Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.

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Ithaca, N.Y. — Organized chaos reigned at Cornell’s Barton Hall as the Cornell Bhangra team jumped in time to the vibrant drum beat while ignoring the conflicting melodies of other dance teams and pounding basketballs around them.

The 28-member team has spent anywhere from an hour-and-half to two hours, three days a week for the past two months in preparation for the upcoming Boston Bhangra Competition on Nov. 22.

As the competition closes in, the team has added additional practices to refine their skills.

 “In preparation, we are kicking it up a few notches—going a little harder at each of our run-throughs to make sure we have enough stamina to get through all of it,” Ashley George, the team public relations director said.

Bhangra is a folk dance from the Punjabi region of India that was traditionally practiced to celebrate the harvest, Megah Kalia, artistic director and founder of NYC Bhangra Company, said.

“Bhangra is a celebratory dance, its a dance of joy, passion and energy,” she said.”[It] is about spreading love and joy.”

 The team, which combines experienced and inexperienced Bhangra dancers, received national attention earlier this year as quarterfinalists on popular talent show, America’s Got Talent. The team auditioned for the show during the spring, made it to the opening rounds, but had to resume after final exams. They later returned for the quarterfinals after winning the spot from their performance on the Today Show, but didn’t advance to the semi-finals.

“The whole time it felt so surreal,” Darah Barnes, team president said.

Performing on the show was a huge achievement and serves as a source of motivation to work harder, she said.

According to Taisu Kumar, team co-captain, although the team works hard to win competitions, it doesn’t have any true rivalries. There is a sense of friendly competition in the Bhangra community; the focus is on working as a team and maintaining a strong bond, he explained. The focus should be on the dance’s more enjoyable aspects as opposed to the more stressful aspects of competition, Kumar said.

“The most appealing part about the dance is that we are able to combine traditional music with hip-hop and more modern elements, that way the audience can relate to us—they can feel the energy,” Kumar said.

The drums play a prominent role in maintaining the high energy of the dance, Kalia said.

“The sound that the drum makes has a powerful impact on an audience,” she said. “It gets them going, it gets them moving. Its infectious.”

The evolution of Bhangra is one of the dance’s attractive qualities, Durga Bor, dance lecturer at Cornell said. It evolved from being a strictly traditional dance performed by men to celebrate the harvest season in the Punjabi region of South Asia. In its contemporary state that was popularized in England, there are techno beats and additional drums.

“Each generation is going to put their own thing on it,” Bor said.

Bhangra, with its acrobatic elements, is such a dynamic and distinctive dance that it is difficult to compare it to other South Asian styles of dance, Bor said.

“Bhangra stands out, there’s a certain spirit that it embodies,” she said. “I can’t even compare it to a [South Asian] classical dance, it’s like apples and oranges.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.