Guys, you’ll never believe this: Mark Hay was there!
Just past the doors of Roone Arledge Auditorium last night, a chubby and balding older man spasmodically twirled about to the sharp rap of a dhol over a loud speaker. As he twisted about in what could have been a reenactment of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks skit, a circle of men and women formed around him, jumping up and down, one hand in the air as if screwing in a light bulb and the other at their side as if patting a dog. From the back of the crowd came a low and rolling battle cry, as if to dispel any doubts as to what audience members had just walked into: “bruuuuaaaaaHHHHH! Bhangra!” And all of this before the show itself—featured performances by some of the region’s best Bhangra teams—even began.
An older man in the audience, watching the action in the back of the room, chuckled and remarked, “we have already gotten our money’s worth out of this. The rest of the night is just a bonus.” It was a comment made in jest, but oddly representative of the experience at such a large and bustling Bhangra event. While everyone is in part there to see the teams, cheer for their friends and communities (many students and alumni come in from New York University, Rutgers, and beyond), they are there just as much for the opportunity to dance themselves. Recognizing this, the opening act was not a dance team, but rather a singer, Nikki Manku, not herself an exceptional stage presence but a great enabler of the kicking, jumping, smiling circles forming just behind the rows of chairs (only about a third of the room in deference to the dancers in the audience).
But if the nights performances were a bonus, they were a generous one. The night started with a performance from Rutgers Bhangra, launching straight into a wild frenzy of wide-stanced, jumping steps. The performance was all the more impressive for the sparkling stage smiles the dancers maintain throughout, something only a coating of vaseline along the gum line or the true euphoria of the delirious joy of dancing can bring about. Or possibly they were only smiling with the knowledge that they would be joined by a dancer towards the end of their act dressed as deadmau5.
After Rutgers came a performance by the all female SMD Bhangra Club, accompanied again by a live performance by Ms. Manku—a group with a fair number of male fans in the audience as sufficed by the orgasmic refrain of “yeah, yeah, yeah” following their every jump by a chorus of men the row behind me. And after a performance (with particular flourish to every step) by NYU Bhangra came an act by the lotharios of the Bhangra world (or at least of Queens), Anakh-e-Gabroo. It is telling that the all male group spent the bulk of the start of their number hoisting with glee large poles into the air, and later blowing kisses to the audience, giving each other friendly stage pats on the butt, and opening their vests to reveal paper hearts on the inside.
The nights performances ended with a showing by our own cuBHANGRA—and they did not disappoint on their home turf. One of the largest groups of the night with sixteen members, cuBHANGRA was also one of the most expressive, enthused, and fluid groups, drifting back in forth in some of the most complicated and varied choreography of the night. The proud showing by our home team was just the thing to rile the audience up for a sweaty, exhausting, exhilarating dance party, lasting longer than the performances themselves, and helped along by the spasmodic shimmy of the same little balding man, jumping and twisting well into the night.
Photos by Jai Radhakrishnan