to stop dancing. We're still going to be dancers and sisters. And that's all we need to continue this.
RISHIKA: Yeah, I think we want to keep pushing ourselves. We don't want to give up, because it's so exciting that we finally found this time and space to do this together. Deep down inside, this is something that we've all wished for. We used to joke around about creating a dance studio together when we were older, stuff like that. To have a platform now and dance together is really special.
Cover photo credits: Jikaria Sisters | Order: Omika left, Aashika middle, Rishika right
Watch a clip for our interview with the Jikaria sisters here: