Bhangra Music and Dance Brings Rhythm to KPU Classes
A brand new Bhangra course is being offered to students this semester
Culture / February 13, 2018
Aspects of Punjabi culture are all around us at KPU Surrey, from restaurants serving delicious food to events like the annual Vaisakhi parade. A central part of this culture is Bhangra, a type of dance and music characterized by exuberance, high-energy movements, and hard work.
Within the Punjabi community, Bhangra is an opportunity to connect with and celebrate Punjab’s vibrant culture. It is equal parts uplifting, energizing, and physically demanding.
This semester at KPU, the highly popular “Intro to Bhangra Dance” (LANC 1870) course is running for its third semester and is being taught by Gurpreet Sian. In addition, a brand new “Bhangra Movements and Identity” (LANC 3870) course is being taught by Ranbir Johal.
According to Sian, what makes Bhangra special is that it has “a different energy that gets you excited.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are, or what’s happening in your life,” says Sian. “When you hear Bhangra, and especially when you see the dancing and the colours, the energy and excitement … there’s just a happiness, a positive energy that’s infectious.”
And by the looks on their faces, Sian’s students agree.
The class, which runs on Monday, Wednesday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 10:00 a.m. in the gym, was filled with smiling dancers. Between the movements and the music, there was an undeniably joyful energy in the room.
“In our culture, we do Bhangra on every occasion,” says Simarpreet Kaur Mundi, an exchange student from Punjab. “When we are happy, when we get married, when we get good news, we do Bhangra.”
Amanpreet Kaur Dhaliwal, another Punjabi exchange student, had been waiting for KPU to offer a Bhangra course since she came to Vancouver four years ago. She jumped at the opportunity as soon as it became available.
“Whenever we do Bhangra, we feel energetic,” she says. “We feel very good whenever we’re doing it because it represents our culture.”
Johal’s “Bhangra Movements and Identity” course takes a different approach to the art form, examining Bhangra from an academic standpoint. Students in the class explore topics like “how is Bhangra related to identity, the tension between traditional and so-called modern forms, concepts of masculinity, the female voice in Bhangra” and the relationship between Bhangra and India’s caste system.
For their main project, students can either write a paper or choose 10 Bhangra songs to analyze “for examples of common motives, or examples of misogyny, representations of other castes, representations of masculinity or femininity,” says Johal.
For example, Johal says that the Jat caste has “become ubiquitous, almost synonymous, for some people growing up here, with being Punjabi, because it’s one of the higher represented castes here in the Lower Mainland,” despite accounting for only a portion of Punjabi people.
The class will also learn about the traditional costumes used in Bhangra, as well as commonly used instruments like the Ektar, Sarangi, and Dhol.
Both Johal and Sian said that their courses are primarily filled with South Asian students, and both agreed that they would love to see more students of different backgrounds getting involved in the future.
“Bhangra has become pretty universal. It’s like hip hop—there’s a whole subculture,” says Sian. “There’s competitions, fashion, music, and all the stuff that happens all around it. And it’s not just South Asians who do Bhangra. If you travel, you see these teams from across North America. There are some very diverse, multicultural teams, and dancers who aren’t South Asian competing at a high level.”