Dancing with the ‘Birds: from Bhangra to Bollywood

In our final installment of Dancing with the ‘Birds, travel into a world of colourful costumes and high intensity dances from South Asian culture with UBC Bhangra and UBC Junoon. 

UBC Bhangra

Although UBC Bhangra is more of a cultural club than solely for dance, it features several dance teams for students to learn and perform some of the traditional dances of South Asian culture: Bhangra, Giddha and Hindi dance. 

“Our dance style is originally from India, it’s South Asian dance,” said Rimin Sidhu, women's Bhangra team captain. “I know the UBC girls' Bhangra team has a lot of history around North America. They kind of paved the path for girls in Bhangra because Bhangra is mainly a male dominated dance style. They were the first girl's team to win at all male competitions.”

“The UBC girl's team originally made Bhangra a big thing. They made it mainstream because they were everywhere.... They won every single competition that was out there back in the day,” said Avneet Athwal, co-ed Bhangra team captain.

As a dance style, Sidhu and Athwal said Bhangra is a very high energy dance full of expression and engagement with the audience — It's a celebration! With that, costumes tend to be elaborate and colourful to look good on stage. The dance also has traditional head coverings where men wear turbans designed specifically for Bhangra and women wear head scarves. 

“Especially in the Bhangra scene, your outfit or team uniforms ... have evolved as the dance has evolved and they have become really personal. A lot of the teams customize specific sections of it ... people get specific colours, designs [and] embroidery,” Athwal said.

“Last year, we had the UBC Thunderbird on our vest just to represent UBC a little bit,” Sidhu added.

As a whole, the club hopes to promote a welcoming environment for students to learn about South Asian culture. “We want to make this a fun way for people at UBC to engage with ... their background. Even if you’re not from South Asia at all, you can definitely come in,” said Athwal.

This year, the team is looking forward to January for the Culture Show which is hosted at Massey Theatre in New Westminster. The show features games, a fashion show and performances by UBC Bhangra’s dance teams. They are also looking at potentially attending competitions in the summer.

UBC Junoon

Originally founded as UBC Phatakraas two years ago, UBC Junoon is the first competitive Bollywood team on campus. The club competes not only in the Lower Mainland, but across North America as well. Although their focus is Bollywood dance, the team is open to a variety of dances to create a Bollywood style unique to their club. 

“We like to describe ourselves as a fusion dance team,” said Mahima Kapoor, club social media and competition coordinator. “That way, it makes [our dances] a lot more unexpected because the music is different from what we are actually doing.”

Auditions for the team are hosted in the first weeks of September each year. As a fusion team, dancers background don’t necessarily have to be in Bollywood either. 

“Every year we ... gather up a really great team of dancers with different backgrounds. They could be hip hop, contemporary, just normal Bollywood, jazz [and] different things like that,” said Kapoor. 

When asked to describe the Bollywood dance style, Kapoor said, “Bollywood is very versatile — there’s so many different styles. Of course, to the world, it seems like there’s lots of colours and lights. It’s very out there, but it’s so much more than that. What our performances consist of are stories that we like to tell, so every performance has a plotline.”

Storytelling, as Kapoor explained, is a main goal within their dances. Usually, the story being told is one of love told through dance where different dance styles portray different emotions in the piece. For example, sadder moments can be portrayed with contemporary while happier moments tend to be louder and more upbeat.

“Bollywood is very much what you make it. It’s a lot about storytelling, it’s a lot about colours, it’s a lot about the different styles,” Kapoor continued. “Even in India where it’s primarily really big, there are so many different states and cities. We have a lot of different styles even with the one country.”

This year, the club has a team of 25 dancers — a marked difference from their 10 dancers last year. With this larger group, Kapoor said they are hoping to attend some competitions in the United States this year — potentially in Detroit or Boston. 

In the past, the team has travelled as far as Toronto for Bollywood Dance Canada — an intercollegiate competition. 

“That was a great experience for us because we are only about two [or] three years old. We are just getting established,” Kapoor said. “It’s a lot of fun. We get to travel, dance and compete against the winners of various intercollegiate dance competitions.”

So far this year, UBC Junoon was part of a few shows for the Diwali festival including Illuminate at UBC and the Diwali Show at Michael J. Fox theatre. Now, the team is looking forward to competing in February or March, depending on which competition they attend.