Bhangra Dancers Team Up For Performance

Next month, a
dance form that has crossed cultures and continents will finally make its way
to the Claremont Colleges. As part of Sanskriti, a cultural show sponsored by Ekta, the South Asian Student Association, Jessica Kaushal PO ’14 and Jasjeet Virk CM ’13 are organizing and choreographing a Bhangra dance performance.

Bhangra is a powerful, energetic dance that originated in the Punjab region of Northern India. The dance was originally
performed by Punjabi farmers for the festival of Baisakhi, celebrating the
arrival of spring and the harvest, but it has since evolved from its
traditional roots and traversed the globe, emigrating with Punjabi people and
often fusing with other musical genres like rock, R&B and hip hop.

“[Bhangra] is known as a very
high-energy, crowd-pleasing performance, which is why it is
often a highlight of any South Asian dance showcase,” Kaushal said. “I love the power of the
performance. Sometimes, you can literally feel it in your seat.”

Kaushal, who is organizing the
performance, danced on a non-competitive women’s Bhangra team in high school and asked classmate Virk to choreograph the dance. Virk’s mother,
who is from Punjab, exposed him to Bhangra starting at a young age. Virk has competed at the collegiate level, starting in his junior year
of high school when he was approached by the UC Redlands Bhangra team. Virk
choreographed and directed last year’s Bhangra performance at International Festival (I-Fest). This
performance sparked interest among the student body.

“It’s a party mood,” Virk said.
“When you’re dancing and Bhangra comes on, you’re not gonna stand still.”

Virk explained that Bhangra’s
powerful, inviting beat is created largely by the dhol, a large drum worn
around the neck and beaten with two sticks. Unfortunately, the performance will
not be accompanied by live music, as Bhangra musicians are hard to come by at
the 5Cs.

Traditional Bhangra costumes, which
the group plans to wear, enhance the dance’s upbeat mood. Male dancers wear chaddar, a colorful cloth tied around the waist, 

kurta, a long Punjabi-style
shirt and traditional headdresses called bhurgaris. Women wear 

salvar kameez—long, vibrant shirts and baggy pants—and 

chuni, scarves pinned to the
tops of their heads.

The 5C Bollywood dance team, Amaya,
will also be performing at Sanskriti. Virk assured that there will be no
confusion between the two dance forms.

“Immediately what you notice is the
style of music. Hindi is a bit softer and can be very pop… Bhangra is more
aggressive.”

Virk’s routine will be modern. “The biggest influence will be a touch of hip hop,” he said.

Sanjay Rao CM ’15, a member of the
Bollywood team, was attracted to Bhangra because of the energetic music.

“I have Bhangra music on my iPod,” said Rao,
who is participating in the Bhangra performance at Sanskriti. “It’s the music of the
Desi subculture… at Indian parties, Bhangra is a given.” 

Rao said that participation in Bhangra is not limited to those of South Asian descent, and that the diverse group of dancers reflects that. Like most activities at the 5Cs, the dance group will
exhibit a range of talent, experience and backgrounds. Patrick Liu PO ‘14,
who has performed for three semesters with the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Company, is excited to diversify his dancing endeavors through Kaushal and Virk’s project.

“I just want
to have fun,” Liu said.

Kaushal hopes that the show will
generate interest in a Bhangra dance group. “It would be fantastic to have a
permanent Bhangra team,” she said.

“I really hope a Bhangra team gets
started. It’s definitely its own dance form, very separate from Bollywood,” Rao agreed. 

In
the meantime, Virk encourages people to come out and enjoy Sanskriti, which will take place March 31 at Scripps’s Garrison Theater.

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