Bhangra @ CMU

Nicole Rappin

Dance is an integral part of the Indian culture. There are 25 states in India and most of their states have their typical dance,” Sameep Mehta, one of the organizers of Bhangra in the Burgh, a national Bhangra dance competition held by Carnegie Mellon’s Bhangra team, Chak De, says. “Dance acts as a medium of presenting one’s homeland, traditional dress and music. Bhangra is a lively form of music and dance that originates from Punjab, an area of South Asia spanning from eastern Pakistan to north-western India. “Bhangra is a traditional North Indian folk dance,” Sameep explains, “It’s really popular in the states because it’s so loud, acrobatic, and energetic. It’s a good way to hang out with your friends, enjoy the music, and work out at the same time. It’s just fun all around.”

Bhangra music pulsates with strong beats overlaid with softer, smoother melodies that match body movements, giving body parts specific points to hit but at the same time allowing for a graceful fluidity of movement to soften the intensity of the bass. The chanting and singing of words over the powerful music reminds me of an Indian spin on gospel music. Bhangra music has that same powerful, emotionally moving energy level that makes you want to jump up and sing along, despite the language barrier.

The dancers never allow both feet to be on the ground at the same time for more than two beats. The dancers seem to be floating above the floor on a hovercraft of energy and excitement. At the same time, the rest of their bodies are being tossed in different directions creating an organized chaos of movement that is combined with the strength of the music to form a beautifully unique dance. The team dances barefoot, adding to the organic, natural, traditional feel of the ritual. They dance Bhangra as it has been danced for years.

Claps, snaps, and stomps only intensify the power of the music and point out just how in synch the dancers are with one another. The slightest hesitation and the whole audience would hear. The music is further accented by the use of dhol drums, double-sided barrel drums worn over the neck of the player. The popularity of dhol has faded slightly over time, as electronic pre-recorded music has come to dominate, but they are still powerful in enhancing already potent melodies.

When I attended one of the rehearsals, I was amazed by the sheer power of the adrenaline that Bhangra generates. The guys step out to dance first. They are all thin and limber like track runners and throw their bodies around with such ease that it seems effortless, like this is how they walk down the street everyday, dancing Bhangra on the way to class. Even with only a handful of guys dancing, the floor shakes in rhythm beneath my feet. The military precision with which all of the dancers move together as one is contrasted with, and acts as an anchor for, the fluidity and ease of movement creating a striking spectacle that can not be experienced anywhere else but when watching Bhangra.

Chak De, Carnegie Mellon’s Bhangra team, is still young, it’s only been around since 2005, but it is already a powerful cultural force on campus. Smita Kumar, a sophomore and co-captain of Chak De says that Bhangra is a “great way to stick to our cultural roots and express ourselves while having fun at the same time.” She also cites audience involvement as a huge adrenaline booster during performances, “people get really into it and excited when they see us and that makes us perform better and have more fun.”

Bhangra in the Burgh, Mayur-SASA and Chak De’s biggest event so far this year, is bringing Bhangra teams from around the country to our campus. Following in the prestigious footsteps of Bhangra Blowout (held at George Washington University) and Phulorida Bhangra (held at University of Miami), Mayur hopes that after this, its inaugural year, Bhangra in the Burgh will be able to climb the ranks of national Bhangra competitions and place itself on the map of Bhangra history. Ten teams including, Anakh-E-Gabroo (hailing from New York), Drexel University Bhangra, NYU Bhangra, Khushiyan (a local Pittsburgh team), Northeastern Bhangra, Rutgers University Bhangra, Sonay Gabroo Punjab De (from Toronto), Steel City Girls, Three Rivers Bhangra (both local teams sporting massive ‘burgh pride), and UVA de Shaan will be competing. “There’s a total cash prize of over $5,000, so it’s hardcore competition,” Sameep says. In addition to the contest, Carnegie Mellon’s team will be doing an exhibition act, as they can not compete in their own competition, along with two other exhibitions and a fusion dance.

Bhangra in the Burgh is not just cultural entertainment, but cultural entertainment with a heart. Half of the proceeds of the event are being donated to the Homeless Children’s Education Fund of Allegheny County. Bhangra is really about more than just dancing. “It’s a good way to get the community together, exhibit our culture, our art, and just have fun together,” Sameep says. Bhangra is about coming together, uniting as one, embracing diversity, and having a rocking good time!

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