U. Maryland wins Bhanghra Blowout

By Alex Kingsbury & Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
April 2, 2001

A raucous crowd of 4,000 students cheered on the University of Maryland to their first victory at the 8th annual Bhangra Blowout in Washington’s sold out D.A.R. Constitution Hall Saturday night.

The charity event, sponsored by the George Washington University’s South Asian Society, drew dance teams from across the continent to the nation’s capital for a night of dance, music, and cultural celebration. The coed troupes were adorned in a traditional dress of bright colors and carried dhol drums, ornate staffs and swords. Ten teams faced a panel of judges examining the performances for traditional, artistic and technical elements.

“It was our first time here and it was very exciting,” said Jaspreet Saini, junior. “It was very welcoming out here, we’re thrilled.”

Native to the Punjab region of northern India, the spirited Bhangra dance celebrates festive occasions including weddings, birthdays and Vaisakhi (the beginning of the harvest season). The dancers are accompanied by traditional songs, or boliyan, dealing with issues of daily life, including love, family and satire. Since the 1980s Bhangra music has enjoyed renewed popularity incorporating techno, rap, reggae and jungle beats.

“All of us have been dancing together since the last [Bhangra] blowout,” said Sheena Sethi, a senior from the New York Institute of Technology team. “This dance is totally different than anything we’ve done before.”

The NYIT team captured its second consecutive runner-up prize on Saturday.

Proceeds from the event went to support victims of the January 2001 earthquake that devastated parts of northwestern India, killing more than 30,000 people. Though official receipts have not yet been tabulated, organizers said Saturday they were pleased with the turnout.

“The show was a success,” said Tabith Awal, president of the GW South Asian Society. “Every year the show runs well, despite a few drawbacks it was a success.”

The event was marred by numerous technical difficulties including sound and lighting failures. Both Tufts University and the University of Michigan experienced sound failures and had to restart their performances. A portion of the University of Maryland’s elaborate aerial display was performed on a darkened stage due to a lighting miscue.

“We started in total darkness,” University of Maryland student Aalap Dalal told U-WIRE backstage Saturday night. “Everything was done right in rehearsal. I just don’t understand.”

The event’s three judges evaluated the competitors based on elements of tradition, including dress, movement and music. Also judged were artistic and technical components: team enthusiasm, stunts, creativity and choreography.

“What we did out there will be copied by everyone after this,” said Dalal, of the team’s “human pyramid” display.

Though hampered by early glitches, the event ran smoothly.

“This was the first time that we had teams from the West Coast and from Canada,” Awal said. “It reflects good organization and good advertisement.”

The South Asian Society at GW chose the 10 teams that competed in the evening’s event from a pool of video taped auditions from across North America.

“We had a great selection to choose from,” said Avani Parekh, executive board member for the Bhangra Blowout. “I’ve never seen so much talent.”

The audience exploded as the Maryland victory was announced, with dancers, friends and family rushing the stage to congratulate the team’s achievement.

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