Set in the colorful world of a collegiate Bhangra Dance competition, Bhangin’ It includes a variety of Indian dance forms, from Bhangra to Kathak. Learn more about the dance forms and dance moves you will see in this energetic production.
With origins in the Punjab region of Northern India and Pakistan, Bhangra is a vivacious and wonderfully expressive folk dance and music form that is the backdrop of this world-premiere production. Rooted in celebratory performances that heralded the arrival of the harvest season, Bhangra has evolved and expanded all over the world due to its exposure in popular culture: Bollywood films, remixes with various styles of mainstream music such as hip hop and reggae, TV shows and – as will be portrayed onstage in Bhangin’ It – competitive college dance team circuits. (FYI: There is a UCSD-based Bhangra dance team – Da Real Punjabiz!)
Bhangra is an energetic folk dance and music form that originated from the state of Punjab in India dating back to the late-1800s. Originally, it was considered a celebratory dance to welcome the harvest of the farmers’ crops. Danced to the beat of the dhol, a large percussion drum instrument, and boliyan, short sets of lyrics that describe scenes or stories from Punjab, Bhangra has lyrics that commonly reference themes of love, patriotism, strength and celebration. Today, it has evolved into its own genre of music, a form of exercise and an entire community of competitive dancing all over the world. Bhangra has made its way to the largest stages, such as America’s Got Talent, the London Olympics, and even the White House.
The Competition Circuit
Bhangra has expanded into a worldwide competitive dance circuit, featuring competitions all over the world. Dancers compete in teams of 8-upwards of 20, ranging in ages from 15-35. Competitions are hosted by colleges, companies or independently to spread awareness of the dance form as well as provide a camaraderie for viewers to see.
Live vs. Music Routines
Teams create original 8-9 minute nonstop routines to impress the judges, showcase their knowledge of the dance form, and push the envelope to win the top prize. The choreography must also include types of Bhangra segments such as Sammi, Jhummar, Luddi, Dhamaal, Sialkot, Saaps, Khunde, Mirza and many more.
Live Bhangra routines are usually 10 minutes long with about 8-10 dancers that perform with a live band, featuring a dhol player, singer, sirangi, chimta and flute players. These routines feature Bhangra’s truest form with simple moves named after certain elements found in the life of Punjab. Dancers are also required to use traditional props like saaps, khunde, and katos in their dancing.
It has become more common for music Bhangra routines to bring in influences from pop culture today through mix elements in a routine’s music, dance moves or gimmicks. Technique moves are varied in choreography to add more wow factor elements and be more of a spectacle of a performance.
Types of Teams
Collegiate Bhangra teams are affiliated with a local university, and students who attend said university form a team to compete at these competitions. (However, sometimes you don’t necessarily have to attend the college in order to join the team). Dancers’ ages range from 18-30 years old. There are a few competitions that are specifically for college students held around the world such as Bhangra Blowout in Washington, D.C. and The Bhangra Showdown in the UK.
Independent teams are run by a coach or captain who gathers a group of dancers to create a team and perform. They are not affiliated with a university or academy and are usually friends who enjoy dancing together. Academies are run by a coach who is usually trained by an ustaad, or teacher, to learn Bhangra in its truest form.
The Bhangra uniforms/outfits, or vardiyaan, not only emphasize the visual effect of Bhangra moves, but they also are designed to enable the dancer’s maximum range of motion. In other words, the vardiyaan are the perfect combination of aesthetics and mobility. Today, men and women typically have a tendency to wear different vardiyaan while performing Bhangra.
Elements of the Vardiyaan
Men tend to wear a chadr, a kurta, a vest and a pagh, while women wear a salwar, a kurta, a vest and a chunni. The chadr is the bottom half of the outfit and consists of a long, rectangular piece of unstitched cloth tied around the dancer’s waist. It covers the majority of the dancer’s legs and is strategically tied so as to prevent the cloth from restricting the dancer’s movement. The female complement to the chadr is the salwar. The salwar consists of loose fitting trouser pants with numerous pleats stitched into the fabric. In contrast to the chadr, the salwar covers the dancer’s leg completely. The trousers are stitched so that when the dancer performs high-knee and leg-lifting steps, the pleats artfully hang to mimic the effect and coverage of the chadr. However, there are some women that do wear a chadr, kurtaand/or pagh while performing Bhangra.
The kurta is common to both types of vardiyaan. The kurta is a long-sleeved tunic that comes down to approximately the dancer’s knees, or just above them. The sleeveless vest is worn over the kurta. Both the kurta and chadr are colorful and display heavily embroidered intricate designs.
The pagh and chunni are head coverings that reflect the Sikh religion that is predominant in the state of Punjab. Culturally, head coverings are common as well. They are a symbol of pride, humility, fortitude and respect. The Bhangra pagh is a long piece of cloth that is intricately wrapped around the dancer’s head, culminating in a heavily starched, pleated fan (turla) that crowns the whole turban. The chunni is a colorful scarf that is artfully draped around a woman’s head and pinned to her kurta and vest. There are many other aspects to the vardiyaan as well. Not limited to just jewelry, these consist of various accent pieces that serve to enhance specific elements of a Bhangra routine. For example, earrings and necklaces (i.e. jhumke, kainthe, taveet) draw attention to a dancer’s facial expressions. Rumaalan, or handkerchiefs, were traditionally tied around a dancer’s wrist to highlight their complex hand movements. All parts of the vardiyaan complement the dance in that each element has origins steeped in meaning, symbolism, and purpose.
DOs and DON’Ts for Performances
Resources for More Info
(Hindi) Kathak is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance. The origin of Kathak is traditionally attributed to the traveling bards in ancient northern India known as Kathakars or storytellers.
The word ‘Kathak’ has its origins from the Sanskrit word Katha which means story. Kathak is an amalgamation of three arts – music, dance and drama. Both Hindu and Muslim rulers patronised this dance form giving it the status of a court entertainment. As such, this classical art carries with it the quaint charm of folk arts and is a blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions. Kathak originated in the villages of Northern India, when the natives shared their life experiences with each other. These people or Kathakkars (storytellers) traveled from village to village and kingdom to kingdom spreading their art. These Kathakkars would occasionally stop at the temples in these regions to take rest, and here they began to enact stories from the great Indian epics and also started to stylise the art by giving it a classical touch.
Significance of Ghungroos
Ghungroo holds a vital and important place in Indian classical dance, and it is the primary instrument and ornament that a dancer must wear before practicing or performing. It emphasizes and intensifies the rhythmic percussion that is produced by the Ghungroo while attempting and performing any footwork or dance. It is a very essential and crucial part of many Indian classical dances.
In Kathak, worshiping by Guru and disciples is an important ceremony and plays a vital role. Ghungroos are the intrinsic part of Indian classical dance that can’t be separated. It is a prerequisite in Kathak to worship Ghungroo and to be touched by the Guru even before trying.
GURU (teacher) / SHISHYA (student) Relationship
India’s heritage and culture bring about a lot of admirable and heart-warming traditions and beliefs. The people have rooted these traditions deep in their hearts. Despite the developing time, people continue to follow and respect their lineage. Guru-Shishya tradition is one major tradition that has existed in the history of India. It continues to be in practice even today. One can easily witness the essence, especially in Indian classical dance.
The Guru-Shishya tradition is common in Indian performing classical dances, like Kathak, where the guru (teacher) is equivalent to god. It is the guru that helps his/her shishya find purpose in life and achieve the final goal of self-enlightenment. A guru is considered to be a mentor who shares his/her wisdom. It is only by the guru’s presence, and following the guru, the shishya can gain wisdom and find meaning in life. This tradition rests on one simple ideology in the dance form: the guru is the last word for discipline.
Originating from Bollywood films, this style of dance is heavily influenced by Indian art, music and culture. Bollywood dance is a fusion dance form which has always had an underlying base of Indian Classical or Folk dance.
When Bollywood dance first began it was only common and popular in areas where Indian films were published such as the Middle East and Asian countries. There is a huge history behind Bollywood dance from cultural to religious. However, one thing that can be stated is that the international appeal of Bollywood dance blew up in the early 21st century. The success of Bollywood dance can be seen through artists like Britney Spears, Shakira and the Pussycat Dolls incorporating the Bollywood style of dance and music into their songs, videos and concerts.
Bollywood dance is made to tell mythological tales or stories. This is demonstrated by the dancers and performers through the use of many hand gestures which are taken from Indian culture. For example, two hands together in a prayer position is Namaskara, which means adoration. Hand gestures speak as sign language which is an international language that has no cultural or language barrier. Facial expressions are also vital in Bollywood dance as they assist with telling the story of the dance.
The trans-national hand gestures and facial expressions are one of the main reasons for Bollywood’s international appeal; it is a dance that everyone can understand. The success of the dance is most evident through the use of the dance in popular films such as Disney children’s film The Cheetah Girls: One World which introduces young western audiences to the beauty and nature of the dance. As shown through popular movies and music videos, costumes are essential to Bollywood dance.
Costumes play a crucial role in the storytelling aspect of Bollywood dance. The attire has become the symbol of Bollywood dance for its bright and colorful nature which fits with the vibrant and loud movements of the dance. Clothing is important as it determines the feel of the dance and has a significant impact on the story.
It is important to note that unlike the West, where musical is considered its own genre, in South Asia the relationship between theatre, music and dance is more intertwined. Bollywood films, where the dance originated, are full of dance and music as it is a major component of the genre. Bollywood dance is the essence of the film and is expected when watching a Bollywood film.
Bollywood dance is an important part of Indian culture. It is unique in its ability to tell a story through bodily movements. Bollywood dance is full of color, showing a perfect amalgamation between music, dance, storytelling and costumes.
(Punjabi) A traditional pastoral dance performed by women of the Punjab, India, and Pakistan at festival times and at the sowing and reaping of the harvest. The dance is often considered derived from the ancient dance known as the ring dance and is just as energetic as bhangra; at the same time it manages to creatively display feminine grace, elegance and flexibility.
Single Dhamaal (duh-mall)
The most fundamental Bhangra move, where most other combinations stem from.
(Punjabi, sometimes also spelled faslaan) A bhangra dance move depicting crops blowing in the wind.
Loosely translates to “firework.” An explosive 4-count combo used to mimic the music of a drop/hit or beginning of chorus.
Phul Punjab (full pun-job)
Phul = flower/flourish, so this move is meant to have the curling of the hands mimic the unfolding of a flower’s petals and be more graceful. It is a variation of the Punjab move which is a fundamental Bhangra move.
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