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UNC Bhangra Elite hosts annual Bhangra Sutra event virtually

aaj ka dhamka
Dancers (from left to right) Alisha Abhayakumar, Aanchal Murjal, Benjamin Chilampath, and Ashwin Punj dance a traditional dance for Bhangra Elite at the Aaj Ka Dhamaka dance competition on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

UNC Bhangra Elite will host its annual Bhangra Sutra event in an exclusively virtual format for the first time ever. The event will feature a variety of dance groups from across the Triangle such as UNC Loreleis, Tar Heel Raas, NCSU Nazaare and Duke Dhamaka. 

On April 9, attendees can experience a dive into the art of dance from multiple colliding cultures represented by regional dance groups. 

Parita Bhuva, a senior studying medical anthropology and biology, has been a member of Tar Heel Raas (THR) for all of her four years at the University. 

Bhuva enjoys how each group has a bhangra segment included in their performance, which allows both the dancers and the audience to witness how the Punjabi culture intertwines with the other cultures that are represented. She said that in THR’s case, their performance encompasses a medley of Punjabi and Gujarati cultures.  

For this year’s Bhangra Sutra, THR has been practicing a bhangra segment sent by UNC Bhangra Elite, which every team must include in their performance. 

There will be a montage of Bhuva and other team members doing garba-raas, a style native to the state of Gujarat in India and THR’s style of dance, along with bhangra choreography as a finale for the group’s competitive season. 

Raising funds for farmers in India

Neuroscience major, Kaathya Kashyap, has been an active member of Bhangra Elite for the last two years and serves as co-chair for this year’s Bhangra Sutra. She said that both she and fellow co-chair Nikky Soni met with the other members of the executive board and planned the event over Zoom. 

Kashyap said that the goal of this year’s event, besides showcasing regional talent and culture, is to raise money for Punjabi farmers’ protests. Last year, they were able to fundraise through ticket sales, but this year forced them to turn to alternative methods, such as social media sites. 

Since November, farmers in Punjab, India, have been protesting the implementation of three agricultural laws. These laws could force farmers to be at the mercy of corporations and create circumstances that allow farmers and their resources to be taken advantage of. 

Kashyap said that this particular cause resonates deeply with her and the other members of Bhangra Elite.  

“This is a very worthy cause that holds a lot of significance for our team, as Bhangra is a folk-art form that is rooted in Punjabi culture and originated as a means to celebrate the harvest," Kashyap said in an email. "We have the opportunity to celebrate Punjabi dance and culture because we are benefitting from the sacrifices made by these farmers." 

Preparing amid the pandemic

Aneesha Raj is a senior at Duke University and a co-captain of Duke Dhamaka, one of the dance groups that will be featured at Bhangra Sutra. 

Raj said that pandemic restrictions meant that she and the rest of her team had to modify the way they rehearsed for Bhangra Sutra. 

Because gatherings of 10 or more people were prohibited and practice spaces for their team were shut down, their team rehearsed over Zoom. Many of their dancers filmed individual videos that were edited together to produce a performance. 

Raj said that Duke Dhamaka has performed at Bhangra Sutra in the past, and that it is an event that they look forward to each year. Although each dance team is competitive by nature, Raj said Bhangra Sutra allows groups from local areas to support efforts to raise money for Punjabi farmers' protests in India and to promote cultural styles of dance to the broader community. 

“It’s always fun to see other Bhangra teams from the Triangle in a noncompetitive setting and watch other dance teams incorporate our style into their performance,” Raj said. 

Although circumstances have created difficulties for all performing groups this year, Raj is happy to know this display and unity of different cultures is still able to happen. 

“Bhangra Sutra is a great opportunity for different teams across the Triangle to come together celebrating our love of dance while supporting a philanthropic organization,” Raj said. “This year in particular when so many parts of our dance experiences have been canceled, it’s wonderful to see that the showcase is continuing.” 

This year’s Bhangra Sutra will be livestreamed on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. on UNC Bhangra Elite’s Twitch channel

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