Pillbox

Bhangra in the Burgh troupes perform for charity

Credit: Jessica Sochol/ Credit: Jessica Sochol/

“Sick moves. Great beats. Fly costs. Hot people. For a great cause.” These were five reasons to attend Bhangra in the Burgh, according to the promotional posters floating around campus the past few weeks. On Saturday, 2,500 people filled up the auditorium in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall to watch the fifth annual bhangra dance competition. The event did not disappoint, as the audience got exactly what was promised in the flyers.

Eight competing teams from around the country came to show off their dance skills in the high-energy competition. Bhangra is a dance style originating from Punjab, which uses traditional, beat-heavy folk music, but modern versions often combine this with popular hip-hop or club music. All the teams — D.C. Bhangra Crew, Anakh-E-Gabroo, Cornell, First Class Bhangra, D.C. Metro Punjabi Arts Academy, Virginia di Shaan, Drexel, and UNC Bhangra Elite — had extremely high levels of skill and technique. Dressed in brightly colored clothes, the performers seemed to glide across the stage from one formation to the next.

Given the high caliber of each performance, it was inevitably an intense competition. However, “a good show is a competitive but friendly show,” said administrative chair Sonum Garg, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. This was evidenced by the teams cheering for one another during each dance. The sportsmanship demonstrated by the teams was probably facilitated by the fact that the Bhangra in the Burgh committee organized a mixer the night before, so that the teams could get better acquainted.

The night was full of laughter, thanks to charismatic Master of Ceremonies Suraj Baxi, a senior social and decision sciences major. He and co-host Stefan Dezil, a senior drama student, created smooth segues between the acts with their wit and charm. The insertion of non-competitive exhibition acts also helped with the flow of the show.

The exhibition acts included non-dance groups such as Carnegie Mellon’s all-male South Asian a cappella group Deewane, as well as dance groups of other styles, like Tanah and SoulStylz. Additionally, the audience saw some fresh faces when groups from outside Carnegie Mellon performed. Boston University’s dance group Jalwa was a crowd favorite with its fast-paced and high-energy performance, and Northwestern’s Brown Sugar a cappella group serenaded the audience with beautiful harmonies.

Among all the excitement of the dance, it was easy to forget that the event was a charity fundraiser. Of the proceeds, 75 percent went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The remaining 25 percent went to the Bhangra in the Burgh grant, which “is committed to facilitating the service-based endeavors of the students of Carnegie Mellon University,” according to the show program. In order to remind people of the philanthropic efforts of the event, a representative from St. Jude’s presented a short and touching video at the end of the competition on the type of patients that the proceeds support.

The subdued mood in the room was short-lived, however. As Carnegie Mellon’s own Bhangra team took to the stage, the crowd cheered with excitement. The Bhangra in the Burgh staff members swarmed into the aisles of the auditorium to get a better view of their home team, who performed energetically and passionately on stage. It was hard not to join them.

The show as a whole ran smoothly, with only a few minor technical issues such as missed or botched music and lighting cues. Although performers may have been irked at such mishaps, the audience seemed not to take much notice, as they were too caught up in the excitement of the night. Even the intermission was made enjoyable, with inexpensive and tasty samosas for sale as audience members chatted excitedly about their favorite teams.

Unfortunately, the results weren’t announced until later in the evening, and many audience members had already left before the winner, UNC Bhangra Elite, could be announced. This may be a testament, however, to the way that the show focused not on competition but rather on spreading awareness of Indian culture and bhangra in general. As Liaison Chair Reema Thawrani, a junior business major, said, “It’s a great cultural experience.”