By Colleen Slattery
At the University of Dallas, it would not be uncommon to meet someone who comes from a classical dance background, such as ballet, and it would be even less surprising to hear that someone you know competed at one point or another in their lives in Irish step dance competitions. But I would be willing to bet that not many of them have done bhangra.
Bhangra is a traditional style of dance that was originally performed and developed in the Punjab region of India by Sikh and Muslim men. The dance was typically performed as part of a spring harvest festival, and therefore, it is not surprising that it was named after the hemp plants harvested around this time of year, called “bhang” in the native dialect. Bhangra is also the name of the style of music played during the dance at these festivals. Although it was originally performed solely by men, today it is performed by both men and women at weddings, local fairs and events, and even family gatherings.
Before you start to think that bhangra is just another interpretive, folksy style of dance that just anyone can pick up, let me dispel that notion. Bhangra is actually a very athletic dance style, involving many leaps, kicks and accompanying arm movements. The dance is most often very fast-paced, and there is also the added challenge of managing to not get tangled up in the traditional South Asian garb that is required for the dance.
Due to the high numbers of immigrants from South Asian countries, it is no wonder that in the U.S., bhangra competitions have cropped up all over in the last 25 years. From Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., numerous teams, many from colleges, compete annually. In fact, the universities were the first to really popularize bhangra in the U.S. It is due to the collegiate dancers that our culture has an awareness of this unique dance style. While the dance originally focused on using traditional music for performance, frequently in the U.S. the music is mixed with current hip-hop or rock songs.
So, are you interested? Ready to start jumping around to some Bollywood music? If so, look up the sport on YouTube. You may be exhausted after two minutes into a clip. It is not a sport that is to be taken up lightly, but it sure does look like fun.