1,500 people gathered in Barton Saturday night to watch Pao Bhangra 3, the third annual intercollegiate dance exhibition presented by the Cornell Bhangra club. Doors opened at 6:30 p.m., but the crowds of people weren’t settled until the show began, more than an hour later. It was the third major performance by Cornell’s all-female (Kudiyan), all-male (Mundey) and mixed Bhangra teams at Cornell. The evening also featured troops from Lehigh, NYU and Columbia, the Skits-o-phrenics, three youngsters from upstate New York and two dhol (a large drum played with sticks) players.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Amy Newhouse ’06, member of Kudiyan, mixed and the hip hop groups. “The turnout was incredible. I think it was beyond what people expected.”
Pao Bhangra 2 was at the Statler last year, so the audience was limited to around 850 to 900 people.
“We were forced to do it at Barton because Bailey is under construction. We sold 900 tickets before the day of the show. The audience was almost exclusively Cornell,” said Abhisek Banerjee ’04.
The night began with the Lehigh mixed group, Virsa Punjab Da. NYU’s mixed group, Punjab Inc. Diyan Kudiyan was next. Monika Gupta and Tarun Subrahmanian soon took the stage for their dhol routine, where they showed off their drumming skills. Subrahmanian is “down in Florida right now. He’s an alum; he came back up a few nights ago and they put that together,” Newhouse said.
Cornell Mundey, the all-male Bhangra group, followed. As stated in the program, “The Cornell Mundey continues to integrate traditional dance moves into the hardcore style of Cornell Bhangra that we have all become.”
Savneet Singh ’05 has been on the Bhangra team since his freshman year.
“It’s pretty amazing to see the progression of Bhangra on the campus and the crowd energy. I compare the all-male team to a sports team. It’s a lot of fun, and we joke around a lot. The mixed team is more serious and more competitive,” said Singh.
After the Cornell Mundey’s routine, three youngsters Aman Kundlas, Jasleen Kundlas and Rohan Virdee from upstate New York wowed audience members with their Bhangra skills. “They watched the first performance a few years ago. They were inspired by that. They requested to perform last night, and we thought they would be well received, and they were,” Banerjee said.
Cornell’s all-female team, Kudiyan, went next. Just a month ago they were named the World Bhangra Champions of Bhangra Nation 8. They performed the same dance that won them the competition.
“We’ve been practicing ever since the beginning of the school year so we were really prepared when the show came along,” said Paramita Das ’05.
Eight alumni Bhangra members came back to perform a dance following intermission.
“My freshman year, Cornell was clearly the best team out there. We set the bar. In two years, everyone is good now, it’s spread so far,” Singh said.
“Over the past seven years, Cornell Bhangra has developed quite a large network of alumni who continue to promote Bhangra and Punjabi culture after moving on from Cornell,” read the program.
Cornell’s hip hop group was next to go, and they performed a dance choreographed by Das herself.
“Bhangra is included in a lot of hip hop songs. It was definitely fun to learn it and do something different,” Newhouse said.
“We wanted to do something that really showed how people dance Bhangra in a club and a more social setting. It was a good time, no stress about competitions, no worrying about getting it perfect, just performing for the Cornell crowd,” Das said.
Then came Pao Bhangra, which was a chance for audience members to show off their Bhangra skills by participating in the dancing. Punjab Inc., De Gabroo of NYU and Cubhangra from Columbia University, both mixed groups, concluded the visiting acts.
Cornell Bhangra mixed dance was the final team to perform at Pao Bhangra 3. The program described the mixed dance as an, “evolution from previous Cornell Bhangra styles to a more smooth and traditional style.”
“Last night was better than I could have ever imagined,” Das said.
Banerjee added, “It was very stressful. Booking Barton was a really big deal, a lot of logistics needed to be taken care of. Keeping all those things in mind was quite a challenge.”
The diverse crowd gives testament to the increasing popularity and recognition of Bhangra.
“It’s not just tucked away in the Indian culture. It’s an Indian dance, and more people know about it who are non-Indian,” Newhouse said.
Singh’s friend dragged him to the try out three years ago. “I kind of recognized the music, they make it really simple. Everyone is friendly and really nice. It’s the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been to college,” he said.
Newhouse wasn’t experienced before trying out, either.
“I just kind of watched, made bad attempts at doing it, and played around in the dorms last year. I made the team and I was in shock. I didn’t expect to get it,” she said.
Das joined because, “I love to dance and perform and Bhangra is the epitome of energetic performances on campus,” she said.
Last night’s performance was full of energy from both the dancers and the 1,500 audience members.
“Oh wow. Feeling that support and getting to go up there, I was thinking, ‘they want be here, we want be here.’ I was nervous each time I went up, but by the third time I was like, ‘I feel good,'” Newhouse said.
Archived article by Jessica Liebman