Bhangra contest draws thousands in 16th year

Heavy beats rumbled through the floors of DAR Constitution Hall Saturday night as college students nationwide gathered to celebrate the sixteenth Bhangra Blowout, a spirited and colorful dance competition sponsored annually by the GW South Asian Society.

Nearly 4,000 students were in attendance, with more than 100 dancing in the aisles of the historic building, screaming and cheering on their favorite teams. Proceeds from the event went to Pratham, a nonprofit organization that focuses on primary education in India.

Last month, the SA Finance Committee denied the South Asian Society’s funding request for the event, primarily because it was going to make a profit.

“To have the school’s support would have been nice,” said senior Anugna Kasireddy, co-director of the event. “The school uses the event on its admissions videos. But we tried our best.”

She said the group made up the last-minute funding shortfall with contributions from various donors, corporate sponsors like McDonald’s and GW’s Multicultural Student Services Center. Kasireddy said the group still had to cut back on food and activities at the barbecue event that preceded the Blowout.

“We had to cut down on things,” said co-director Madhia Malik, a sophomore. “But at the end of the day we think this year’s events are at the same caliber as the last 16 years.”

Bhangra, a traditional dance from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, is a high-energy style of dance often performed at occasions such as weddings and the beginning of the harvest. Eight collegiate teams vied for $7,500 in winnings, with first place garnering $4,000. Their performances were judged on a variety of categories such as entertainment value, artistic elements and how closely it followed traditional Bhangra.

A viewer’s choice award was given to the audience favorite, which audience members voted on using text messages. The winner, the team from New York University, won with a total of nearly 4,000 votes – seemingly more than were in attendance at the event, though no one seemed to mind.

A panel of judges also evaluated the teams during the competitive portion of the event. Virginia Commonwealth University took first place in the competitive portion for the second year in a row, with a routine that incorporated a dancer depicting the Joker from Batman, who made his appearance near the end of the group’s eight-minute routine.

DJ Kayper, from the United Kingdom, served as emcee for the event and played music that blended modern hip-hop and R&B with Bhangra and Bollywood.

“We try to keep our routines traditional but also entertaining,” said Arjun Barua after the show. “It’s traditional with a twist.”

The GW South Asian Society encourages exploration of South Asian culture among people who might not have been otherwise exposed to it. Heather Jones, a junior on Cornell’s team, said she has danced Bhangra since high school, though she is not of South Asian descent.

“I was trained in classical and modern dance, but it was never my forte,” Jones said. “Bhangra has become my passion.”

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