Marquette University Bhangra Academy gears up for new semester

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Photo by Sarah Kuhns

The uniforms are traditional and designed to allow the dancers to perform impressive moves, such as leg lifts, while also displaying their culture.

Bhangra has appeared on America’s Got Talent, in the 2012 London Olympics and has even been performed at the White House, and now the Marquette University Bhangra Academy is hoping to create a thriving community on campus.

MUBA is a dance organization that specializes in Bhangra, a style of dance that originates in the Punjab region of India, and is normally performed at celebrations such as weddings.

Riya Bhasin, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, co-founded MUBA in 2019. She described the joyful memories of dancing at her family events, and how she really wanted to bring that community to Marquette.

“I always found it to be fun and I thought it would always bring people together, and that was the biggest reason that I wanted to push to have this club,” Bhasin said.

This high-energy dance is accompanied by elaborate and brightly colored outfits which pair nicely with the exciting, upbeat music. The uniforms are traditional and designed to allow the dancers to perform impressive moves, such as leg lifts, while also displaying their culture.

Anuhya Kakumanu, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, explained that while the club eventually wants to compete they start out with teaching the basics to anyone who is interested.

[The club is] basically teaching people about this style of dance and how to get them involved and getting them interested in the dance,” Kakumanu said. 

MUBA has a list of goals, one of them being to grow their membership and recruit more dancers this year. 

“It’s been hard because we’ve had a lot of people from [the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee] reach out because they want to join us, but we don’t know if we can do that because of COVID-19,” Bhasin said

They also planned to hold auditions at the beginning of the spring semester, but because classes were postponed, they’ve had to move them to a later date.

“I don’t even know how we’re going to go about auditions right now because I have to keep checking in to see if we are going to have a space to do things,” Bhasin said.

Additionally, there were plans for a performance at the beginning of February but Bhasin said it is looking uncertain. However, Bhasin and the rest of the organization are more than happy to welcome anyone who is interested.

“All you need is good energy and a positive attitude; you don’t need any experience,” Bhasin said. 

While experience is not needed, some members come in with knowledge of the style from their culture and lives before college.  

“I had a little bit of experience from when my friends and I would go to weddings and such where we would perform Bhangra,” Amrit Pal Singh, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, said. 

Another goal of the organization is to get involved with Bhangra competitions across the Midwest. Bhasin described how they tried to get involved with the Madtown Bhangra competition previously, but it was complicated by the pandemic. In addition to that, Bhasin explained MUBA was at a disadvantage because they didn’t have as many members as their competitors. 

Prior to the pandemic and the COVID-19 precautions, MUBA held workshops on campus to teach the dance to students. The group was able to start up these workshops again in the fall semester, and they received a lot of positive feedback from their participants.  

“It was nice to know that the efforts that everybody has put in to make this an inclusive and nonjudgmental space have been appreciated,” Bhasin said. 

Before the pandemic precautions, the group was also allowed to have more performances on campus, which included their appearances at MU Spotlight, a talent show put on by the Marquette University Student Government. Kakumanu mentioned that these shows have become some of her favorite memories from MUBA. 

Coming back from the pandemic was a challenge for the organization, but the members worked hard throughout the fall semester so they could get back to doing what they love. 

“Having to start MUBA back up again, especially after the other two co-founders had graduated, was an immense amount of pressure on me,” Bhasin said. “I felt like I had put in a lot to make this work and I didn’t want to see it die.” 

However, that hard work was not in vain. Eventually, they hosted a few workshops along with some rehearsals for performances. MUBA wore masks and limited the amount of people they were around to make their practices safer, Kakumanu explained. 

“There’s a little bit of concern with [the omicron variant.] We’re trying to bring in new people, but you never know what’s going on with those other guys,” Singh said. 

MUBA is celebrating and sharing culture through their performances and workshops on campus, but the growing concern over COVID-19 and the new variant has discouraged their upcoming plans. They are taking measures to be safe while hoping that they will be able to showcase their dance to the community. 

As spring semester progresses, the Marquette University Bhangra Academy will work hard on their dances and future performances. If you are interested in MUBA or just want to stay up to date with them, you can find out more on their Instagram, @marquettemuba.

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at [email protected]