Banging music, neon green and blue headdresses, and glittering trophies pave the CU Bhangra path to fame and status as a cultural fixture at Columbia. With its high-energy and creative style, the team has won a total of six trophies at some of the largest bhangra competitions across the nation.
CU Bhangra was founded in 2002 by Chetan Bagga, CC ’05, as a place for friends to practice the dance form that they loved. It has since evolved into a fierce dancing machine that builds energy and community around the bhangra style of dance and increases awareness about this particular aspect of Punjabi culture.
Bhangra is a traditional North Indian folkdance conceived around 2000 B.C. in Punjab regions that spread from India to what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The bhangra dance was originally a part of harvest celebrations, Vaisakhi, during which farmers moved to the rhythm of a dhol drum to welcome spring through dance and couplets—bolis— about village life. Traditional bhangra is a fusion of dance and music that has rapidly become contemporary through its incorporation of Western musical elements like hip hop, house, and reggae.
Today, bhangra is much more pervasive in all elements of Punjabi life. Bhangra is danced at weddings, gatherings, inadvertent dance parties, movie sound tracks, and nationwide competitions like Bhangra Blowout, held last weekend in Washington, D.C.
Although each university team brings its own vibe to the stage, CU Bhangra consistently stands out as creative, energetic, and invigorating visual spectacle. All bhangra dancers wear vibrantly colored costumes to compliment their dancing—CU Bhangra is no exception with its vivid green and blue costumes and its captivating energy, power, and grace.
This year’s Bhangra Blowout was the second for dancer and choreographer Rajkaran Sachdej, CC ’11, who said he has “never been more proud to be a member of CU Bhangra, even though they didn’t place.” The team had its “best performance this year, a big crowd-pleaser,” he said.
Co-captain Ruchi Bhargava, BC ’09, shared similar sentiments, saying that this year’s performance was emblematic of CU Bhangra’s particular style: “a fast dance, energetic, power moves—when the beat picks up and we do something big, forceful, and sharp to get the audience hyped to traditional Punjabi elements with more of a unique approach than other groups.”
In the last two years, CU Bhangra has amped up its presence on campus, with innovative events and programs like Basement Bhangra, a showcase of bhangra performances, complete with dinner and routines from other groups. They also started Club Bhangra, an open, free, no-commitment-required dance workshop that happens every week, either on Fridays or Saturdays.
Club Bhangra provides a space for anyone who is interested to come and learn bhangra. In previous years, a significant number of repeat visitors to Club Bhangra were taught a special routine, which they later performed at a CU Bhangra event.
CU Bhangra hopes to continue the work it has started in order to keep Basement Bhangra and Club Bhangra going strong. The team also plans to continue placing at top competitions and to keep traveling across the nation—this year alone, dancers went to Los Angeles, California, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
CU Bhangra is planning its last big event, an annual party in late April open to anyone wishing for one last hurrah before finals.
Until then, check out the team at its Days on Campus performance on Wednesday in Lerner Party Space.