April 9, 2007

Pao Bhangra 6 Brings Teams of Dancers to Campus

Print More

2,300 Bhangra fans packed Barton Hall on Saturday night for Pao Bhangra 6, the sixth annual intercollegiate dance showcase presented by Cornell Bhangra. The exhibition featured six visiting collegiate teams from all over the country, as well as performances by Cornell’s own Kudiyan, Mundey and mixed teams. The show also highlighted guest acts from Rochester Kids Bhangra as well as Cornell’s own break dancing team Absolute Zero.
Literally translated, Pao Bhangra means “Do Bhangra,” and the teams and audience in attendance were excited for the event. The performers enthusiasm could be seen in their energetic steps, jumps and spins and intricate formations. The sell-out crowd rarely stayed silent throughout the two-and-a-half hour show
“The crowd support was great, and they definitely reacted very positively to all the performances,” said Cornell Bhangra President Abhinav Koul ’07.
This year’s show was special because it celebrated the 10th anniversary of Cornell Bhangra. In the week leading up to the show, team members could be seen publicizing all over campus, including performing in Robert Purcell Community Center and Trillium, on Ho Plaza and even during classes to give everyone a taste of what was to come.
“We went to an organic chemistry class, a neurobiology class, we’d just go in and give a 30 second performance to get people interested,” said Rohit Gupta ’08.
Bhangra is a traditional, high-energy dance with its roots in the north Indian state of Punjab and Pakistan. Historically, Bhangra was performed by farmers in celebration of a good harvest. More recently, Bhangra has reemerged as an explosive dance style that has become very popular throughout North America and around the world.
This year, 23 of the best teams in the country applied to perform at Pao Bhangra, with only six receiving invites. The lineup included mixed Bhangra teams from New York University, Virginia Commonwealth, Northwestern, George Washington, Columbia and SUNY Geneseo.
Unlike most major intercollegiate Bhangra shows, Pao Bhangra is an exhibition show rather than a competition.
“We do it as an exhibition because we want teams to be able to come here and just enjoy Bhangra,” Koul said. “Competitions can get very stressful, but an exhibition fosters a more positive environment.”
Geneseo Bhangra co-captain Brad Sickels ’07 agreed.
“The feeling on stage is not so much about technique but about having fun,” Sickels said. “Bhangra is the most energetic and fun dance style I have ever encountered. I’ve never seen a crowd react the way it does to Bhangra.”
The Geneseo team, which is only in its second year, is unique because of its diversity. With very few South Asians, the team learned about Bhangra by watching videos, going to see competitions and researching online. Their performance on Saturday featured a fusion with the Geneseo Step Team, and at the end of their dance, each of the six members on stage held up the flag of a different country.
“Geneseo Bhangra takes pride in its diversity,” said Geneseo Step team member Jess DaPolito ’09.
The Cornell Bhangra Executive Board started planning Pao Bhangra 6 the day after Pao Bhangra 5 ended last year. The date for the show was reserved last August. In addition, the Cornell teams had to fundraise in order to provide the visiting teams with money to cover travel and hotel expenses. They recruited sponsors, sold t-shirts and pre-sold over 1500 tickets. The team normally practices three days a week, but in the weeks leading up to the show team members spent five or six days a week rehearsing to make sure they were ready.
“In the end all of our work paid off immensely, and it was definitely worth all the effort we put into organizing the show,” Koul said.
The audience was also very appreciative of the participating teams’ efforts. Crowd members ranged from Bhangra enthusiasts to people who had previously known very little about the dance.
“It’s a style of dancing that seems very different from anything in the Western world,” said first time Pao Bhangra attendee Ariela Rutkin-Becker ’09. “Just the endurance and extension of the body it takes to perform is such a different style.”
Aemish Shah ’07, who has grown up watching Bhangra and has attended the show for the last four years, said, “I was really excited about the variety of colleges and to see the variety of dance styles within Bhangra. This year’s show had some of the most talented teams I have ever seen perform.”