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Bhaṅgṛā (Punjabi: ਭੰਗੜਾ (Gurmukhi), بھنگڑا (Shahmukhi); pronounced [pə̀ŋɡɽaː]) Listen refers to several types of dance originating from the Punjab region of Pakistan and India. The earliest developed of these was a folk dance conducted by Punjabis in the central northern areas of the region to celebrate the harvest, and whose general practice had ended by the Partition, 1947.
In the 1950s, a new folk dance, representative of the state of Punjab and composed of glimpses of men's Punjabi dance styles, was created and eventually received the title of bhangra. Bhangra was performed on stage for the first time in 1954. First developed in India and attaining a rather standardized form by the 1980s, the folkloric bhangra was exported to other countries by Punjabi emigrants. By the 1990s, a still newer style of dance called bhangra was being staged in the Punjabi Diaspora, often characterized by a fusion with Western dance styles and the use of prerecorded audio mixes. Aside from these specific dance genres, Punjabi dancing in general, especially when done to popular bhangra music, is often casually called "bhangra".
The origins of the community form of Bhangra are speculative and many. I.S. Dhillon believes Bhangra to be related to the Punjabi dance 'bagaa' which is a martial dance of Punjab.
A participatory community dance called Bhangra is attested since the 1880s in northern areas of the Punjab region. Bhangra was a seasonal dance, practiced in the month leading up to the festival of Vaisakhi. During this month, the harvest, especially wheat crop, was gradually reaped. Local fairs marked the festival of Vaisakhi. It was after days of harvesting and at Vaisakhi fairs that bhangra was performed, as a dance of men alone.
The 1947 Partition of the Punjab region, in which millions in population relocated between the new nations of Pakistan and India, disrupted the practice of these Vaisakhi fairs. Most of the area in which community bhangra had been practiced became contained within Pakistan, however the Sikh and Hindu participants were at this time compelled to move to areas in India. Bhangra as a "folk" dance of villages essentially ceased at this time.
Folkloric stage dance
The 1950s saw the development of a folkloric dance routine in the Indian side of Punjab. The first significant developers of this style were a dance troupe led by brothers from the Deepak family of Sunam.
Bhangra competitions have been held in Punjab for many decades. They are especially associated with college youth festivals.
The stage presentation of bhangra incorporates traditional folk moves and includes sequences from other Punjabi dances, namely, Luddi, Jhummar, Dhamaal, and Gham Luddi.
Since the 1990s, universities and other organizations have held annual bhangra dance competitions in many of the main cities of the United States, Canada, and England as well. At these competitions, young Punjabis, other South Asians, and people with no South Asian background compete for money and trophies.
Bhangra has been first known to offspring to North America about 100 years ago with the first generation of Punjabi Americans that immigrated to California. Bhangra competitions have been active in the United States and Canada for over 25 years. North America has a great history of elite bhangra competitions and bhangra teams.
In the West, unlike in the Punjab, there is less emphasis on traditional songs and more focus on the flow of a mix; many teams mix traditional bhangra music with hip-hop or rock songs. This synergy of the bhangra dance with other cultures parallels the music's fusion with different genres. University competitions have experienced an explosion in popularity over the last five years and have helped to promote the dance and music in today's mainstream culture.
Bhangra in Los Angeles has become one of the biggest bhangra competitions in the U.S. Teams from all over United States and Canada come together to compete and show their talent.
2010 was the first year for Elite 8 Bhangra Invitational, in Washington, D.C. This event invited eight of the top teams from North America to showcase their routines and compete for the number one spot. Virginia Commonwealth University of Richmond, Virginia, was crowned champion. Sonay Gabroo Punjab De (SGPD) from Toronto, Canada took the title in 2011. University of North Carolina (UNC) from Chapel Hill, North Carolina were the winners in 2012.
Some other bhangra competitions include:
- Aag Ki Raat- University of South Carolina, Columbia
- Aaj Ka Dhamaka-University of North Carolina
- Apna Virsa Apna Punjab- Virginia Commonwealth University
- Bhangra Bash-University of Washington's Indian Student Association
- Bhangra Beat-University of Mary Washington's International Living Community
- Bhangra Blizzard-MA Entertainment
- Bhangra Blowout-George Washington University
- Bhangra Fever-Binghamton Bhangra
- Bhangra Fusion-Hype Productions
- Bhangra Idols
- Bhangra in the Burgh-Carnegie Mellon University
- Bhangra Masti-Canadian Punjabi Dance Academy
- Big Apple Bhangra-Virsa: Our Tradition & Immortal Soundz
- Boston Bhangra-Boston Bhangra
- Bruin Bhangra-Bhangra Team at UCLA
- Buckeye Mela at The Ohio State University
- Bulldog Bhangra- California State, Fresno
- Return of Bhangra- Cal State University, Northridge
- Dhol Di Awaz-UC Berkeley
- Elite 8-Emdo Ent
- Giant Bhangra-College of the SequoiasVisalia
- Jawani Bhangra-North American Medical Doctors
- Josh Bhangre Da-Straight Rocked Entertainment
- Motor City Bhangra-Pind Production
- Nachda Punjab-San Jose State University
- NorCal Bhangra-FTW Ent
- Notorious Bhangra-Stockton Indian Youth Alliance
- Pao Bhangra- Cornell University
- Pioneer Bhangra- California State, East BayHayward
- Raas Rave and Bhangra Blitz- Southern Methodist University
- Rangla Punjab- Seattle
- Sher Punjab De- NSM^2
- Sin City Bhangra-Las Vegas
- So You Think You Can Bhangra
- SoCal Bhangra-Los Angeles
- Sunset Bhangra - Tampa
- TDot Bhangra- NTP Entertainment
- Ultimate Bhangra Competition-Pandora Ent.
- Warrior Bhangra- California State University, Stanislaus
- Worlds Best Bhangra Crew- Dj Raj Minocha & Anakh-E-Gabroo
Bhangra team names can be found on this link: http://bhangrateamsforum.com/ctl/index.php?page=teams
In the UK, the last professional bhangra dance competition was held in 1989 at the Hummingbird, in Birmingham. There were over 10 teams across the UK competing and the winning team was Jugnu Bhangra (Gravesend) – the award-winning dancers who performed for Jugnu, went on to form 4x4 Bhangra Dancers in 1994. 4x4 Bhangra Dancers, are still known as UK's best bhangra dance troupe and have performed with the likes of Diversity (Britain's Got Talent winners), Led Zepelin, Omarion (international RnB singer and dancer) and various TV and music videos. 4x4 Bhangra Dancers founder members Gurdish Sall, Gurvinder Sandher, Parwinder Dhinsa and Sukhdeep Randhawa were the pioneers of the Asian freestyle dance style, winning the 1992 UK Asian Freestyle competition at the Dome in Birmingham. 4x4 Dancers also introduced bhangra workshops to schools.
In the UK, the first ever major university bhangra competition, The Bhangra Showdown, was organised by students from Imperial College London and held on 1 December 2007. The competition was held at Indigo2 in the O2 in Greenwich and was attended by over 1,000 people. Kings College London won the inaugural Bhangra Showdown, followed by Brunel and Imperial College. All proceeds from this show were donated to two charities, Wateraid and The Child Welfare Trust, and the show looked to continue annually. The show was held once again on 31 January 2009 at the Sadler's Wells Theatre, with proceeds going to the MND Association and The Child Welfare Trust, and was attended by around 1,500 people. Six universities took part: Imperial; Queen Mary's; Kingston; Brunel; Birmingham; and Leicester/DMU. Birmingham came in third place, Imperial came a very close second, and Queen Mary's took first place. This was followed by another sell-out show at London Palladium in January 2010, with crowds of around 2,400, where Imperial won, followed by Queen Mary and Barts in second place and Brunel in third.
Most recently, the 4th Bhangra Showdown was held at HMV Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday, 5 February 2011, featuring 10 teams (Imperial College, Kings College, UCL & LSE, Manchester, Brunel, Kingston, Birmingham, Queen Mary and Barts, Leicester, and St Georges). The number one spot went to Birmingham, followed closely by Imperial in second place. They performed in front of another sell-out crowd of 3,500. In 2012, the 5th Bhangra Showdown was held, again at HMV Hammersmith Apollo, in front of a sold out crowd of 3,500. Leicester were awarded the title but, following controversy, they were retrospectively removed as champions and banned for five years from entering the competition. This was due to the team having overseas participants, from Canada, who could not prove that they were studying at Leicester University. Subsequently, Queen Mary's were instated as the winners and University of Birmingham came second.
Following the success of The Bhangra Showdown, 2011 saw the introduction of a new UK bhangra competition – Bhangra Wars – hosted in Leicester where university and non-university teams competed. A second university-only competition was launched in 2012 by Naujawani.com (a previous sponsor of The Bhangra Showdown and Bhangra Wars). The competition is called Capital Bhangra and has been hosted twice at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. The first competition was won by UCL-LSE and was hosted by YouTube star Superwoman. Capital Bhangra 2013 saw seven teams compete with the title going to DMU/UoL Bhangra team (Leicester). A further invitational competition, Folk Stars launched in 2012 for bhangra teams who perform to music that is played live and was won by Vasda Punjab. The 3rd Capital Bhangra took place in 2014 at The Great Hall, Queen Mary University, London, with 7 competing teams. The winners on this occasion were Aston University. Following the success of Capital Bhangra, Naujawani.com proceeded to host a second competition - The Bhangra Competition - A competition open to all UK based teams. This was held at The Great Hall, Queen Mary University, London and was won by the Midlands based team Gabru Chel Chabileh (GCC).
The 2015 Bhangra showdown show will be taking place at the SSE Wembley on the 7th of February 2015, with 8 main teams: UCL, KCL, Birmingham, Imperial College,Nottingham Main and Trent (one team), Leicester & DMU (one team), Manchester and Brunel. This year will be the first time teams will be going head to head. The line up is as follows: KCL vs Birmingham, Brunel vs Manchester, Leicester vs Nottingham and Imperial vs UCL. The sponsor of the show have been confirmed as Kudos Music.
Current UK based Bhangra Competitions include:
- Bhangra Wars - Open competition, started 2011
- Capital Bhangra - Open University only competition, started 2012
- Folk Stars - Invitational competition, started 2012
- The Bhangra Showdown - Open University only competition, started 2007
- The Bhangra Competition - Open competition, started 2013
A list of UK based Bhangra teams can be found on this link: http://nachdapunjab.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=72&sid=529cb04305fff13b46f2561a1f2ecc99
They move with passion and relaxed muscles and use lots of energy. Pakistan locals describe the dance as "Ahmed-ish" meaning that you dance in a very flamboyantly happy way.
Bhangra singers employ a high, energetic tone of voice. Singing fiercely and with great pride, they typically add nonsensical, random noises to their singing. Likewise, often people dancing to Bhangra will yell phrases such as hoi, hoi, hoi; balle balle; chak de; oye hoi; bruah (for an extended length of about 2–5 seconds); haripa; or ch-ch (mostly used as slow beats called Jhummar) to the music.
Traditional men wear a chaadra while doing bhangra. A chaadra is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist. Men also wear a kurta, which is a long shirt. In addition, men wear pagri (turban) to cover their heads.
In modern times, men also wear turla, the fan attached to the pagri. Colorful vests are worn above the kurta. Phummans (small balls attached to ropes) are worn on each arm.
Women wear a traditional Punjabi dress known as a salwar kameez, long baggy pants tight at the ankle (salwar) and a long colorful shirt (kameez). Women also wear chunnis, colorful pieces of cloth wrapped around the neck.
These items are all very colorful and vibrant, representing the rich rural colors of Punjab. Besides the above, the bhangra dress has different parts that are listed below in detail:
- Pag (turban, a sign of pride/honor in Punjab). This is tied differently from the traditional turban one sees Sikhs wearing in the street. This turban has to be tied before each show.
- Kurta, similar to a silk shirt, with about four buttons, very loose with embroidered patterns
- Lungi or chadar, a loose loincloth tied around the dancer's waist, which is usually very decorated
- Jugi, a waistcoat with no buttons
- Rumāl, small "scarves" worn on the fingers. They look very elegant and are effective when the hands move during the course of bhangra performance.
Impact in mainstream Western culture
As of 2013, namely in Australia, the Bhangra dance become synonymous as a dance that is done once someone is made a job offer.
Bhangra Empire, a bhangra dance group from California, has appeared on America's Got Talent and in Harper's Bazaar.
In the MMORPG, Guild Wars 2, the Sylvari's dance emote (activated by typing /dance) is the Bhangra Dance.
- Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
- Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
- Folk Dances of Panjab Iqbal S Dhillon National Book Shop 1998
- The 4x4 Bhangra Dancers Official Website
- The Bhangra Showdown Official Website
- Baisakhi Dress, Bhangra Dress, Gidda Dress, Dress for Baisakhi Festival
- Dhillon, Iqbal Singh. 1998. Folk Dances of Panjab. Delhi: National Book Shop.
- Schreffler, Gibb Stuart. 2010. Signs of Separation: Dhol in Punjabi Culture. University of California, Santa Barbara.
- Schreffler, Gibb. 2013. "Situating bhangra dance: a critical introduction". 'South Asian History and Culture' 4(3): 384-412.
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