I had a rather haphazard journey into the Bhangra scene.
I knew I wanted to do The Bhangra Showdown (TBS) but didn’t realise how difficult it would be for a complete non dancer. Compared to a lot of girls who have done previous dance forms like Bollywood, Ballet or Bharatanatyam, I struggled with basic fundamentals like staying on beat and coordination.
I did not get through the auditions in my first year of university. Second year, I got into the squad and trained with the Imperial 2015 team but did not make it to the TBS stage. That summer, I got to train with LNBPD but after months of hard work, I also did not get to make the 6 girls that competed. The frustration I had during these rejection stages filled me with ‘what ifs’ – if I was a bit better, I could have been 8 competitions down instead of 5 by now.
However, it was through these struggles and rejections, that I built resilience as a person and made me want to do Bhangra more. A lot of people probably thought I’d never make it after seeing me in my initial classes but I was determined to prove them wrong. This is what made the first competitive performance most special for me, because it marked 3 competitions worth of hard work rather than just one. It was only the icing on the cake that we’d won this comp!
It became a slow obsession for me learn more about Bhangra. It was more than just the video watching we all do – there was a curiosity behind the people in the scene, knowing about them and how did they make the scene build. However, unlike a lot of other dance forms or competitive scenes, there was barely any documentation or official information about UK Bhangra. If you wanted to know anything about it, you’d either have to ask ex captains about it, or spend hours on Facebook scrolling down to find out things like who won the first TBS or Capital Bhangra competitions.
Working as a journalist for an online lifestyle magazine, I was keen to raise awareness of how the UK Bhangra scene has evolved. After much chasing and contacting, I got quotes from well known captains, organisers and dancers, who made a difference to the scene first hand. The 3 part series was really well received, receiving over 100 shares each and even gained attention from the American scene.
Bhangra Dancers Awards show was one that many assumed would not work or that it is too much stress to organise another event for Bhangra dancers. But it happened with around 150 attendees from 16 different teams – and that with only the organisation of 3 people involved! Like with anything new that starts, courage and positivity rather than negativity is what will drive innovation and progression in the scene.
This summer, I made another brave decision to captain Bhangra Punjabian Da to Bhangra Fest competition. From the onset, I knew that this was going to be a huge task – only 3 of the competitive team members from last year remained including myself, and many of the dancers competing had never done a competition before.
Recruiting was challenging – I got comments from people, like ‘I’d rather go to a team with a male captain’, or ‘co-ed teams don’t have a place in pro comps’. However, this only made me even more determined to prove people wrong and bring our team to the Bhangra Fest stage. If I thought it was not going to get any harder then I was wrong – personal challenges, such as 5th year medical exams, only tore me more in the process.
There were many occasions where because I was a girl, or not been the best dancer, or my ‘soft personality’, I was told, ‘don’t do it’ or ‘drop out and join another team before it’s too late’.
At various crossroads, I thought, if I was having regrets or fear about the process, it was not because of myself but because of how others were making me feel. Now I look back, reflect on the journey and think why did I let others determine how I feel?
People are quick to jump on the bandwagon of criticism and need for drastic action, particularly in the latter stages of training when emotions are running high. But very few can understand the struggles it takes to kick start it all – those late night recordings of choreography variations, Desi Radio/ Soundcloud/ Youtube constant searching for songs, calling up to convince dancers to do the competition, discussing concepts with your mixer, going to India to sort out vardis (outfits) and props, teaching new dancers the basics of Bhangra, or disagreements with your family about how much you’ve invested (finance, time and soul) into this process. But then subsequently getting that rewarding feeling from seeing those very new dancers excel in their debut performance can feel unparalleled.
The whole experience was huge character building and allowed me to grow thicker skin to the strong personalities in Bhangra and the quick-fire opinions that people spread, particularly on social media. It taught me that, it is self belief that is most important to fight these battles that others will fail to understand and empathise with.
Remember that you don’t have to be the best dancer to make a positive contribution to the scene. If I had given up after my first class, I would have never been a part of 5 comps, captained a professional team, or helped to increase awareness of the UK Bhangra scene.
My journey with Bhangra has had more thorns than roses, but my passion for it is still greater than anything else. Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle and don’t let people’s negativity or assumptions get to you.