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Ministry of Bhangra 2019-2020 Season Review


Active Member
On behalf of MOB, I'd like to present our 2019-2020 season. I apologize for the length of this post, but I have always enjoyed reading other teams' reviews so I can learn from their experiences. Maybe someone is interested in ours.

After Bruin 2019, MOB went through a drastic leadership change and a substantial dancer turnover. This resulted in Akash Menon and I becoming captains of a roster that had maybe 5 returning dancers. Neither Akash nor I expected this, and I don't think either of us were prepared to lead a team since we didn't have any experience designing bhangra sets.

As soon as we found out that we were running the show, we got the ball rolling on recruiting, hosting workshops, and starting practices. Akash and I wanted really change the culture and attitude of the team, and that started with us changing MOB back to a co-ed team, which it hadn't been since 2016. We experienced difficulty in retaining the old roster--people had doubts about the direction of the team, the competence of Akash and I as captains, and there was some dissatisfaction with us reverting to MOB's co-ed roots.

We had a huge turnout at summer workshops and practices and got a good group together, but a large portion of these dancers were only here for the summer, so planning our fall roster was a challenge. Summer was focused on training new dancers and dancers from other teams to have a more uniform MOB style, because dancer disparity was a huge issue for the past seasons. We wanted to recruit dancers locally rather than relying on remote dancers from other teams.

We applied to Queen City Bhangra, Burgh, and Boston and got into all three, although we ended up not being able to commit to Boston. Akash and I chose to have half of our set reuse material from MOB's spring 2019 sets, because set design was a difficult and slow process for us. We were feeling much more confident in our dancers by this time though--everybody had stepped up as individuals, and were were starting to look more like a team.

Queen City Bhangra

Like most first comps of the season, this was plagued with setbacks and frustration. One of our guys got injured the week before the competition, and we had to find a replacement and teach him the formations at 4am the morning of the competition. It didn't help that we were first in show order. The performance itself started rough when Queen City started our mix not from the beginning. You can see me run offstage when I ask them to restart the mix from the beginning, and they said "okay". I run back on stage and get ready to start over, but they just kept it playing. QCB cut our mix short last year in 2018, and while they were apologetic, having them mess our mix up two years in a row was very upsetting. 6 dancers on this roster had never danced with MOB before, and Raga and Lianne had never danced bhangra before, so I was really impressed with how they did.

Our performance in two parts

Red: Simmi Gill and Manpreet Tiwana
Yellow: Simran Kaur-Lottay and Siman Gosal
Green: Katie Harvey and Ratul Esrar
Firozi: Lianne Blodgett and Jordan Falk
Blue: Raga Komandur and Akash Menon
Pink: Shivani Gundamraj and Nirmal Maxwell

Every team dreams of going to Burgh. Getting to dance here was such a privilege. Only two weeks after Queen, we had little time to tweak our set and fill in new dancers, so aside from changing jhoomar and messing with some formations, we mainly focused on cleaning. Two days before comp, one of our dancers suffered a seizure for the first time and wasn't cleared to dance (fortunately this dancer is okay). We had to decide if we wanted to make a last-minute replacement or dance with 11 people. Amogh Iyer from Spartan Bhangra stayed up all night with Diya and Amrish learning our entire set in case we needed him to fill in. Even though we decided to just go 11 for standardization reasons, the fact that Amogh was able to learn the whole set in a night is a crazy testament to his work ethic and ability.

During tech time, our music cut out, and we danced the whole set to our dholi Srikarran. This was maybe the best tech time we've had, and the team was super pumped to have pushed through a tech time to just the dhol. I'm very happy with the performance we had. We didn't place, but it was a significant improvement from Queen. The feedback from the judges wasn't positive, but it was constructive. There was a lot for us to work on going into the spring.

Red: Simmi Gill and Manpreet Tiwana
Yellow: Simran Kaur-Lottay
Green: Katie Harvey and Ratul Esrar
Firozi: Diya Ramanathan and Jordan Falk
Blue: Raga Komandur and Akash Menon
Pink: Shivani Gundamraj and Amrish Selvam


Active Member
We were super excited to go into the spring and continue the upward trajectory we had at Burgh. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of dancers due to health, moving, and school. While we wanted to keep things as local as possible, we just didn't have the local talent available, and we ended up having to take on a handful of remote dancers. Captaining a team of remote dancers is incredibly difficult, and I have so much respect for my DDR captains, Angela and Ashley, for making this successful for a team of ALL remote dancers. Knowing our limits as captains of a very remote team, we decided to build a set from the ground up that was relatively simple and focus on execution. We applied to Mela, ADZ, and NDC, though we didn't get into NDC.

Buckeye Mela
This was us at our most remote. We picked up Sai, Vuong, Ashmita, Nikhil, and Sneha as remote dancers. Execution was improved significantly from the fall, but there were a handful of mistakes. Overall, we were happy with this performance. Cherag and Nimit gave us exceptional feedback as judges (comps, PLEASE get them to judge for you) that focused on us trying to find an identity and excel at that.

Red: Raga Komandur and Akash Menon
Yellow: Simran Kaur-Lottay and Ashmita Kaur
Green: Sneha Rajagopal and Vuong Nguyen
Firozi: Katie Harvey and Jordan Falk
Blue: Simmi Gill and Sai Kalla
Pink: Shivani Gundamraj and Nikhil Kasarla

Aa Dekhen Zara (1st place)
ADZ was a very important competition to us. Madison has been my home for 15 years, half of our team is from Wisconsin, it's so close to Chicago, and MOB won in 2017. Mela and ADZ were only a week apart, so we had no time to practice between the comps. All we did was make a few formation and personnel changes and do as many run throughs as we could the day before comp. We went into the spring and this comp in particular just emphasizing execution and dancing as a unit. We reiterated every practice that there are no individual moments--only team moments that happen to feature some individuals. We had a lot of talented dancers on this roster, but we emphasized not breaking away from the team's style just to show off. The result of this was MOB's first trophy since ADZ 2017. The judges said that while we had a simple set, our execution and standardization pushed us into first place. Hearing that we accomplished exactly what we set out to do--execute a simple set well--was very satisfying.

Red: Katie Harvey and Jordan Falk
Yellow: Simmi Gill and Saagar Menon
Green: Simran Kaur-Lottay and Nirmal Maxwell
Firozi: Raga Komandur and Akash Menon
Blue: Sneha Rajagopal and Rohan Vaishnav
Pink: Shivani Gundamraj and Nikhil Kasarla

While I think our set was clean, one of our dancers did leave stage to remove a pagh that was falling off. This led to some controversy and social media outrage, with many people challenging the competency of the judges and board due to beliefs that a team shouldn't win/place if a pagh comes off. As captain of the team that won despite this, I'm too close to the situation to state my opinions on the matter without risk of bias. I would like to say that during the judges meeting with all the captains two weeks before the competition, the judges stated that a pagh coming off would result in up to a 5-point deduction. Based on the meeting with the judges, we advised all our dancers before performing that if their pagh was going to fall off, they should find someone offstage and give it to them to hold so that the pagh is respected and doesn't fall off on stage or touch the ground. Our dancer did exactly what we advised him to do, and the judges exercised the point deduction rule they specified in the judges meeting. I think there should be more discussion on how pagh deductions are handled and specified on the rubric, but I'd prefer if those discussions happen in a different thread--I want this post to be about the team and our season. I simply felt it was important to comment on the situation given the attention it got.

When I found out our previous captains were leaving, I really thought MOB was done. Thanks to the amazing individuals that poured their hearts into this team, MOB flourished into something of which Akash and I are extremely proud. Our team never gave up on us as new leaders, and I am forever indebted to them for that trust. I'm just grateful we were able to deliver performances and a trophy into their hands that validate the insane time and work they've put into making our dreams come true. I love watching Queen and ADZ back-to-back to see how much our dancers have grown as individuals. Being surrounded by successful teams and dancers, we sometimes lose perspective and don't appreciate what we have accomplished. Leading a team of MOB newcomers as first time captains to huge comps such as Burgh and Mela, winning ADZ, and fostering what I believe is a positive team atmosphere, we achieved our goal.

The Future
I am looking forward to having this summer to drill, train, and push the team to the next level. I am increasingly confident in our dancing, and I think the greatest opportunity for improvement is going come from creativity in set design. We have a ton of dancers, new and old, that are going to be in the area practicing with us this summer, and we are going to grind hard to prepare for the fall. If you're in the area, please don't hesitate to come to our practices--they are open to everybody!

Special Thanks
  • Srikarran from Spartan (you're MOB to us) for being a dholi, pagh tier, DJ, and advisor
  • Dicky from CMU for tying paghan
  • Spartan Bhangra for being the most supportive and collaborative team in the circuit
  • Angela and Ashley for being my role models of what a captain should be
  • UChicago Bhangra for letting us borrow props and a kaintha
  • Chicago Adaa for support and sharing a practice space with us
  • All of our liaisons for making comps so easy
  • All of our judges for invaluable feedback
  • Yummy Thai for the after-practice hookups
  • Mario Kart for letting me trash Manpreet over and over
Akash and I want to continue growing as captains. We welcome all feedback and criticism that we can use to improve ourselves as leaders, choreographers, set designers, dancers, and dance coaches.
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