Ready for the big dance

Intercollegiate bhangra competition draws students, celebrities and a crowd


Thumping dance steps resonate through the floor. Fast turns, quick kicks and hand flicks gibe with the lively, beat-laden music as the Johns Hopkins University bhangra team perfects its emphatic moves with infectious energy.

Moving at a frenetic pace, the team prepares for Bhangra Blowout 13, a popular intercollegiate dance competition sponsored by George Washington University's South Asian Society. Students from across the nation will flock to the capital to leap and bounce to the pulsating beats of bhangra this Saturday.

For bhangra enthusiasts, "BB" is the big dance.

Bhangra is a fast-paced, rhythmic song-and-dance style from the Punjab region of northern India and Pakistan. The dance is traditionally performed as a celebration, especially during the time of the harvest, Vaisakhi, according to organizers. The South Asian Society of GWU started the bhangra competition 13 years ago.

Nadeea Zakaria, a member of the BB executive board, said the event used to be held in the school cafeteria. Now, it has ballooned to a weekend of activities culminating in Saturday evening's Bhangra Blowout dance competition at D.A.R. Constitution Hall. The event draws celebrities from the South Asian American community. Comedian Russell Peters hosted the event last year. Rasika Mathur from the MTV show Wild 'N Out will be pumping up the crowd this year.

Bhangra Blowout draws a large, diverse audience, Zakaria said. Organizers expect more than 4,000 spectators this year, she said. Word of mouth and additional teams have made Bhangra Blowout into a highly anticipated event.

This year's 13 teams come from as far away as UCLA, the University of Texas, Columbia and Yale, as well as from nearby University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

"It's really established itself," said Kusha Desai, a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, who attended last year to watch her friends on the Maryland team perform.

Though Maryland is not performing this year, the Johns Hopkins University team, Hopkins Hareepa, has thrown its pagadi (turban) into the competition for the second year in a row. (Hareepa is a shout signaling a beat change.) Waqas Butt, co-president of the JHU team, says this year's team is set to command the stage after shaking off the first-year jitters from last year. "We have much more direction this year," Butt said.

Experience from last year's competition and performance at campus events this year have produced a more synchronized and confident JHU team.

Butt said this year's team has been better broken in. The logistics of putting together a team and adapting to different dance styles have been smoothed out.

A few tumbles and slip-ups last year have not deterred the 10-member team of five men and five women, including one non-South Asian participant.

Butt, who started the team with a friend, is a relatively recent convert to bhangra song and dance. While some participants have been dancing since they were children, Butt, a senior, only got into bhangra his senior year of high school. College fueled his interest. He notes that South Asian Americans often reconnect with their cultural identity when they are in college.

"Something definitely happens," he said.

After perfecting a dance segment at a recent practice, the team collapses into excited chatter about the coming competition. Clapping his hands together, Butt refocuses the group.

"Let's go, guys," he says. As the show draws closer, every step counts.

Bhangra Blowout 13 takes place at Constitution Hall, 18th and C streets Northwest, Washington, at 7 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $46.25 and are available through Ticketmaster at 410-547-SEAT or For more, go to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.