A visual history of bhangra

2000s - Photos

Here's a photo of a local village (non-college) team from Aug. 2001. In the black shirt is dholi Des Raj (son of Garib Dass). The team was put together for a sort of half-time show at a sports mela.

I saw a similar team (many of the same members? - I'm not sure) perform at the exact same event in 2004. Their routine had changed most noticeably in that they added the long set of jhummar actions that one sees in Indian teams now and N.A. bhangra post-YouTube.


Just shut up and dance
I would not put any judgement on style with respect to bhangra. However, I can say that re: jhummar I see a difference in today's dance that personally looks "bad" to me (opinion) and which I heard critiqued several time by older jhummar dancers. Interesting how aesthetics change. And I wonder of these changes are all out of personal choice (which is fine) or if they occur in ignorance or without good "coaching."

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Jhummar is the most bastardized dance of all. While many of todays "bhangra" moves are made up, Jhummar is a noted punjabi folk dance. It's form, sequence and style has very to little resemblance to authentic jhummar as danced in west punjab, and to an extent in east punjab (pokhar singh and co. The present day jhummar is a product of sheer ignorance, and perpetuation of that ignorance by coaches and academies. Its a shame too, because Jhummar is an aesthetically pleasing dance in its original circular format, and especially fun to dance as a group.

see below:

Jhummar Daman @ HIRRAK TV
As a reference point to these visuals of development, we can look at a list of the actions in a "typical" bhangra routine of the early 80s.

Prof. Nahar Singh's book on bhangra and other Punjabi dances, from 1988, has gone almost totally unread by people creating bhangra in these last 24 years. Tons of info in it.

Am I biased? YES! Prof. Sahib was my advisor, and we are chums, haha. No but seriously I think he is a cool guy because he doesn't care a lick about Amreeka and does not pander to Diaspora audiences, just writes a million books on folklore and lectures in his native language...Punjabi. Novel idea.

At one point he names (but does not describe) the actions (or sections) from routines of DAV College, Chandigarh, 1980-82, in order.

1. (rolls on dhol)
2. song/sadd (bol)
3. bhangra - team entrance
4. sapp-s
5. chaal I
6. chaal II
7. sammi
8. chaal III
9. single bhalvani [=dhamaal]
10. double bhalvani
11. bhalvani
12. tapping and whirling bhalvani
13. chaal IV
14. lahiria
15. Sialkoti bhangra
16. sheesha
17. single Pathaania
18. double pathaania
19. side bhangra
20. Pakistani luddi
21. side taarhi (side clap)
22. jorhiaan (pairs)
23. jorhiaan in chaal (movement)
24. bhangra
25. tunka
26. side taarhi
27. jhummar
28. jugni
29. lahiria w/ 3 claps
30. "swing"
31. single Pathaania
32. double Pathaania
33. phull
34. chaal
35. jorhiaan with pats (like patty cake)
36. bhangra
37. very fast lahiria
38. Multani luddi (with clap)
39. some individual actions...
40. phummaniaan
41. moDhe/kachhaan
42. fast moving luddi
43. bhangra with leaps
44. fast pathaania
45. chakki (when you crouch down and whirl your leg around)
In his book Folk dances of Panjab, from 1998, Iqbal Singh Dhillon also give the list of actions in a typical bhangra routine. Well, he says "There is, as yet, no accepted choreography of bhangra presentation." That then he immediately follows this with, "The sequence of actions usually followed is as mentioned below."

Dhillon's dissertation on Punjabi dances came out in the late 1980s, but he served as In-Charge of the youth festivals and bhangra in Chandigarh through the 90s. I think this book is basically his dissertation written up, meaning that it mostly reflects 80s bhangra, but he might have added 90s stuff to it. The routine compares well with the one by Nahar Singh above.

1. dhol beats/rolls
2. entrance
3. katos, dandas, sapps
4. dhamaal
5. bhangra actions of whirling with raised leg
6. phummanian
7. Tunka or Jugni or Mirza (or all of them)
8. side clap
9. lahiria while standing
10. multani luddi
11. sheesha
12. shiv tandav (standing on one eg in posture like Shiv ji)
13. laharia on the ground
14. jhummar
15. bhangra - fast change of foot
16. shoulder action, individual and in pairs (jorhian)
17. Pathania
18. Dandkra
19. Sammiaan
20. Horse riding action
21. individual acrobatics, incl: body exhibition, kacchchu/keerha, shoulder standing, stick wielding, revolving on foot in sitting position
22. Clapping 3 times to the front then 3 times turning to the back
23. Shoulder action very fast or bhangra very fast
24. exit

Else where he mentions the actions of:

and also obviously made up stuff after characters/people:
Hanuman movement
Huns action
Greek movement

I wonder if these last ones were more recently created. They are absent from Nahar Singh.

Some pictures of the less obvious moves are below. Dhillon told me that he had Pammi Bai pose for these sketches.

shiv tandav (left) and hanuman (right)

Huns (left) and Greek

Aarti/pooja (left) and masti

The move at the bottom is what Dhillon is calling shoulder action in jorhiaan.

looks like it's copied from this 1960s pic! The juttis give it away:
faizan said:
Jhummar is the most bastardized dance of all. While many of todays "bhangra" moves are made up, Jhummar is a noted punjabi folk dance. It's form, sequence and style has very to little resemblance to authentic jhummar as danced in west punjab, and to an extent in east punjab (pokhar singh and co. The present day jhummar is a product of sheer ignorance, and perpetuation of that ignorance by coaches and academies. Its a shame too, because Jhummar is an aesthetically pleasing dance in its original circular format, and especially fun to dance as a group.

Jhummar's development has an entirely different trajectory than bhangra because jhummar was a very widespread (and varied) dance and because it still can be seen as a folk dance. Bhangra on the other hand was a label applied to the combo stage-based "men's Punjabi dance" routine, and the actual folk dance bhangra was narrowly confined by geography and occasion AND it ceased to exist so you couldn't "check against" it.

I have a long article talking about the whole development of jhummar, it's evolution since Partition in India. It will be published in the journal Asian Music. Unfortunately, though I first submitted the article at the start of 2010, they now say it won't come out until 2014. Sucks because a lot of the stuff I'm talking about in it -- the big jhummar boom -- happened in 2004!

Anyways, back on the topic of bhangra: I can testify as an eyewitness that around between 2002 and 2004, when quasi-jhummar steps were really becoming popular (due to the film Jee Aayan Nu, and music videos, along with promotion by Pammi Bai) a whole set of these actions got put in bhangra. Before that, there was basically one standard jhummar step in bhangra. Regional teams had variations where they might add another step. But at this point it was a whole "segment" as you guys say. It's notable that this occurred just before the 2005/6 YouTube influence on the NA bhangra circuit, because it meant that these jhummar steps have become de riguer, though just a few years earlier they weren't there in India.

I love jhummar, but I think the jhummar sections in contemporary bhangra look bad. This is not an "older is better" argument; it is based on the aesthetic beauty of the dance that I think would be obvious to ppl if they saw it. The best jhummar I've ever seen was by old Bazigars. Unfortunately, on the best occasion of this I saw, a Bazigar family wedding, my video camera broke.
1990s - Videos

In India:

1992. I don't notice much different from the LB7D period except they have added this step where you kick your foot to the side while clapping, which became a big part of dedicated "sammi" routines.
Babbu Mann Live(1992) Boliyan with Live Bhangra in Kakrala Kalan

Also 1992, Ludhiana based. Interesting live boli by the dancers at the start. Looks like all standard '80s stuff continuing.
Bhangra exclusive dresses-Vanjli Di Taan 92 Part 24

At a similar event (Ludhiana), 1993. The bullock cart entrance is appearing here.
Miss Punjaban-1993 Part 34 Bhangra Bhangra Vanjli di Taan

Women also did bhangra at this 1993 event -- wow! Um, no, actually it is jhummar mixed with re-invented sammi, i.e. dances it was "OK" for girls to do. The audience probably didn't even know what they were going for and just called it "bhangra." Plus, a lot of these re-invented jhummar moves were adapted from bhangra.
Miss Punjaban-1993 Part 31 Bhangra Kuriyan da.

Jumping to 1997, I see changes. This is from Qilla Raipur's (distt. Ludhiana) Sports Mela. The performance seems more intense. Stunts more spectacular. This comes after Pammi Bai had popularized some new jhummar-inspired stuff with his "Aashqe" song and video (1996). The action at 5:24 seems newish to me.
Baldev mann Bhangra Kilaraipur khed mela 1997

PAU, 1999
pau bhangra
Diaspora, 1990s - Videos

Elsewhere I had posted this video of a 1977 performance by LA-based Aman Folk Ensemble (all non-Desi dancers), of "bhangara." It's striking to look at, but understandable when one considers how few Punjabis might have been in that area at the time and how Indian stage bhangra had yet to really take root there.

Yet early visuals of South Asia-descended people's groups in the Diaspora show that they were also unfamiliar with the form practiced in India. I believe these show that the roots of most bhangra in the Diaspora was not Indian stage bhangra, but more along the lines of dances done to pop music, at parties or in films/videos. This may seem fairly obvious, but it helps to register how recent it really is that NA bhangra started to correspond to Indian style. The "Aman" group, indeed, at least had already performed "live" and had more accurate dress!

An interpretation of bhangra in Hong Kong, 1990
Bhangra 1990

This 1990 performance by UCLA also looking like acting out a film scene, to the current bhangra music. Oddly similar the the Hong Kong one above.
UCLA Bhangra 1990

1993: where was this?
Bhangra Rebels - Vasakhi 1993

SFU (Vancouver), 1994. Women. The headbands and dramatization continue...

Penn State International Dance Ensemble, 1996. Attempt at paggs, more dancing on bhangra pop music. Not sure how much this reflects.
PSIDE 1996 - Indian - Bhangra

1997. All about the rumaals!
PSIDE 1997 - Indian - Bhangra

1998. Variation of same routine.:
PSIDE 1998 - Indian - Bhangra 1
And variation of 1996 routine
PSIDE 1998 - Indian - Bhangra 2

Bhangra Blowout 1998 - MIT (winners). Alternating combo of men's and women's sections. Bigger gestures. I think that one Bindrakhia song was like the one song that had a "hardness" to it that sounded "folk" :) Moves reflect India more, e,g, the Qila Raipur dance video posted above.
MIT Bhangra @ Bhangra Blowout 1998

Bhangra Blowout 1999 - MIT.
MIT Bhanga @ Bhangra Blowout 1999

Aaj ka Dhamaka 1999 - Bhangra Elite (North Carolina)
UNC Bhangra Elite
Diaspora, (early) 2000s - Videos

This stuff runs the gamut. There were so many different interpretations of what constituted good or proper bhangra, before people started imitating visuals of Indian teams.

Bhangra Blowout 2000. Breakdance...
Gunjan Constitution Hall Bhangra Blowout 2000

Indian Students Association of UT Austin, 2000. Someone's been watching "In Living Color."
ISA talent show 2000 Bhangra Like WHOA!

Bruin Bhangra 2001 - winners. Drama stuff/gimmicks.
Bruin Bhangra 2001

2003. Jhummar fad hits America?
ucla bhangra at bruin bhangra 2003

??, 2001
Utsav of Nova Diwali 2001 - Bhangra

UC Berkley, 2001
UC Berkeley - South Asian Awareness Week 2001 - Bhangra

UC Berkeley - South Asian Awareness Week 2002 - Bhangra

UC Berkeley - South Asian Awareness Week 2003 - Bhangra

another 2003
Indus Culture Show 2003 - Bhangra

Bhangra Blowout, 2001 - Univ. of Maryland. The giddha sections, the rumaals, dance club moves, Bindrakia songs, hip hop vibe, endless stunts...it was all here!
University of Maryland - Bhangra Blowout 8 (2001)

MIT Bhangra, Oct 2001. (Note: the "pataaka"-like step is there, :50 and 4:30, evolved from 1998 performance)
MIT Bhangra Parents Day 2001

Bhangra Fusion 2002 - MIT Bhangra
MIT Bhangra @ Bhangra Fusion 2002

India festival, Portland OR, 2002
India Festival 2002 - Bhangra

UNC? 2002. The whole "fusion" thing to the extreme...
The Battle - Sangam Nite 2002

Khalsa Junction
Khalsa Junction - Zee Bhangra 2003


2005 - end of an era?
Khalsa Junction - Sher Foundation Competition 2005

Univ. of Houston, 2003
UHCL Bhangra Dance Mar-2003

BEST Bhangra Performance!! (RU Bhangra 2003)

Northeastern, Bhangra Blast 2003. Similar to UCLA.
Northeastern @ Bhangra Blast 2003 Part I

Harvard 2004
Harvard Bhangra 2004

Nachdi Jawani, 2004
Nachdi Jawani - Bhangra Nation 2004

Bhangra Idols 2005 Senior Dance Competition: VIBE
Vancouver International Bhangra Explosion
A funny example here. While people like UC Santa Barbara's bhangra team were perhaps emulating Bruin Bhangra, I tried to encourage them to "go live," LOL. We ended up doing some performances like this that began and ended with live dhol and boli, with the usual Bindrakhia mix in the middle.
Here's 2001 at UCSB. I know we did the same in Fresno that year, and something similar the next year.
UCSB Bhangra Team performance at Visions of India, 2001 - PART ONE
102437773118143 57442
India 2000s - Videos

Khalsa College, Amritsar,



DAV College, Amritsar
2004. Chuch Mahi (grandson of Ghuggi Master) on dhol.
Guru Gobind Singh College, Delhi

Food Tech College
Food Tech Bhangra (Dhol), Jashan 2003

Ludhiana teams, Jan. 2005

?? youth festival, 2006

Punjab Technical University, Jalandhar,
Nov 2003
Bhangra PTU youth festival DAVIET jalandhar

Nov 2004

BBSBEC Fategarh Sahib,

PAU Ludhiana
PAU bhangra 2005 comeback

PAU Bhangra Team


<('.'<) (>'.')>
Gabbah Shareef Bhalwan said:
What do you guys make of the use of rumaals over time, e.g. the sudden (?) disappearance in the mid 2000s America?

i've noticed this too. at some arbitrary point people decided that dancing with rumaals was no longer cool. you can see it in performances of teams that are extant today, like DRP:

(DRP) Da Real Punjabis Intro Video 2005

what's more interesting to me is the abandonment of this loose, bent-over, flowy style of dance for the more rigid, athletically focused bhangra of today. this change was as recent as even 3 years ago.

LBC 2009. there's a lot of individual variation with the move, which takes precedence (or, at least, it looks like it does) over a strict adherence to form. their backs are frequently bent, their feet are often close together, and the arm lines and whatnot are not straight. dhamaka arms are floppy, and there's this hopping sideways movement that's all but vanished now. the londono patola segment at 5:40 is an excellent example.

Lethal Bhangra Crew @ Bruin Bhangra 2009

then you have something like UNC at Elite 8 this year. synchrony is essential, etc. athleticism is much more evident and even flaunted; there's way more baithkas in the UNC routine than in the LBC one. the finale is also much more powerful, and the choreography is more structured and rigidly defined.

when did this shift happen? why did it happen? old style bhangra looks more like what LBC did than what UNC does. why'd the circuit decide the UNC way is cooler now? in fact, it's wrong to call it the UNC way; the emphasis on athleticism, power, and form is one that pervades all performances at top-level comps. why's that so?
Thanks, voxanimus, I really like your comments on "athleticism" and your examples.

Here are some random thoughts/observations.

First, tho, I actually think it's possible to trace the development of this stuff (e.g. rumaals, athleticism) to a pretty good degree. Sure, things evolve organically to a certain extent, but you also have a lot of individuals who introduced certain things, which were then imitated (consciously or unconsciously), etc. And there's probably enough media from recent years that one could look at it and trace a lot of stuff pretty well (even if not precisely). That is, if anyone cares to. I understand why they wouldn't. And I'll admit that the last several posts I made in this thread have been mainly to amass sources of data in some rough organization, without "analyzing" it closely.

So my observations are a bit casual.

One is that I was surprised how much MIT's style, even in the late 90s, reflected a lot of Indian bhangra style. This was at a time when "most" other North American groups looked quite different. Although I have not seen all the groups -- I am sure there were maybe others that looked similar to MIT, too. (And here I am not including the "exhibitional" groups like SIAC and Punjabi Lok Virsa, which I think belong to a sort of different scene and which at that time had not influenced the style of bhangra overall.) So I wonder, for example, what sort of channels of information informed MIT, e.g. visits to India, certain guiding figures, whatever.

Incidentally, I had a chance to hang out with some of the people from the MIT team (friends of friends) back in 2002 (2001?), and even accompanied them on dhol for a performance at a wedding. (There is a funny story that goes with it, where in the course of 2 days, I broke the dagga skins on both the dhols they loaned me -- one during the performance.) Anyway, I had earlier done some stuff with the UC Santa Barbara "team," which looked odd to me after studying in India, but then came to look like what I would consider pretty typical for most "non-elite" groups at the time. And MIT did not then strike me as anything except, perhaps, a bit "better informed." I certainly did not have the perspective at the time to think that maybe MIT knew more about Indian bhangra style than most American groups. It still looked like "American bhangra."

Another anecdote. In India in 2001 I was in a workshop where Garib Dass and one of the dancers from "Learn Bhangra in 7 Days" were teaching a group of international participants. Some of the American non-Punjabis were executing the moves (newly learned) in a kind of style that might go with the Black popular music they were used to dancing. Others were dancing kind of "jerky," in a way that most American bhangra groups in the UC Santa Barbara vein would do. (I want to note that when I describe any of these styles I'm not putting them down. "Jerky," for instance, is just a way that works to describe it.) And then of course the coach and Garib Dass were dancing in their 1970s-1980s Indian bhangra style, which was not the super fluid style of the 50s, and yet was quite 'light" and "graceful" (vague term, I know), and not "aggressive." All these styles seemed to make sense based on the background of the individual dancers. What was actually most striking, tho, was the style of one American-born college-going Sikh Punjabi participant. He executed a lot of the moves with familiarity -- probably had already done them in college settings in the U.S. -- but in a style that was totally different than everyone else. He made huge, broad gestures. They were very deliberate, as if practiced and believed to be a proper way. Of course, this was a style that many people were doing in America then, though I'm not sure for exactly how many years (less than 10, I'm sure.) The style was so deliberate and seemed so well established, and yet it different so clearly from what the local Indian bhangra coach was doing.

The way this Punjabi-American college student was dancing in 2001 seems clearly to have been something developed in the 1990s in America, and I think we could probably narrow it down to certain teams (or certain areas say, East Coast or whatever) that had started towards that end.

Another random anecdote. I'll always remember the comment made to me by a Punjabi-American friend in the early 2000s, when speaking about how they didn't really enjoy watching bhangra competitions, etc., although this person was a great fan of Punjabi movies, music, etc. They said that the style of dancing looked like the dancers "wanted to kill you." They were speaking to relatively recent bhangra.

Yet another comment, though it is uninformed and not worth much. This is a comment of a non-Punjabi female friend of mine in 2010 who didn't know anything about bhangra but who had seen several performances in the course of dating a Pakistani Punjabi man. I mentioned bhangra to her and she just started laughing, saying that looks so "gay" (as in homosexual).

The look of traditional Punjabi dances is certainly more "feminine" than anything people are doing today in North American bhangra. As discussed before elsewhere, that dimension related to an aesthetic style, concepts of grace, etc., that don't have any clear relationship to actual "masculinity." Male ballet dancers, for instance, are totally "masculine," despite what ignoramuses might perceive as looking "gay." And I always remember the description of the PEPSU bhangra troupe from the 1950s, which was said to enthrall female onlookers by being both "feminine" and "masculine" from one moment to the next. And yet in the world of traditional Punjabi performance, dancers were a different sort of animal, and the professional ones were expected to have a more "feminine" grace. There was no shame in that -- at least not for them. There may have been shame for the lay people (Jatts, etc) who frowned on dancing. The PEPSU troupe, although led by such "laypeople," adopted the graceful style associated with professional dance. Rumaals (and ghungroos!), it seems, went with that.

On a tangent about rumaals: It seems like the PEPSU troupe used them, and they were the ones who set the mold. Following groups did the same, as did film images of bhangra. They were used 1950s-60s in India, perhaps disappearing among most in the 1970s. The few Punjabi "heritage society" groups (Vancouver, Bay Area) had a basis in dance of the 1960s, and so they continued the rumaal thing. My guess is that they passed it on to the North America college groups of the 1990s.

Given that there is no natural correlation between the masculinity of the dancers and the style of dance, I hesitate to make any conclusion on why recent groups ditched the rumaals and took on, first the "I'm gonna kill you" and then the athletic style. I mean, if the latter styles were supposed to look more "tough" and masculine, it obviously didn't work in the eyes of the non-Punjabi woman I cited. However, I do suspect that there was some shift in style based on how American bhangra dancers viewed how they should look, and in an effort to make it more "tough" looking. That these dancers were not informed about how dance looked in India, or that flowy-gracefulness is no less tough, is besides the point. It seems like a way of moving the body was being established in American bhangra before the "traditional turn," and I can only guess it was based in somewhat misguided ideas about what it meant to move like a Punjabi -- you know, those people with black hummers and Sinbad beards who can drink gallons more of booze than the wimpy little Madrasis that -- God forbid -- someone might confuse them with (<<sarcasm!)


Well-Known Member
old webpage for the MIT bhangra club, has some info on the history

just random speculation on the ramaal topic, i've never danced with ramaals but just thinking about it, it seems like it could be problematic trying to perform a modern fast paced saap segment while u have ramaals on your wrists which could possibly get caught in your saap. there are examples of phuman causing problems, i can imagine ramaals being worse and phumans on biceps and wrists seem to be standard these days.


<('.'<) (>'.')>
the thing that's most interesting to me about this particular line of evolution is that it's evinced even in dancers in India. if you watch recent videos of live teams like khalsa college or whatever, they do the same thing. ("thing" here referring to athleticism power etc.) we talk a lot about the influence indian forms have on the american style but is there any "feedback," if you will? do american forms and styles influence in meaningful ways indian ones?

for reference here's a video from jan 2009, which predates the LBC video i last posted by a few months, at least. did the athleticism thing start in india or here?

bhangra practice

and rumaals haven't completely vanished; they came back this year for jashan. NJ used them, in what i assume was another attempt at "traditionality."


they had sapp rumaals and hath rumaals too.


<('.'<) (>'.')>
also when did saaps show up? one of the most salient hallmarks of a modern (2011-2012) bhangra performance is an incredible emphasis on saaps. i think you can trace this back to canadian teams, specifically SGPD and NJ, but where'd they get it from? did they come up with it independently? saaps are virtually non-existent or are decidedly minor elements in routines 5 years ago.


This movement started much earlier than you're realizing. Rooh Punjab Di in NA and many college teams in India were already doing the current 'athletic' style as vox mentions as early as 04/05 (maybe earlier but that's what I remember). Maybe I'm just getting old, but 5 years ago = 2007 and not that long ago. And certainly after the influence of Live teams started.

The more interesting observation is that college teams were previously the primary entrants in competitions, but that is no longer the case. When that change started occurring and we saw more independent/academy teams, you see a huge paradigm shift. Part of that is the demographics of independent teams (largely Punjabi, often all-male, many obsessed with 'Jatt-ness'/thugness, but certainly not all). I think that's when we see the emphasis in athleticism (and also 'grace' as they complement each other). It also led to the increase in prop usage as it combined with the influence of Live teams. Track this shift, and you'll track the evolution of our current sets much earlier than noted. Again, this is because the biggest competitions in 2003-2005 were still accepting mostly college teams which were not the types of teams that went on to change the circuit significantly (i.e. blowout is not a good representation of bhangras evolution from 04-06, but rather can be seen as the mainstream. When it's done at blowout, that's when that idea/style has filtered from the pioneers to the masses).

BARUA, can you post some of those older videos you have? I know you have a massive list of old India Teams youtube vids stashed somewhere (otherwise I'll just go through your posts, but I'm lazy and don't want to do that).

Side Note:
I have a whole concept of thinking about Bhangra now as 'Classical', meaning a rigidity in form and structure in terms of the dance (and a more useful term than traditional). Evolved over the past half-decade, it involves increased emphasis in the athletic aesthetic of bhangra (jumps, baitkas, high legs, arms up, etc). With the advent of more gimmicky bhangra replacing the focus on 'proper' execution, 'Classical' Bhangra becomes entrenched as the 'old' way of thinking about bhangra and therefore can be noted as 'classical' in my mind as it is rigid and resisting change. As a descriptive and conversational term, I think it aligns much closer to how the NA circuit interprets and understands the dance.