Nearly 4,000 people attended the South Asian Society’s 14th annual Bhangra Blowout student dance competition at DAR Constitution Hall Saturday night.
Ten different Bhangra dance teams from colleges and universities as far as California competed for the $4,000 cash prize for best dance group. The competition’s dancing style, Bhangra, is a type of folk music and dance originating from the Punjab region in Southeast Asia – which encompasses Northern India and Northeast Pakistan. The dance involves traditional moves, hopping and spinning, in sync with rhythmic music.
“Nowadays they do anecdotes in between (dances). They do fusion, hip-hop and they also have a traditional aspect too,” said event director Sonia Gupta, a senior.
Gupta, who co-directed the event with GW junior Kamal Patel, said the five judges were chosen based on their backgrounds in Bhangra and dance.
Organizers, performers and attendees interviewed agreed that Bhangra Blowout is one of the premier Bhangra competitions in the country and the longest running. In the last 14 years only one show was not sold out, organizers said.
“Bhangra Blowout is the largest (competition) in comparison to any other competition – I would go as far as to say (larger) than any South Asian competition,” Patel said. “It’s one of the original. Before Bhangra Blowout there was actually no other (Bhangra) dance competition in the country.”
Organizers said they begin planning for the next Bhangra Blowout in April, 11 months in advance.
The dancers were judged on choreography, formation and other traditional Bhangra characteristics. The teams wore the brightly colored costumes traditionally associated with the dance. There were also musical performances by such prominent Bhangra artists as the hip-hop fusion band Sona Family and prominent Punjabi singer Manak-E.
Sona Family made its way to the top of the British pop charts and recently won Best Dance Video at the Bollywood Music Awards. Band members are from the United Kingdom.
Manak-E is an up-and-coming rap-Bhangra fusion performer who has worked with big-name artists like rapper 50 Cent. He sang as GW’s Bhangra team danced behind him. The singer brought thousands of audience members to their feet, dancing and singing along with his songs.
GW’s Bhangra team competed as an exhibition team and not in the actual competition.
The winners of the competition were New York University in first, Virginia Commonwealth University in second and Rutgers University in third place. Each team was judged on an eight-minute performance.
NYU team members were excited for their win. They stressed team cohesion and unity as the most important factor in their winning performance.
“It’s a team effort … everyone contributed,” NYU freshman Tarif Chowdhury said.
While most audience members felt the top-ranked teams deserved their wins, others believed the judging was not in line with traditional Bhangra criteria.
University of Maryland senior Amber Bhatti said the University of North Carolina’s routine was technically superior to NYU’s even though they didn’t place in the top three.
“There are some teams that got ripped here – they got ripped off,” Bhatti said.
She expressed frustration at the judges’ backgrounds, claiming most could not even pronounce Punjabi terms correctly. She added that she believed NYU’s performance was one of the worst in the competition.
Those who came to D.C. for the show said the prominence of the competition nationwide is a credit to GW’S South Asian Society.
“That’s the thing that’s amazing (is) you have things that start as projects but this has become a tradition,” said Punjabi a cappella performer Vivek Agrawal, who was in D.C. with his group, Raagapella, as part of a spring break tour.
Tufts University graduate student Devon Cone said she knows a lot of students with South Asian heritage at Tufts, which gave her a larger appreciation for the event’s culture. She said the colorful costumes were an important part of the overall experience.
In addition to organizing the Blowout competition, the South Asian Society also hosted a dinner Friday evening on the 1959 E Street Terrace for all of the performers. The group also put on a mini-Bhangra event called “Bhangra on The Block.” The Stanford singers preformed at “Bhangra on The Block,” a preview performance Saturday afternoon in J Street.
There is no longer an official after party for the event due to a stabbing that resulted in the death of Ranjit Singh, a 20-year-old college student from Phillipsburg, N.J., organizers said.
“We haven’t had one since (the incident),” Gupta said. “We just feel like it’s a more cultural thing – and we’re so tired by the end.”
The South Asian Society is a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit filed by Ranjit Singh’s father Gurpal Singh as a result of the 2005 after-party. GW and the U.S. Government are also defendants in the suit.
Singh’s counsel, Geoffrey Allen, said GW filed a court motion to obtain all of the police reports associated with the stabbing. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is opposing the motion, Allen said, because the government is still looking for the offender, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan.
The next status hearing in the case, which will cover GW’s motion, is March 30.
-Kaitlyn Jahrling contributed to this report.