Dance can be used to convey many things; it can be a form of intimidation, courtship or celebration. Without a doubt, Bhangra is the latter.
“Not all forms of dance are an expression of celebration, but Bhangra is the very definition of a celebration,” explained Lavesh Pritmani who created the app, Learn Bhangra to teach Bhangra to enthusiasts around the world.
He, along with Harry Baath, founder of the Hong Kong-based Bhangra team Funjabi, spoke to Young Post about the unique dance.
Bhangra hails from Punjab, the north-western region of India, and was traditionally performed during the Vaisakhi, a festival marking the start of the new year.
Dancers wear brightly-coloured clothes, and performances are usually done to the beat of a large drum called a dhol, and short sets of lyrics known as boliyan. These lyrics describe scenes or stories from Punjab, and usually reference themes of love, patriotism, strength, and celebration.
“The idea is that you dance with delight, to show how happy you are,” said Pritmani.
Pritmani was inspired to create Learn Bhangra after a major life change.
“I used to have an academy where I taught Bhangra for 10 years in North Carolina, but I had to move to New York for work,” he told Young Post.
“Even though I had to leave my academy, deep down I wanted to continue teaching Bhangra. So then I came up with the idea of making everything digital; my co-founder, who is a software developer, helped with the making of the Learn Bhangra app. Thanks to the app, you don’t have to be in a studio to learn or teach the dance.
“The app has grown very quickly, and now we have team members and brand ambassadors from all over the world.”
Bhangra is an amalgamation of a variety of folk dances from all across the region of Punjab, many of which can be traced back to long before the term Bhangra itself was coined in the late 1800s. Now, this form of music and dance is part of mainstream Indian culture, and has made its way to America’s Got Talent, the London 2012 Olympics, and even the White House in the US.
Meanwhile, Baath set up Funjabi Hong Kong 10 years ago; he is delighted with how quickly the movement has grown.
“I started Bhangra when I was 18, just for fun,” he said. “But because of the growing interest among young people, I became more serious about it and decided to create an official team. A lot has changed in that time, and we are proud to say that we now have about 20 official members in the team and around 30 students.”
This move towards inclusivity is a far cry from Bhangra’s roots as a male-only dance. As Pritmani explained, “the dance itself portrays masculinity … Bhangra steps are supposedly done by standing tall, chin up, and shoulders back. It is about looking as manly as you can”
However, Pritmani added that since the early 2000s, Bhangra has become popular in places like Britain, Canada, the US and Australia, with many university teams cropping up, and this had led to the rise of women taking part in the dance.
It’s proof that slowly but surely, Bhangra is becoming a global trend.
Before heading off to lead a workshop, Pritmani left Young Post with a phrase passed onto him by his own coach: “Josh naal pau Bhangra”.
“It means that you should do Bhangra with the highest level of energy you can exert, and be the best you can be – both in dance and in any situation in life,” he said.
“You can show that even in the darkest times, you are always confident, and always striving to succeed. Put all your energy and passion into Bhangra!”
Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge