Bhangra Dance Tradition

by Janet Scheffler
Bhangra expresses Punjabi tradition, culture and a strong drum beat.

Bhangra expresses Punjabi tradition, culture and a strong drum beat.

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The dance known as Bhangra originated as a festival and celebratory dance for harvests in the Punjab. Over time it diversified to include celebrations of many types, including New Year and marriages. Bhangra continues to experience a rise in the popularity, finding a place in western and worldwide celebrations and dance events. Dancers use traditional steps as well as mixes with reggae and house beats. Props traditionally include a rod with castanet-sounding clappers on the end, sticks and cymbals.

History

Many believe Bhangra had its beginnings more than 2,000 years ago, but the more common theory suggests its start around the 14th century in the Punjab. To pass the time and amuse themselves, farmers sang about life and danced to drumbeats. The dance has grown from many parts of the area, differentiated based on dance rhythms and costumes. Lyrics tell of heroes and history, and songs have social relevance talking about love, dancing and entertainment. Bhangra historically has elements of stunt performance with moves called peacock, for example. Multiple performers become structures like pyramids or towers; moves that require spinning are common.

Costumes

Traditional Bhangra apparel is about color and the Punjabi love of it. For men, the dance costume includes a long shirt cinched around the waist with a lungi, or colorful length of material, and a turban or other head covering. Women's' costumes include a traditional dress called salwar kameez, a baggy colorful pair of pants and a long bright shirt. The women usually include a duppatta, or a length of material, around the neck. Some Bhangra music mentions the duppatta. Women often add rich jewelry accessories to their costumes, such as golden bracelets and rings.

Accompaniment

Bhangra usually has a dhol drum as accompaniment, but other instruments also enjoy popularity with the dance. Musicians strike the dhol with two sticks, resulting in a rich tone, while other drums often produce a sharper higher sound. String instruments include the supp and chimta. The tumbi is a one-string instrument with a high tone. Despite its solitary string, it takes quite a while to master. Drums, string instruments and cymbals vary depending on the area of the Punjab where they originated. Cymbals are popular with female Bhangra dancers, but the men often use them, too.

Popularity

Bhangra has spread globally, becoming more common in the west, and danced at weddings, socials, parties and fitness centers. The hard-edge movements of hands, feet, legs and arms make Bhangra an attractive contrast to contemporary dancing. The folk beat that creates the base for Bhangra lends itself well to other beats like hip-hop and has gained attention in the contemporary music industry. Popularity of Asian culture is spreading and Bhangra is holding steady as a fun, energetic and vibrant dance that represents colorful Punjabi tradition.

About the Author

Janet Scheffler has authored four books including "Of Witches" and "Magical Hearth." She also contributes to several online publications and samples of her work are housed at Writing Roost. She specializes in gardening, humor, health, herbology, pop culture and the paranormal. Scheffler holds a Bachelor of Arts in classics from the University of Windsor and did her honors thesis in philosophy.

Photo Credits

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