GW bhangra takes second in Blowout

GW took second place at Saturday’s sold-out Bhangra Blowout, an annual intercollegiate dance competition sponsored by the South Asian Society. Though GW won first prize last year, organizers of the event said they were pleased with their $1,500 prize.

Bhangra Blowout, GW’s largest student-organized event, celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday night in the Smith Center. Participants said they were proud that Bhangra spreads South Asian culture to those accustomed to and unfamiliar with the traditions.

“People mix mainstream music with our music,” said Nandu Machiraju, president of the South Asian Society. “(The show) is a form of culture spreading. We are proud of our culture and this is a year to show that.”

Bhangra Blowout is the biggest competition of its kind in the country. The dance contest is the main part of the Bhangra celebration. Organizers moved this year’s Bhangra on the Quad, a daylong pre-show celebration, into the Marvin Center because of rain.

Bhangra Blowout attracts more than 40 submissions from universities all around the world each year. This year, 10 college teams, including three schools from California, the New York Institute of Technology and Columbia University, competed.

The $3,000 grand prize went to UCLA.

Bhangra is a folk dance that originated in Punjab, India. Johnny Kalsi, leader of the Dhol Foundation, said the word bhangra does not mean anything but comes from the word bhang, an intoxicating herb that farmers used to mix with water and drink. The farmers felt happy after drinking it so they danced, generating bhangra.

The Dhol Foundation is the largest dhol, a type of Indian drum, institute in Great Britain.

Because the dancers were farmers, a lot of the movements imitate tending crops, like cutting corn and pulling weeds. The instrument used for the music was the dhol.

Bhangra has grown popular recently, with bhangra music being mixed with Western forms of music like hip-hop and techno, participants noted. One of Kalsi’s songs was in the movie, Gangs of New York.

Rati Bishnoi, public relations chair of the Bhangra Blowout executive board, said she is proud because the event is entirely student-run.

“We started planning this event since July last year,” Bishnoi said. “We are all full-time students and some people have internships and jobs. It takes a lot of work but it’s worth it.”

Performers, as well as organizers, put in many hours preparing for the show.

“We have been practicing since October,” said Samir Asodia, president of the UCLA bhrangra team. “We practiced 15 hours or more every week for two months now. It takes a lot of dedication because we are all full time students.”

Besides the competing teams, there were special performances by the Dhol Foundation and Atma, a female a cappella group from University of Pennsylvania.

“It is a great asset for the city economically and culturally because over 6,000 people come for the show either to perform or to watch and they use transportation, sleep in hotels, and eat at restaurants while they are here,” Bishnoi said.

About half of the profits from the evening went to The South Asian Society Scholarship Fund, the only student-funded endowment on campus. The scholarship is for $20,000.

The award is given out to a GW student who demonstrates strong commitment to service and the South Asian community and maintains academic standards. Gunjan Shah, a sophomore majoring in biology, won this year.

The rest of the proceeds go to the next year’s Bhangra Blowout funding or various charities. Tickets cost $25 for the show, and $30 for the official after-party, held in the Old Post Office Pavilion.

Audience members said the show was well put-together, fun and entertaining, with good competition.

“It was crazy, off the hook,” said Naveed Khan, a student at the University of Connecticut. “It was definitely worth it. I’m definitely coming back next time.”

“I think it was really good,” GW sophomore Mahima Tiwari said. “This is my third time watching the show and the performance was better than ever, a stiff competition.”

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