Case Western Reserve University has taken on the festive world of traditional Indian cultural dance with a hint of modern flair. Since 2008, Spartan Bhangra has been revamping and revving up their game to compete and spread cultural awareness on campus and outside of the community.
After competing in three competitions in one month since the club’s revival, the lively “modern folk dancers” don’t lie; Bhangra is making a come-back.
“Everyone was really impressed by us being a first-year team,” said Ishaan Taylor, second-year undergraduate and vice president of Spartan Bhangra. “As captains, we put in 20 to 30 hours per week, and the dancers put in 10 hours per week.”
The team competed in Madison, Wis., where they placed third at the Aa Dekhen Zara, the Vaisakhi Mela in Parma, Ohio, and the Punjabi Mela in Richmond, Va.
“This has been getting bigger and bigger over the last 10 years,” said Partik Singh, third-year undergraduate and president of Spartan Bhangra.
According to Taylor, Bhangra competitions among national universities and independent teams have been occurring over the past 20 years or so. Spartan Bhangra’s co-ed team consists of 10 to 12 dancers.
“I think everyone on our team happens to be Indian, but honestly, it doesn’t matter,” said Singh.
Dancers don bright traditional Indian costumes and dance to a mix of hip hop-influenced music and more traditional techniques, like the dhol, an Indian drum.
“The whole thing is a harvest dance,” said Singh.
“We’re always jumping and moving, so our routine consists of an amalgamation of five or six different types of styles that came together, and that’s how we modernize it,” said Taylor.
“No one really knows exactly where it originated, but it [came] from the state of Punjab in India a few hundred years ago. What most people think it started from is what’s called Vaisakhi mela,” he said.
According to Singh, Vaisakhi mela is a spring festival that celebrates the harvest in the Indian state of Punja.
“A lot of the steps we do, the traditional steps from India, are like a dancing take on farming,” he said. “So, we literally have steps that are like tossing a bale of hay over your head.”
The styles of dance originate from various parts of the state of Punjab, and the diversity has been fused into the style of Bhangra.
Traditionally, Bhangra was solely a men’s dance, but today, women perform almost the exact same steps.
“There’s one type of style that we incorporate that’s called Faslan,” said Taylor. “One of the moves emulate the swaying of wheat. You need to have a lot of power, a lot of grace, and a presence on stage. That’s very important for an individual dancer.”
Although the club’s ultimate goal is to compete, the club also serves as a non-profit organization that volunteers with children, gives lessons to the community, and performs at weddings.
Spartan Bhangra will be performing for an event hosted by Deloitte on the Kelvin Smith Library Oval on April 16 and again at CWRU: Live! on April 18 and 21.
“It’s exhilarating. It’s a big part of my culture as well as it’s a very competitive thing,” Taylor said. “I just think it’s fun; that’s why I do it.”
Prepared in partnership with the Student Leadership Journey Council, Spotlight On… is a recurring piece that features Case Western Reserve University student organizations.