For junior and team co-captain Kaathya Kashyap, the energy of Bhangra Elite competitions is infectious.
"Everyone's in that audience cheering and everyone's riled up and you're just with your team, which is such a good moment," she said.
Bhangra Elite, a South Asian dance group at UNC, won first place on Feb. 12 at the East Coast Showdown — the team's first in-person competition in two years.
The East Coast Showdown is an intercollegiate competition held at the University of Virginia for teams that perform Bhangra and Raas, South Asian dance forms. Bhangra is a beat-based type of folk dance originating in the region of Punjab and Raas is a traditional dance style often performed during the Hindu festival Navaratri.
With a total of 28 members, Bhangra Elite has tryouts within the team to select who gets on the roster to perform at competitions, senior and team co-captain Aayush Purohit said.
At the East Coast Showdown, 13 Bhangra Elite members performed a seven minute set. The competition performances were evaluated by a panel of five judges.
Each year, the team starts learning choreography in segments and polishing it throughout the fall semester.
Spring semester is when Bhangra Elite typically attends competitions, Purohit said. Everyone on the team is welcome to attend the competitions regardless of whether or not they made the roster.
The team’s regular season was cut short during the spring 2020 semester when quarantine first began.
“We had gone to three different competitions, the last one being February 29,” Purohit said. “It's like right before everything started shutting down.”
From the fall of 2020 to spring of 2021, all of Bhangra Elite’s rehearsals — and even one competition — shifted online, he said. The team recorded its performance following COVID-19 guidelines and submitted the video for competition.
Having practices on Zoom, Purohit said, made it challenging to engage the team and give feedback. After over a year of virtual rehearsal, the team was able to return in person this fall.
“It was really great to be able to get back to see each other face to face and be able to learn that way,” Purohit said.
As a first-time captain, Kashyap said she felt pressure after coming out of virtual practices and competition. But, she said, the team was excited about the competition and kept high spirits.
“I would say coming back this year has been so exciting because there's just so much to look forward to,” Kashyap said.
Senior Juhi Modi, a fourth-year member of Bhangra Elite, said the team goes beyond dancing and is a great community.
They were not able to perform due to a sprained ankle, but said they felt joy and excitement watching the team at the competition.
“I think it was really surreal to see them on the actual performance stage and also just to see them having fun with it,” Modi said. “I think there's a lot of pressure that goes into performing at these competitions because we really care about the team, and placing is always a fun end result.”
In addition to winning overall first place, Bhangra Elite member Arpita Das won best female dancer and Aneet Sidhu, the DJ who made Bhangra Elite’s music mix, won best mix.
After speaking with the judges of the competition and hearing them individually highlight the performance of the team, Purohit said he was extremely proud — not only as a captain, but also as a friend, for the amazing job they had done.
“I love this team," Purohit said. "It's been one of my favorite parts of college, and so I'm always happy to talk about it.”
Bhangra Elite's next performance will be at the UNC Asian American Students Association's annual cultural showcase, "Journey Into Asia." The event will be held in Memorial Hall from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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