Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=85969
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 10:27:14 AM CST
WASHINGTON – Two-hundred college students from across the country traveled to the nation’s capital recently with their turbans, fans, and spirit for South Asian culture. The motivation: to compete for the title of best collegiate bhangra team in the country at George Washington University’s annual Bhangra Blowout XV.
Bhangra, a traditional Indian folk dance, has been used to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season in Northern India. Halfway across the world, the dance is thriving not on farm fields, but on college campuses around the country.
Rahul Kumar, a 21-year-old junior at Columbia University, has been bhangra dancing since fourth grade, but became inspired to take his dancing to a new level when he took a trip to Bhangra Blowout in high school.
After enrolling at Columbia, Kumar tried out for the team that is made up of 16 young men and women. The team practices about six hours a week, but before a big competition like Bhangra Blowout this past weekend their schedule gets more grueling.
“It gets really frustrating at times, we practice a lot and we’re always busy with midterms and stuff. It gets really hard to balance school and bhangra sometimes, but at the end we just do it for fun,” Kumar said.
This year 35 teams applied for invitations to the Bhangra Blowout competition. After the board reviewed application tapes, eight teams were invited based on their dance routines, styles, and consistency. They came from as far away as Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
“It is a sport, it’s extremely intense. It’s a very intense competition and you know these students they do work very hard practicing,” said Zeba Rashid, Co-Director of Bhangra Blowout XV.
The dance combines acrobatics with props such as baskets and sticks to act out the pulsating beats of the Indian drums.
Kumar said that it’s the team bonding that he enjoys the most during these competitions. “I just like traveling as a team to these competitions and spending time with the team.”
Approximately 4,000 people filled the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall to watch the bhangra performances. Equipped with blow horns, bhangra fans voiced support for their school’s team.
“A lot of people on campus like us. Our popularity is beyond just the South Asians, a lot of other groups and clubs ask us to perform at their events,” Kumar said.
Just like their fans, the bhangra performers are growing more diverse.
“This year the teams we have chosen have the most diverse students we have ever seen and I’ve been going to Bhangra Blowout for the past six years,” Rashid said.
It is also reflected in the music choices and choreography in the performances. This year, Yale University choreographed bhangra steps to parts of Notorious B.I.G.’s songs, while other teams used Indian moves, dancing to Haddaway’s “What is Love?” and the MTV hit “Party like a Rockstar”.
But for many of the performers, bhangra dancing is still a way to connect to their cultural roots. “My parents raised me to always try to connect with Indian culture. I started going to temple when I was young, so this is kind of how I grew up and I’m really proud to be able to be in touch with my Indian culture,” Kumar said.
At the end of the night, five judges evaluated the performances and gave out $7,500 in cash prizes to the top three teams. This year an additional “Viewers Choice” category was added. Kumar’s team, Columbia University, finished in third place, while Virginia Commonwealth University won first place and also Viewer’s Choice. Rutgers University finished in second place.
“We just focus on having fun, winning is just an extra benefit,” Kumar said.
The competition has evolved from the basement of George Washington University’s cafeteria to a highly anticipated national event. With bhangra stars using their beats to create a new style of music with America’s rap stars, organizers are eager to see what the future of the Bhangra Blowout will look like.