When non-Bhangra dancers learn of the intensity involved in training for a Bhangra competition, many of them ask why I do it. Why do I train for hundreds of hours, put myself under physical and mental strain for several months, and sacrifice many other social and personal commitments, just for 8 minutes on stage. Is it really worth it?
The answer is yes, it is definitely worth it. There are many reasons why performing Bhangra on a competitive stage is appealing, and some are more easily understood than others. The most distinct may be the endless learning and appreciation of this art form; the seamlessly mixed music and the powerful authenticity of the Dhol rapidly become contagious. Or it may be for the unique friendships and understanding that you build with your teammates; your facial expressions alone become enough to communicate and push each other through your hardest moments on stage.
But for me, one of the most worthwhile things I gain from Bhangra is something that cannot be truly understood unless you experience it yourself. It is the self-development and transformation of confidence that this process brings, and it is something that will stay with me for life.
Many people who know me are aware of my reserved and shy nature, and are often surprised to learn that I perform Bhangra in front of audiences of up to 4000 people. This is something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. However, the process of training for my first Bhangra competition is what began the journey to break down some of these self-limiting barriers of mine.
When you are in a room surrounded by people with the same passion as you, all reservation is left behind when you begin to dance. You are immersed in the music, and the excitement and exhilaration within you is expressed through every beat of dancing, despite how exhausted you may be. It was through these challenging training periods that I learnt the true definition of being a team.
You are not just dancing for yourself; you are dancing for your other 15 team members. As a team, you are only as strong as your weakest dancer. When I felt like giving up I could feel the energy of my team mates dancing around me, their smiles became contagious and there is no other option but to dance even harder, and not let them down.
These moments that are physically difficult during rehearsals become no easier when you are on stage. But the faith you built in yourself and your team throughout training is what carries you through, and allows you to break past barriers that you once would never have thought been possible.
‘Obsessed’ is often the word used to describe Bhangra dancers, by those who are not as passionate about the dance as we are. Rather than taking this as a criticism, I value this as it involves becoming obsessed with self-improvement. Although spending hours analysing and scrutinising your performance does not sound too healthy, it creates a drive to constantly want to perform better, for yourself and for your team. It is a mentality that would be well received in any aspect of life.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Bhangra has helped in the transformation of my self-confidence and self-esteem. Whenever I am faced with a challenging or daunting task ahead and I begin to doubt my capability, I look back on my previous accomplishments to help build faith in myself, and Bhangra competitions come up high on my list. Knowing you have pushed past the physical limitations you thought you once had, and knowing you have overcome the overpowering nerves and fears side-stage, minutes before your performance, creates a unique feeling of resilience and invincibility.
So if anyone reading this is unsure whether to pursue Bhangra or any other performing arts further, my answer is, do not hold back. There is much more to it than meets the eye.