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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Punjabi representation through dance

Marquette University’s Bhangra Academy shared Punjabi culture through the dance style called bhangra.

Dressed in bright, bold and colorful attire, members of Marquette University’s Bhangra Academy shared Punjabi culture through an energetic dance style called bhangra.

Bhangra is a form of dance that comes from the region of Punjab in India and Pakistan. It is an ethnic folk dance that originally was a celebratory dance done by Punjabi farmers during the harvesting season. Farmers would perform bhangra at cultural festivals to celebrate harvesting healthy crops during “vaisakhi,” or the spring season.

“The original purpose of this dance form was always to showcase a celebration and that is something our bhangra team prioritizes in our performances,” Riya Bhasin, choreographer and president of MUBA and senior in the College of Health Sciences, said.

A typical performance consists of eight dancers who perform kicks, leaps and body bending, often with upraised thrusting arm or shoulder movements, to short songs called “boliyan” and to the beat of a double-headed drum or “dhol.”

Over the past 30 years, bhangra has been able to keep its traditional Indian roots while also becoming integrated into popular Asian culture after being mixed with hip-hop, house and reggae styles of music.

Influences of bhangra can be heard in Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” as well as in music from Jay-Z, Selena Gomez and The Fugees. The dance style can be recognized from Bhangra Empire on America’s Got Talent and from Virsa Punjab Entertainments from the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Bhangra has now evolved into music and DJing, group-based competitions and exercise and dance programs at schools.

MUBA was founded in 2019 by Marquette alums Kirat Kaur and Khushbeen Virk as well as Bhasin with the mission to share the Punjabi culture and values with others through this style of dance.

“I believe that the importance of this club lies in the idea of bringing people together through a dance form,” Bhasin said. “Bhangra is something that everybody can involve themselves in whether they are in pursuit of meeting new people, learning about the dance, learning about the culture, wanting to perform or just wanting to have fun.”

Marquette is a predominately white institution with 7,704 white students and 3,041 students of color out of 11,320 students enrolled full-time in the fall of 2021.

“It’s important to have organizations such as the Bhangra Club on campus to celebrate and raise awareness to different cultures and provide a sense of belonging for those who resonate with that culture,” Tiffany Fulford, coordinator of Cultural Engagement Programs and Services, said.

Anuhya Kakumanu, a member of the club and a senior in the College of Health Sciences, said MUBA has helped the campus learn more about the Punjabi dance style, but it has also given her and many others a chance to meet new people who understand and appreciate the culture.

“My favorite part about being in this club is making new friends from a variety of different backgrounds and being around a positive environment where we all have a passion for bhangra,” Kakumanu said.

MUBA originally began on campus with hopes of becoming a competitive and performing bhangra team to represent Marquette University in competitions like many other colleges and universities around the country.

“While the pandemic did throw a wrench into our plans of performing at competitive events, we are hoping to get back into the swing of things in the next semester for competition season,” Bhasin said.

The club has three performances scheduled for next semester as well as workshops and team auditions in the coming weeks.

“It’s all worth it when I see our group perform with their best energy and with their own additions to the routine,” Bhasin said.

This story was written by Bailey Striepling. She can be reached at [email protected].

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