A ’Burgh full of Bhangra

Saturday night marked Carnegie Mellon’s first dance competition, Bhangra in the ’Burgh, at the Soldiers & Sailors Auditorium in Oakland. The event was organized by members from the Mayur: South Asian Student Alliance and Chak De, Carnegie Mellon’s Bhangra troupe.

“It’s been a journey,” said Pooja Godbole, the event’s committee president. “The idea had been floating around for quite some time. This year we finally had the manpower to do it.” The committee has been planning the event since April.

Bhangra is one of the most lively and colorful folk dances of India. Traditionally, it was performed to celebrate the success of the harvest in Eastern Pakistan and the north Indian state of Punjab. Bhangra began as the dance of the farmers; today, it has grown into a popular form of dance performed on stages all over the world.

Characterized by its distinct beats and its loud, energetic music, Bhangra creates an enjoyable performance. The dancers, decked in vibrant costumes of all different colors, are spectacular blurs as they dance across the stage, jumping to the beat. The lively dance steps are a mix of traditional Bhangra steps and modern dance techniques.

Bhangra in the Burgh featured 10 teams from all over the country, with Carnegie Mellon’s Chak De team performing last. Each team had its own flair and used different techniques to capture the audience. Some danced to a mix of Punjabi and Western music, while others created surprising formations by lifting each other into the air. Rutgers University Bhangra stood out, using live music sung by other members of the team. Perhaps for this reason, Rutgers wound up taking first place. Sonay Gabroo Punjab De (a group from Toronto) took second place, and New York University Bhangra took third.

All of the performers wore traditional garb: The men wore lungis, pieces of cloth wrapped around their waist, and turbans to cover their heads, while the women wore ghagras, a traditional dress consisting of a long skirt, or a salwar kameez, a dress with pants underneath. Each team had a dhol player who beat a drum and provided a steady beat.

Bhangra in the ’Burgh included other acts to break up the competition, including a performance by The Originals, an all-male a cappella group on campus. Additionally, the show featured several non-competitive dance performances by Carnegie Mellon’s own dance troupes, including the International FreeStylers and Tanha, a South Asian fusion dance team. At other moments, comedian Rajiv Satyal entertained the audience with his stand-up comedy.

Besides being enjoyable, Bhangra in the Burgh was charitable as all of the proceeds from the show went to the Homeless Children’s Education Fund, which helps provide homeless children with equal education opportunities. “We felt that this cause was most appropriate; being students ourselves, we wanted to help other children in Pittsburgh,” Godbole said.

Bhangra in the ’Burgh aimed to promote Bhangra, attract dancers to the area, and, as Mayur-SASA President Dhruv Mathur said, “put Pittsburgh on the map.” Bhangra in the ’Burgh successfully achieved these goals, proving to be entertaining as well educational, and exposing new people to the energetic folk dance.