If you come out to Country Fried Duck on Sept. 7 at 10:30 p.m., you might be able to catch Folk Friday, but it won’t be the Southern folk music you might expect.
The “folk” in Folk Friday actually refers to bhangra, which is an Indian folk dance. The UNC student group Bhangra Elite is hosting the event and, for members of the group, bhangra plays a very important role in their lives.
“Bhangra is my escape,” said Ragi Nayak, one of the team’s three co-captains. “I leave everything outside the studio and let it take my mind off of stress. It’s really my outlet.”
Nayak works with her fellow co-captains, Sahil Dadoo and Ashwin Punj, to create the choreography and make the musical decisions for the group’s sets, which are typically seven to eight minutes long. Bhangra Elite then performs these sets at competitions across the nation and has had much success in the past few years.
Many group members were not even exposed to this style of dance prior to coming to UNC. Organization officer Alisha Abhayakumar has danced competitively since she was 5 years old but had never tried bhangra before tryouts.
“I wanted to do something a little different,” she said. “I decided to try out, and it worked out.”
By joining the group, Abhayakumar felt as though she found a new circle of friends on campus.
“In high school, I didn’t have a solid group of Indian friends,” she said. “Now, I have a group that shares my culture. They share not only the music and dance but also the food and movies and other things.”
Bhangra Elite is not just all fun and games, as the dance style requires hard work. The group meets for practice three times a week.
“Bhangra takes time and experience,” Nayak said. “We develop dancer maturity. All of the facial expressions and interactions with the audience come from experience.”
Last year, Bhangra Elite fluctuated in size from about 20 to 40 members. However, many of the members graduated in May, and the current executive team has come to view this year as more of a rebuilding year as a result.
“We are going to take the year to focus on the dancing itself,” Abhayakumar said. “We want to focus on the team dynamic and the younger dancers who will carry the group on into the next however many years.”
All of the group’s leaders advocated for others to give Bhangra Elite a try.
“Joining the group gives you an insight into Indian culture, but we have no selectivity in that sense," Dadoo said. "We are open to everyone and kind of just have that instantaneous connection at the start.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.