UB Bhangra dance team makes a comeback: dancing with the scholars

How UB Bhangra rebuilt an empire to bring Punjabi culture to Buffalo


Students don’t have to travel to Punjab to get a taste of Bhangra. The folk dance, which comes from the northwestern state of India, has grown a home on campus in Student Association club UB Bhangra.

UB Bhangra started in 2003 and formed its own competition called Bhangra Blizzard, inviting teams from all over the country to come compete and share its culture. In 2009, financial corruption among members caused the group to be derecognized by SA, and the team and Bhangra Blizzard fell apart.

After a two-year hiatus, Bhangra rebounded when students organized a brand new team in 2011. Members say that team has flourished since the reboot.

Today, there are six men and six women in UB Bhangra.

Brightly colored costumes, props and lively dance moves such as jumps, twirls and stomps all make up the unique dance style. Although Bhangra is traditionally done during the harvest season in India, it has become popular in North America throughout the year. Groups have begun to do more competitions and performances, blending traditional dance and music with modern genres such as hip-hop, reggae, rap and pop.

“I’ve been dancing for a long time,” said Harbind Brar, a senior biomedical sciences and psychology major and a captain of UB Bhangra. “I started when I was young.”

As a child, Brar participated in performances for the Indian Association of Buffalo and helped start a youth dance group called New Generation Bhangra.

“When I came [to UB] in 2011, myself and three other students basically came together and we wanted to restart the team just because we love dancing,” Brar said.

Minal Hatwar, a senior physical anthropology major and the other captain of the team, helped Brar restart UB Bhangra.

But the new start wasn’t without challenges.
“We started brand new. It was a whole new team,” Hatwar said. “Most people on the team didn’t even know how to dance Bhangra, and it was all new to them. It was difficult getting everyone on the same page and even preparing for a competition.”

In the four years since the group restarted, UB Bhangra has made a comeback.

Now, the 12-member team meets two to three times a week for a few hours to share in the Indian culture, perfect its routines and have a good time.

To the UB Bhangra team, unity is key.

“With Bhangra, it’s not a one-man show, so it takes everybody’s coordination and cooperation,” said Keshav Choudhary, a freshman physics major and member of UB Bhangra.

But they don’t only work together on the stage. The members are also close friends. In fact, Choudhary’s roommates for next semester are on the Bhangra team.

“To be accepted with open arms is really good because I know with other dance forms it takes years to learn the basics,” Choudhary said. “But here, it’s a little more laid back and we just have fun with it. [We’re] just a really cool squad to hang around.”

A UB Bhangra performance is nothing but fun, according to members. There’s a kaleidoscope of colors, traditional costumes and makeup, props, infectious music and high-energy dancing. It coalesces to create a crowd-pleasing performance.

A DJ on the team creates mixes combining traditional Bhangra music with popular hip-hop, rap and house music.

The team does flash mobs in the Student Union and has participated in performances at UB, including at the World Bazaar.

They’ve also taken second place at the Taiwanese SA’s Dancing Stars competition, came in third at the Indian SA’s Muqabla 2012, won first place at Muqabla 2013 and took third place in Nachle Buffalo 2014 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo.

UB Bhangra is currently perfecting its performances for SA’s International Fiesta 2015 as well as the Aa Dekhen Zara competition in Madison, Wisconsin this March. International Fiesta will be on March 7 in the Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Undergrad admission is free and tickets are available in the SA office in SU 350.

“We put in so much hard work throughout the year,” Hatwar said. “When we started [in 2011] we were a very shaky team, but the fact that we’re actually placing and our hard work is paying off feels great.”

Grace Trimper is an arts staff writer and can be contacted at arts@ubspectrum.com