Students vie for Bhangra title

Fifteen years ago a small group of GW students gathered in a campus dining hall to celebrate Indian dance. That annual event occurred again on Saturday night, but now with several thousand attendees and celebrities at DAR Constitution Hall.

It’s Bhangra Blowout.

The dance competition, hosted by GW’s South Asian Society, drew about 4,000 people, where eight universities competed for more than $7,000 in prizes.

Bhangra is a traditional dance and music form that originated in Northern Indian region of Punjab. It relies heavily on percussion, especially the dhol drum, as well as ornate and colorful costumes and theatrics. In the United States, Bhangra has fused with American culture, and groups often incorporate hip hop, rap music and dance moves into the traditional performances.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Bhangra team won the competition and took home its top prize of $4,000.

“It’s awesome,” VCU team captain Arya Namboodiri said. VCU also won the Viewer’s Choice Award, which came with a $500 prize. “It’s being able to take part in your culture; it’s so much fun.”

“This year topped all other Bhangra Blowouts,” said Sonia Mehta, director of public relations for SAS. “The event went really well, the audience seemed to love the performances . Next year we’re going to have to step it up and do even more.”

Ravi Singh, a junior at Columbia University, grew up dancing Bhangra informally at parties, but when he came to college he learned the dance’s technique. Columbia has attended 14 of the 15 Bhangra Blowouts held at GW and came in third place this year.

“It’s a fun art form,” Singh said. “It is refreshing to see other university students doing the same thing as we are.”

The British-Indian group Rhythm Dhol and Bass, who just finished a music video with rapper Snoop Dogg, and Punjab singer K.S. Makhan also performed at Saturday night’s competition. GW’s Bhangra team performed as well, but as the event’s host, they did not compete.

“The routines here are fast, they are modern, exciting and fast-paced,” said Jasleen Salwan, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., who plans on joining a Bhangra team when she goes to college. “I can’t really think of anything to look forward to more than the Bhangra Blowout every year.”

During the performances, audience members often rose out of their seats to dance in the aisles and sing along, as well as to boo or cheer each performance.

Jessica Schwartz, a sophomore at GW, said she came to the event because her friends were performing and she is interested in Indian culture.

“It’s so interesting to see the American mixing in with the Indian heritage,” Schwartz said.

SAS held its first Bhangra Blowout in J Street in 1994. Now the competition is the largest South Asian intercollegiate dance competition in the country. Unlike previous years, SAS no longer holds an official after-party for the competition due to the fatal stabbing of a man outside the after-party in 2005.

All proceeds from the event go to Kashmir Corps, a private organization that “seeks to bring about a positive humanitarian change in Kashmir by highlighting the advantages of volunteerism,” according to the event’s program.

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