Bhangra is a beat-intensive traditional Punjabi dance with a worldwide youth following. Some of the dance’s contemporary popularity comes from the Bhangra beats remixed with techno, pop, reggae, and more.
Junior Manraj Bhinder prefers to keep the dance traditional. He’s part of a team of seven students who will perform a Bhangra dance at International Night, a flagship event sponsored by the Ethnic Student Center.
Much of the dance’s popularity grew in the 1980s with the popularity of the remix scene.
Bhinder is one of seven students who will perform a Bhangra dance. Bhangra is a dance from Bhinder’s home state of Punjab in north India. Bhangra is traditionally performed by farmers to celebrate the harvest.
Bhinder and student Kamran Rahman performed last year, but this year the number of dancers has grown so the team can perform more complicated aerial stunts.
“It’s a good aerobic exercise,” he said. “Some of the moves require a lot of strength.”
On a recent visit to India, Bhinder purchased full costumes for every dancer. The costumes are made of a knee-length white shirt called a kurta, a long wrap called lungi, and bright vests in red, yellow, green, and blue. The costumes are bright, Bhinder said, because Bhangra is traditionally performed during the month of baisakhi, which is the beginning of the year in Punjab and the harvest season.
“Because it is such a joyful moment, it’s recommended that you have bright color,” said Bhinder.
During a visit to India, Bhinder learned how to tie turbans into a shape called a turla. One end of the cloth is starched so it will stand in the air.
“You probably haven’t seen [turla-style turbans] in America unless you come [to International Night],” said Bhinder.
The dancers utilize long poles called Samma wali dang and an expanding rosewood screen called chikha.
Bhangra dance has a youth following worldwide. Over the last few decades, Bhangra music has been fused with British dance music, flamenco, reggae and hip-hop. Bhinder doesn’t plan on incorporating these styles into his team’s dance.
“We wanted to do the fully traditional dance, we didn’t want to put western aspects into it,” said Bhinder.
“If you’re dancing to Bhangra and start to move your hands like a rapper, that is a conflict,” he said. “You’re not being respectful to the dance or the rapping community.”
Two drummers visiting from the University of Washington will also perform with the group.
UW hosts a national Bhangra competition every spring. The minimum is eight dancers, so Western’s team is one short. Bhinder hopes to recruit more dancers to begin competing nationally.
“Last year I remember... one school made a twelve-man pyramid with two drummers playing the drums standing on the pyramid,” he said.
Students of several ethnicities are part of Western’s Bhangra group. They are all men, but in the United States, it is not uncommon for both men and women to perform Bhangra. In India, however, women instead perform a similar dance called giddha. In India, Bhangra and giddha are then combined in performance. Bhinder said it doesn’t seem quite right to see women in the United States dancing Bhangra-style.
Bhinder spent his childhood in Punjabi and moved to the United States when he was nine. He started dancing as a hobby when he was six. He was a member of the Punjabi Student Union, but this year there weren’t enough students to renew the club. He is also involved with the South Asian Student Union.
The South Asian Student Union will perform a Bollywood dance at International Night. The Native American Student Union, African Caribbean Club, Swing Kids, WWU Breakers, Step 2 This, Ritmo Latino (Salsa Club), and Filipino Student Union will do dance performances as well. Rei Andrews, Antasia Parker, and James Ray are performing spoken word poetry.
International Night is April 24 at 7 pm in the Performing Arts Center. Admission is $5 for students and $10 for general admission. International Night is a fundraiser for the Ethnic Student Center’s scholarship fund.