The Punjabi term “bhangra” means “intoxicated with joy,” and judging by the longevity of competitive dance team Cornell Bhangra and the enthusiastic smiles of its performers, the activity is indeed as joyful as it sounds.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Cornell Bhangra, making the group the longest continuously running collegiate Bhangra team in North America.
The traditional folk dance — originating in the state of Punjab in northern India — has long been an integral part of Punjabi culture. Though originally performed to celebrate the harvest in farming cultures, Bhangra dance choreography has since evolved.
With the influence of neighboring regions and the creation of an international collegiate circuit reaching from the United States to Australia, Bhangha has expanded from its rural roots.
“[Bhangra] choreography now is not just about using those core moves, but about using them in a unique and interesting way,” said Sonali Razdan ’19, president and co-captain of Cornell Bhangra.
In this unique and interesting way, Cornell team is innovative in their use of modern choreography, including hip hop and other Indian dance moves in their sets, Razdan explained.
“If you’ve seen our performances at Pao Bhangra … you’ll see that we fuse traditional Punjabi … folk dance elements with modern pop music to make the experience memorable for the crowd and exciting for the dancers on stage,” said Samir Jain ’19.
That creativity has turned them into an eminent team, winning consecutive World’s Best Bhangra Crew competitions in 2013 and 2014, and Bhangra Blowout in 2015.
The team even reached the quarterfinals in the 2014 season of the NBC television series “America’s Got Talent.”
The team’s spectacle can also be seen at Pao Bhangra, Cornell Bhangra’s annual March exhibition, in which four collegiate Bhangra teams are invited to Ithaca to perform their sets on Cornell’s stage.
Razdan said she’s hoping to further elevate the team’s past success. This year, she wants to emphasize the team’s folk roots and define the team identity, hoping to “bring back the heat and the fire we had in past years.”
“[We are] a young team, with only one senior, so the next two years will be especially important [in] defining what Cornell Bhangra is,” Razdan said.
Cornell Bhangra owes its success to the “dedication and commitment” of its members, Razdan said, and the community spirit of the team is evident in both their energetic performances and behind-the-scenes.
Amanda Pathmanathan ‘19 highlighted the inclusive recruitment process that emphasized the close bonds among Cornell Bhangra members.
“Everything we do comes from the idea that we’re a family and we want to be here,” she said.
Participation in Cornell Bhangra is rigorous and intensive; the team practices for seven to ten hours every week, according to Razdan, and members give up study and social time to attend competitions on weekends.
Most of all, Cornell Bhangra seeks to celebrate the diverse cultural identities that coexist here at Cornell.
“In a world like today, with a lot of tensions … we’re spreading Punjabi culture in order to open it up to everyone, trying to show there’s a good side to every culture, there’s a lot everyone is contributing. Even if we’re not Punjabi, we can still appreciate the culture and the dance,” Pathmanathan said.
As Deepthi John ’19 put it, “to come together, to dance together … [it] shows you can overcome whatever differences you have.”