The International Culture Of Bhangra Dance Competitions

by Ravleen Kaur

Bhangra is a traditional folk dance and a genre of music that originated in the northern state of Punjab, India. It was first performed during the month of Vaisakhi, which usually begins on April 13. It’s during the festival of Vaisakhi that Punjabi farmers harvest their crops and celebrate the coming of spring.

A bhangra performance is typically eight minutes long and consists of dance and prop segments including sapps, khundey, jhoomer, mirza and jugni/chaal, to name a few. Decades ago, bhangra music was performed live and consisted of instruments such as the dhol, chimta ,and algoze. With its growing popularity, bhangra transformed to include hip-hop beats and other forms of Western rhythms. Nowadays, it is performed worldwide in countries such as the U.S.A,

With its growing popularity, bhangra transformed to include hip-hop beats and other forms of western rhythms.

Nowadays, it is performed worldwide in countries such as the U.S.A, Canada and the U.K. Bhangra dance competitions have risen in popularity in these countries with many independent and collegiate teams competing yearly.

My freshman year at Ohio State was the first time I joined a bhangra team and it was also the first time I danced on stage in front of hundreds of people. My team, Buckeye Bhangra, had the opportunity to compete at five competitions and showcase one exhibition act. Our final competition was Bhangra Blowout XXII in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2015.

Since in 1993, Bhangra Blowout has been known as the collegiate championship selecting only the best teams from across the country to participate. It takes place at the George Washington University and the South Asian Society has a big hand in organizing the event.

This year, competing teams included Buckeye Bhangra, Cal Bhangra, CMU Bhangra, Cornell Bhangra, Da Real Punjabiz, North Carolina State Bhangra, Northwestern Bhangra and UVA di Shaan. There was a mixer on the night before the day of the competition. This gave the teams an opportunity to mingle and meet people from different universities. Not only did I meet many talented Punjabi dancers, but I also discovered that bhangra has truly touched people of all different races, ethnicities and religions.

The mixer games were short and fun, and the dance floor was open for the rest of the night with Harjot Hundal (founder of Gabroo TV) weaving in and out of the crowd taking pictures.

The competition took place on Saturday evening and watching the best teams perform right before my eyes was an amazing experience. Each team brought an engaging and energized set with some of the best mixes, leaving me nervous yet excited for my own team’s performance.

The renowned judges, most of which are accomplished dancers themselves, announced the placings after much deliberation: 1st  place Cornell Bhangra, 2nd UVA di Shaan and 3rd CMU Bhangra.

Although Buckeye Bhangra did not place, I learned that bhangra is, obviously, more than just competing and being the best. Bhangra is about promoting Punjabi culture and fostering a sense of community within the South Asian-American population. Bhangra is about learning about the dance of my ancestors and being able to spread my culture to large audiences.

Trying out for the bhangra team was easily one of the best decisions I made my freshman year of college. It gave me an avenue for stress relief and meeting new people while traveling all over the country. In my opinion, there is no better way to celebrate and spread your culture than to join a dance team and showcase its beauty through art. Whether it is bhangra, raas or Bollywood fusion, I would recommend anyone to try out for dance teams. You never know where dance, the greatest form of expression, may take you.

Ravleen Kaur is a student at The Ohio State University studying public affairs and public health. Her hobbies include drinking over-sweetened coffee and doing bhangra in public spaces. She is currently planning to run away from her home state in the Deep South and eventually work in the public health field.

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