In such an evolving industry with so much diversity, Bhangra is definitely not only for Punjabi’s and I can assure you that. My name is Praveena Pranavarooban – I am a dancer and choreographer who has had professional training in Bharathanatyam and Bhangra, and is a self-taught Bollywood and Gaana dancer. I was approached by my fellow dancer and dear friend Ridaa, from Dance Bhangra, to write a blog about my experience as a Sri Lankan Tamil girl finding my way through the world of Bhangra. I was so grateful for this opportunity and I hope that this blog can prove to be useful for anyone and everyone who has an interest in learning Bhangra, regardless of what cultural group they are from.
I was born and brought up in Hounslow, London. For those who do not know already, Hounslow has a huge Punjabi population, so it does not go without surprise that I was exposed to the Punjabi culture since the day I remember. All throughout school and sixth form years, I had witnessed a lot of Bhangra. However in those first 18 years of my life, not once did I actually try it out myself because of my focus on Bharathanatyam.
This all changed when I started at university. When I found out about the university’s Bhangra society, I was so keen on giving this dance form a go. I loved it! I knew the moment I came out of that first lesson that I would not stop learning and training in Bhangra. I tried out for the team in my first year of university. To my shock, I got in. That did not last for long however because in all honestly I got a bit too excited, started overtraining and then fractured my foot which put me on crutches for 1 month and prevented me from dancing for a nearly a year.
In third year of university, I spontaneously got the idea to audition for the university Bhangra team again and I got in to the team!
Four competitions later, I never thought I would have fallen in love with a dance form which 6 years ago I felt so distant from. On the contrary, today I write this as a proud Sri Lankan Tamil girl who loves traditional folk Bhangra.
The main message I would like to send through this blog and my story is to try out new dance forms and especially ones with a rich cultural background. That way you can grow as a dancer and as a human. I did exactly that. I love my Tamil culture. I listen to Tamil music more than anything. Therefore it was a shock to me that I could be so passionate about a dance form that is so different from my own roots. I realise that my love for Bhangra not only lies in the dance form itself but in the fact that I can learn about another culture through the art and those who practice it.
Stepping out of my comfort zone of classical/Bharathanatyam and trying out Bhangra changed my dance journey for the better. I would encourage anyone and everyone who has a passion for dance to do the same. 5 years ago if you asked me whether I would have imagined myself to be the Bhangra dancer I am today, I would have said, ‘No way!!’
Now I am known as ‘that Tamil Bhangra dancer’.
Do not hold yourself back from trying new dance forms, regardless of how far you feel from it emotionally, religiously and culturally. Remember traditional dance forms such as Bhangra are not just a string of steps but represent a culture. Nothing is more of an enlightening learning experience than that.