MSU Bhangra team a blend of tradition, modernity
As communication senior Navmeet Dhillon spontaneously walked into the MSU Bhangra dance team tryouts as a freshman, she had no idea how important it would eventually become to her.
This year marks her fourth year as a member on the team, and Dhillon said she has gained lifelong friendships, a sense of community and a family away from home.
“I used to think it was fun to watch bhangra competitions, but now that I’m on a team, I question why I never thought of joining one before,” she said. “The happiest I am is when I’m dancing.”
The MSU Bhangra dance team is a co-ed student group that competes and performs in a style of dance known as bhangra. According to human biology sophomore Amit Raizada , bhangra originates from Punjab, which is located in northern India.
“It’s a folk dance that is very high energy, and involves a lot of fast, upbeat movements,” Raizada said.
After being an all-girls team for a few years due to the lack of males that showed up for tryouts, the team returned to its co-ed status last year. With this original structure, the team has the opportunity to add new elements to their performances through partnering work.
Beginning his second year on the team, computer engineering senior Gurwinder Singh said he tried out because he wanted to learn more about this style of dance that he had been exposed to throughout his life.
“It’s way more technical than you would think, but it’s great,” Singh said. “Performing is like an out of body experience. At first you’re nervous, but then it’s pure adrenaline and you’re just out there having fun.”
Every year, the team sends in a video of their routine to the specific competitions that they want to attend. They receive feedback from the judges who are responsible for deciding if the team will be invited to compete. In the past, Dhillon said they have competed in Dallas, Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C., against bhangra groups from all over the country.
“Over the years I have met so many people that I still keep in touch with,” Dhillon said. “It becomes a sense of community, and it has helped me learn how to connect with others in a different way.”
For human development and family studies senior Neha Gohel, being able to connect with other collegiate bhangra dance teams and share their own experiences and culture with one another is one of her favorite aspects of competitions.
“We’re not an all-Indian team, so it’s really cool to see how everyone interacts with each other, and how non-Punjabis can be on the team, too,” Gohel said.
Gohel said the bhangra dance style is all about drawing the audience in, so it’s important that the team members use a variety of facial expressions that they call “nakra.”
“We all hype each other up," Gohel said. "You just get this energy from your team members.”
Although bhangra has its traditional roots, Dhillon said she enjoys bhangra because the style can be modern as well. She said a lot of their performances combine American music with the traditional Punjabi songs.
“Even though it looks like we are going crazy on stage with our fast movement, a lot of grace gets put into it, and it is a very powerful style as well,” Dhillon said.