What is "traditionality"?

Hans

New Member
Messages
93
It's the ultimate question, and it's dominated the bhangra scene for the past 2-3 years. The beginning of the mass movement towards "traditional" bhangra seems to have begun with TBT. Sure, there were teams like Gabroo Shokeen and SIAC that existed before TBT, and their routines were much closer to something you might see in India, but TBT really seemed to be the team that first got people thinking about "traditionality" with their all-live performance.

There was a period of about a year when it seemed like you just couldn't place at a competition without having a 1-2 minute live segment because it was "traditional." The live music craze seems to have died down now, and the "traditional" movement has shifted towards a focus on, for lack of a better word, more "desi" song selection, multi-colored costumes, choreography that is closer to what you might see in India, and incorporating all the different styles of bhangra in one routine (like mirza, dhamaal, phumania, etc.).

On that other bhangra message board, teams that for whatever reason choose not to follow these trends are often met with hostility and harsh criticism. I considered sparking this discussion over on POL, but it's really not a place that's conducive to reasoned, intelligent discussion, so I'd like to hear from you guys: the team captains, dancers, and anyone else who has been actively involved in the bhangra scene these past few years (so Sulman, too).

My question is, what exactly do we mean when we talk of "traditionality," and to what extent is it even important to attempt to define it when we speak of bhangra in North America? Teams like VCU, SGPD, and Nachdi Jawani, for example, are great teams. They consistently put on clean, energetic performances, and they've each established a style of their own. Is it really accurate to call these teams "traditional," though? Sure, they definitely feel more traditional than a team like DRP, but teams in India don't dance to recorded music, especially not hip-hop remixes or Madonna songs (NJ at VIBC), they don't swing their dhangs around (I think), and they certainly don't have girls. What teams like this are really doing is taking traditional, Punjabi bhangra, and adapting a style of their own from it.

In the end, then, who are we to judge one team's interpretation of bhangra against another's, if they're both extremely solid in their own right? DRP, KJ, Sher, VCU, SGPD, and NJ do not dance bhangra the same way it is danced in Punjab, so none of these teams can be called strictly "traditional." Bhangra in North America is not the same as it is in Punjab. The dancers here come from different cultural backgrounds and they also have varying dance and musical influences. Why should we expect their creative expression to mirror that of dancers in Punjab? Isn't a bit restricting and narrow-minded that nearly every competition allots a minimum of 15-20 points for traditionality, especially when this term is so vague to begin with?

I could continue, but instead I'd rather hear your opinions, and I'll follow up with my other ideas when they become relevant. I really hope we can build a healthy and productive debate out of this.

-Hans
 

ambarishraja

New Member
Messages
98
Its a really hard question to answer b/c I feel as though the definition of traditionality has changed year by year for the past 5 years. TBT was traditional b/c they incorporated (for a lack of a better word) traditional elements to live music. Then I feel as though we moved into the phase where independent teams went to live routines with traditional elements and instruments, while co-ed teams went to music routines incorporating traditional elements. Now we seem to be in the age that the top tier teams have innovative ways of incorporating traditional elements into a high energy music mixes (SGPD, VCU, NJ amongst others). These top tier teams find ways to create new trends (sgpd's domino jumps, nj's lean and dhaang swing) (i may be giving credit to the wrong teams but i hope you see my point). I can only speak for what I look to see when critiquing teams, but that is different from how I feel placings at competitions should be, largely due to the fact that there is a written rubric for every competition we enter. I may feel that a certain team is better than a team that placed in an overall sense, however the rubric is the contract that binds all teams to the competition. Whether it is implemented in the strict sense of most points wins, or it is just used as a guideline for judges to interpret performances, it is still the single unified thing that all teams must agree to and respect when entering a competition.

That being said, as you mentioned it seems as though 20-40% of a score is based upon being "traditional." The way I personally view traditionality and the way we asked the judges at Virsa Punjab Da to view it was that traditionality should simply mean implementing traditional elements (saap/dhaang segments, jhummar, dhamaal, mirza, jugni, phumania etc etc). The teams that used more were scored higher in that particular section. However, teams that chose not to incorporate as many elements were discounted in that section only. Personally, I think it is fair to alot that many points, if not more, to all bhangra competitions for the simple reason that, traditionality is the thing that should bind all the dances and make the dance competition indeed a bhangra competition. In the case of VPD, GTA won obviously b/c they had the most traditional routine, and combined it with great execution. Duke came in second b/c what they lacked in traditionality, they made up for in excellent execution and energy.

I hope this thread continues on for a long time b/c I have a lot more to say concerning the topic, but I dont want to ramble on and on aimlessly. I'm looking forward to hearing honest opinions from REAL people on REAL teams. All in an effort to somewhat come to the same page as to the neverending question that is "What is good?"
 

sulmoney

smd, bitch
Messages
532
haha, i appreciate that hans called me out in his essay, it makes me feel touched...in the pants. this is a very interesting, and very debatable topic, and i am glad that it is on this forum (which, let me add, i am loving) instead of the other one, so that a good discussion can arise. i think both of you nailed it on the head, with regards to TBT starting the move towards traditionality by winning boston 05, which was probably the best competition i had ever witnessed live. when TBT was announced as the winner over teams that tore up the stage like sher foundation (in what i still feel is their greatest performance), kj, cornell mundey, duniya, etc, it put all teams on notice that going live was what was necessary to place. hell, even columbia had a live portion for their blowout winning performance ;). copy cat teams sprung up left and right, and the year culminated with kj going "live" to win bruin over more deserving teams (sher, lbc, drp, duniya). i'm digressing a bit, but in the years that have followed, traditionality has moved to the forefront, and all teams have had to get in line with it, or stick to doing cultural shows.

i'll be the first to admit, i love watching traditional routines like a gabroo shokeen's, or even a ppa (i very much want to see the much hyped waris punjab de from avap performance), but there is a limit to how much i would be able to handle at once. i feel only certain teams have the ability to go love and pull it off. i've stated before, i love rutgers' coed live because it is so different from all the other live routines out there, in regards to having the back and forth duet style singing, and seeing all the various forms of punjabi dance. 3d's, i feel, is a team going live for the sake of going live, and i was not a fan, though i was of their cd routines, which i felt were many times better that what they put forward now. too many teams do the same thing; go live and hardcore traditional just for the sake of it: gabroo punjabis is a prime example. their live routines are just brutal to watch. another team is uci rangla punjab, which is in serious 3d copy cat mode. when i watch live routines, they are for the most part, identical in structure, (saaps, dhaangs, jhummar, dhamaal, mirza, phumania, etc, in that order), and only certain teams/dancers have the ability to make the most out of the routine, in regards to stage presence; other teams just should not force it.

in regards to current cd/traditional teams, as hans pointed out, it is not purely traditional to dance to a cd, to hip hop, or with girls, but that is bhangra in america/canada. the teams mentioned (vcu, nachdi jawani, sgpd, drp) are the best teams of the season for a reason: they each take what bhangra is, and mold it to their interpretations. vcu is the best traditional coed team, sgpd and nj are the most innovative all guys teams, and drp is apparently, the "best of the best". vcu/sgpd/nj need no explanation, as they incorporate all the previously mentioned traditional elements, and own them by having great formations, great innovative ideas, great energy, and the biggest thing, incredible stage presence and confidence. drp perhaps is the best of bhangra because although they do not incorporate all of the traditional elements, they give the most entertaining performances while maintaining a solid connection to what bhangra is. one team that has been bashed is columbia, though they are very similar. i have always defended columbia, as they have always had amazingly entertaining performances and have been very clean and extremely innovative in their interpretation of bhangra. to say that columbia or drp do not bhangra is asinine: if you actually watch their performances, you can see traditional elements such as dhamaal, phumania, jhummar, sammi, etc. a team which i feel has moved away from what bhangra is and is now doing something different is the one ambarish mentioned, duke dhamaka (who love me very much ;)). i was a judge at desi dance project in syracuse where they competed, and i saw them at qc dhamaal; their performances were more fusion than bhangra, and even though they might have executed the best, the connection to bhangra was severed, and they were doing a different style. that is why everyone was upset that they won qc dhamaal, and when i saw that they had placed at vpd, i vowed to never do a competition in north carolina again, as if the judges they were getting were consistently placing this tea, they were uneducated about what bhangra truly is.

wrapping up quickly, like i mentioned in my blowout preview, i would rather see a team that maintains a connection to bhangra that executes cleanly and is unique, than seeing a derivative, traditional team that is not able to competently pull it off.

ok, i think i'm done, i did what you guys stopped yourselves from doing, and that is rambling on and on, haha, and i'm tired now. let us keep this conversation going.
 

Nikhil

New Member
Messages
881
This is a great topic.

Being a non-punjabi, I had much to learn about what is true Bhangra. Luckily, I asked the right questions and were answered by the right people at the time. The incorporation of traditionality by a mass number of teams started happening early 2006, after everyone witness TBT and Shan-E at Boston and Boiler Bhangra (Perdue). If you want to go even further back, Gabroo Shokeen at DDA back in 2004. When more teams started to compete, I have a strong feeling that they wanted to follow the trend, (that's right, I said trend) that was beginning to form. The reason why I said trend, was because back then, not a lot of people here in our Bhangra community knew what traditional bhangra really was. They saw something new in the aforementioned teams, and decided to be as unique as them. The great thing about this was that following those teams, and their concepts of traditionality, is what allowed EVERYONE to learn true, "proper" bhangra.

Basically it comes down to this: we argue when we use the word traditionality. Our traditions in this day and age are unique to our time period, yet foreign to those past. I understand what your saying Hans; how can you define what "traditionality" really is, if we evolve as a generation, trying to keep this dance form distinct?

I don't mean to offend anyone, but when I think of bhangra now a days and whether or not it is "real", I compare it to Garba. Look at Garba/Raas teams, and you will see that every single team uses the same songs, and generally the same choreography. Things that set them apart are themes, uniforms, and formations. But the bottom line is, no one is deviating from what Garba looks like. It is clearly distinct vs. other indian dance forms. Look at bharatnatyam and Kutchipuddi. They are distinct, because people adhere to what has been told to them; people dance those forms "properly".

Again, I don't mean to offend, but I think we are beating a dead horse, by suggesting what "Traditionality" is. Maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is, what is "proper" bhangra.
 

dheerja

Member
Messages
607
I pretty much agree with everything that's been said on here, can't think of much to add that won't be overly redundant. I do want to point out something that isn't really discussed as much: dancing style. I don't mean musical elements or even choreo itself. I think the success of a traditional team today lies in their execution of the dance. A lot of people have tossed around words like "grace" that I think bring the overall feel of traditionality to a dance that sulman was talking about. If you watch the best teams out there, (like VCU, Nachdi Jawani, or DRP), they have an x factor in their execution that blows you away when you watch the performance. If you took any of their choreo and gave it to a team that didn't have that grace or didn't really own that style, it would look like a majority of the "traditional" teams out there. For teams that lack that style, any attempt at a traditional routine fall flat, since the dance just looks boring. I can think of a good number of coed and all guys teams that fall in this category. There's a reason I perked up when VCU came on stage at Blowout, and it wasn't because their choreo was exceptionally different from every other team there. It was the grace with which they executed the traditional elements of the dance that automatically put them above the other teams.
 

Nevin

New Member
Messages
3
Basically I feel that the issue comes down to this:

How much 'interpretation' of bhangra can be tolerated without losing out on the essence of the dance (traditionality).

This tolerance level is different for different people which is why their is always so much clash when discussing what is and is not a traditional dance. Their has never been, nor will there probably ever be, a clear cut consensus as to what level of interpretation is acceptable in competitive bhangra. when competitions decide how to construct their score sheet they are consciously or subconsciously making the decision as to what level of interpretation is acceptable at their competition.

Teams with a more liberal interpretation of bhangra (columbia, drp, jabbawockeez) leave themselves open to more haterade because they will invariably have the burden of defending their deviations from proper bhangra. Whereas a team with a more moderate interpretation (nj, sgpd) can certainly get away with their segements of liberal interpretations because they balance them out with proper moves and integrated folk elements. This may seem to some a double standard however, in my mind at least, it should not be construed as such. The further a team deviates from the norm, it is only natural to have to explain the reasons behind such deviation. Like children, these reasons may be legitimate or illegitimate but regardless a highly interpretive team ought to have reasons as to why they chose their deviations. Im not saying it is wrong to go with a liberal interpretation of bhangra im just saying that if you choose to do that, you ought to know that what you are doing is a deviation from the norm, why you feel this deviation is necessary, what this deviation means for the youth, the kids-who may see your routine, and how your presentation of bhangra fits within the framework of its roots as a folk and community affair.
 

ambarishraja

New Member
Messages
98
Yo Sulman,
In defense of VPD...there was no other team that deserved 2nd place...including my boys from UNC. GTA was clearly first. UNC's routine was good, but severely lacked energy (I was watching from the front row). Bankian Naaran was solid, and had some good dancers, but one girl fell down and never really recovered afterwards. WVU had an awesome dance, but just had too many on stage things go wrong (pagh falls off, phumans get caught up) This team will be really really solid next year if they can stay together...the guys are great dancers. Rice executed solidly, but didn't have a traditional routine. Dook had the best execution of the night, but I checked out their score sheets and they were rated poorly in the traditional category...probably the least of all 6 teams that night. I wasn't very happy when they placed at QCD but I did think they warranted a 2nd place finish at VPD. I really wish that all those teams hadn't dropped out the week of the competition, it woulda been much more interesting.

As far as Columbia goes...I'll be honest and say that I wasn't a big fan of the BB14 routine. That being said, I was a fan of the BB13 routine, and when I saw the video of BB15 I was really impressed. I always expect Columbia to come out with amazing execution...thats a staple of all their routines...however what I was impressed by was the change up of the choreo, and the toning down of the sound effects. This dance had a lot better flow in my opinion and was more of a bhangra performance, than a crowd pleasing performance (i hope that makes sense). Props to y'all, from the videos i've seen, you earned your trophy (even if it is bigger than me :) )
 

bhangrafreak01

Honey Singh - Jado_Panga
Messages
338
well i agree tht live has to do with being traditional but i don't gt how the teams place jst because they r live and stuff. like at burgh Rutgers placed over SGPD and Drexel and stuff i pretty sure in a way sgpd was better than ru or at tbp ppa placing over apd. I believe that the judges feel tht because they went live they should win. i mean ru and ppa are a solid team and they are mad traditional and stuff but u also have to look at other stuff in a comp.
lol thts jst my opinion there are many other comp. where this kind of thing happen
 

Hans

New Member
Messages
93
Nevin said:
Im not saying it is wrong to go with a liberal interpretation of bhangra im just saying that if you choose to do that, you ought to know that what you are doing is a deviation from the norm, why you feel this deviation is necessary, what this deviation means for the youth, the kids-who may see your routine, and how your presentation of bhangra fits within the framework of its roots as a folk and community affair.
Hm, while I agree with what you said about varying levels of tolerance for "liberal interpretations" of bhangra, I would disagree with you on this last point you made, and the whole idea of "proper" bhangra to begin with. I think the term "proper bhangra" is even more exclusionary and problematic than "traditional bhangra." The reason is that the word "proper" seems to add an unnecessary value judgment, and it suggests that there actually exists a constant, unchanging "norm." But, to me, that seems far from the truth.

I guess I should explain my bhangra educational background to establish some sort of credentials before I continue to speak on the subject. I am not at all an expert on bhangra history, but I think I know a fair amount, and everything I know about the history of bhangra and its traditional forms comes from 1) a lecture from Punjabi Lok Virsa's Teginder in Philly, 2) The "Bhangra Authentic" exhibition at VIBC 2007, 3) a lecture from SIAC's Tejinder at South Beach 2005, and 4) interactions with other bhangra team members that are also educated on the subject.

So based on what I've learned from those sources, it's my opinion that it's not really helpful to compare ourselves to a "norm" or to a "proper" form of bhangra that exists somewhere out there. The reason is that bhangra is a dance that has changed a great deal in the past 50-100 years in Punjab where it began. It was not originally performed on stage or in a competitive setting, but that has changed. Costumes were plain cotton and not particularly colorful in the beginning (according to PLV's Teginder). While the music was initially composed of a lone dhol beat, instruments like the algozey and chimta have been added over time. There were no stunts in bhangra until the baazigars decided to climb on top of each other in towers or moors to draw attention to themselves while beating the dhol (also from Teginder). Even the name "bhangra" has taken on a new meaning. While it originally referred to a specific beat and movement, it is now an umbrella term that includes the many different dance forms we've all been referencing.

My point is, the dance has changed a great deal over time even in Punjab, and it will likely continue to change in the future. What, then, is the point of looking to what is being done in India right now and calling that "proper bhangra" or establishing it as a "norm," when those terms only stifle the potential for the development of a new, North American bhangra: a dance that dancers and audiences in North America can more easily to relate to? If the dance is going to continue to change in the motherland, isn't it a bit arbitrary to pick any point in time and call that period's dance the "proper" bhangra? How come we can't call 1980s bhangra "proper," or maybe pre-partition bhangra is the true "proper" one before it was even performed on a stage for an audience?

Summary: I think it's unproductive to use terms like "proper" or "norm" to describe a dance that has a history of constantly evolving, especially when it stifles the efforts of a new generation of dancers to make something their own. Quick thought experiment: Basketball is played differently in the Olympics than it is in the NBA because there it is played in a different environment (mostly due to different rules). The US invented basketball, though, so is American basketball more "proper" or "normal" than Olympic basketball?

I guess I should get back to writing that paper for class now...

EDIT: @ambarish - Thanks for the kind words about this year's routine. Haha, I admit that I exaggerated a bit about the size of the trophy for dramatic effect, but maybe you have a small niece or nephew? Yeah, it's definitely bigger than them.
 

Saleem

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Messages
1,928
dheerja said:
If you took any of their choreo and gave it to a team that didn't have that grace or didn't really own that style, it would look like a majority of the "traditional" teams out there. For teams that lack that style, any attempt at a traditional routine fall flat, since the dance just looks boring. I can think of a good number of coed and all guys teams that fall in this category.
That's a good point. Plenty of teams have tried to go traditional, but only a handful (IMHO) actually did it with the proper grace and 'x factor'-- the rest looked like it was shoehorned into their dance or their new 'persona'
 

dheerja

Member
Messages
607
Looking at the past 8 years or so the "norm" in the bhangra world has evolved, yet not always towards increasing traditionality. I think the norm that sets the standards for the bhangra scene every 2-3 years is purely defined by specific teams that come out, blow people away, and thus redefine the standards. TBT is a great example of this. They started the all live trend as soon as they won Boston Bhangra and pretty much took over the bhangra scene for a while, as a majority of teams attempted live segments. Then teams like VCU and SGPD took over, dancing to recorded music. They were technically more evolved than TBT, but their popularity led to a redefinition of the norm. Now teams can be coed, dance to recorded music remixed with hiphop, and swing props around, but as long as they incorporate the elements (mirza, jhummar, phumaniya, etc.), they meet the current standards. Technically, teams today have less in common with pre-partition/original bhangra than teams like TBT did, yet they are set as the new norm for traditionality.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that, like Hans said, there's really no way to set a norm for traditional bhangra that follows agreed upon guidelines, due to the evolving nature of folk dance. What ends up happening instead is that certain standout teams redefine the norm for proper/traditional bhangra, and everyone else follows suit.



Also, as a sidenote, teams that are well liked in the bhangra scene (Nachdi Jawani, SGPD, VCU, etc) are given a lot more leeway with how far they can deviate with choreo. If MIT came out with that dang swing at Boston Bhangra I can guarantee it would have generated a negative response.
 

sulmoney

smd, bitch
Messages
532
dmoney has a solid and valid point at the end there, in that certain teams are allowed to be more innovative than others, such as doing dhaang swings, or bringing out a girl during an all guys routine, etc. i made a subtle jab at it in our joke pao bhangra interviews video, with the whole nachdi jawani copying geneseo bhangra in regards to doing bhangra to reggaeton, but its a true fact. the bhangra community, actually let me rephrase, pol community, has intense double standards. its the main reason that this forum was necessary to be made, to hopefully eliminate the outside, non team, influences, and we can discuss amongst ourselves what's halal or not haha.
 

Nevin

New Member
Messages
3
i think i ought to clarify what i mean as proper bhangra.

I use the term proper simply as a way of gaging the relative similarity to root form bhangra which is pre partition, when bhangra was a communal, folk affair accessible to any villager who cared to participate. (not saying this is 'normal' bhangra, im just saying its an adequate way to measure the elusive traditionality concept we are trying to pin down). now by this gauge it is easy to see that most teams in NA and certainly many teams in India do not conform to the idea of a 'proper' bhangra.

The reason I choose to use pre-partition bhangra (and i understand im using bhangra as an umbrella term as it has come to be seen) is because i feel as if the essence of the art form has been lost in its 'evolution' over time. Punjabi folk dances were a way for people to come together, enjoy one another's company, share their happiness and be one as a community. This is the reason why 'standardized' move sets, phumannia, dhamaal, jhummer, were first originated, so as to create a vehicle for people to participate in an activity that was easily accessible to everyone within the community. Today if you take (and im going to use ur routine as an example, dont take it personally but its honestly the best example of what im trying to say and i think you will agree with me on this point) if you take columbias routine and analyze it for the potential communal applicability of your move sets, it doesnt provide, in my mind at least, the type of direct community accessibility that bhangra as an art form is supposed to provide. This is what i fea is the essence of Bhangra which is lost in the NA competitive scene.

To me traditionality is the question: How accessible is your bhangra dance to a population that would like to participate?

Dance forms like ballet are meant to be appreciated with a discerning eye, with someone who is knowledgeable about the dance form and its intricacies. bhangra is not supposed to be a discerning art form. It is supposed to be the peoples dance, punjabi folk dance.

Now I can address the issue you raised of the need to spread bhangra to a wider audience, versus perofming routines that (sadly) only resonates with a small hardcore base of knowledgeable fans. My answer to this is that their is a difference between dancing to promote bhangra and dancing to preserve bhangra. In North America and also in Punjab the identity of bhangra as a communal art form has deteriorated immensely as i have already mentioned. It is important to incorporate the folk/communal elements of the dance to preserve this most basic essence of bhangra for the youth, the kids. Not that promotion and preservation need to be mutually exclusive but i feel as if it is a responsibility for each team who claims to be a 'bhangra' team to recognize that performing bhangra comes with some responsibility to both preserve the traditions that laid the foundation of the dance as well as promote it to a wider audience. We must be entertainers as well as educators.

Also Hans, your basketball analogy, while incisive, kind of proves my point. If you take nba basketball or olympic basketball, or street ball. and show it to james naismith. im sure he would be able to jump in and play the game acknowledging the modifications that have been made. But if you showed a drp or a columbia or even most of a vcu or sgpd routine to someone in pre partition punjab, there is a chance that these people may not even recognize the dance at all.

anyway this post has been too long. i would like to say that i am enjoying this discussion. its been a long time since weve been able to discuss bhangra in an intelligent manner with people who can actually spell the words they are typing. hopefully i didnt make any spelling errors.
 

Ashwin

New Member
Messages
23
People are always saying Bhangra is evolving, but I think we need to take a step back for a moment and actually ask ourselves what that means. The performances being put on in North America are changing, but is Bhangra in Punjab changing, especially Bhangra being done in the pindhs? A South Indian who's comprehension of the Punjabi language is limited to a few curse words learned on CU^2's trip to Bruin may not be the right person to evaluate this question, but I'd wager a guess that it hasn't changed significantly.

If we want to chart the change that occurred in Bhangra in Punjab, I think we could say most of them relate to adapting what is supposed to be an interactive folk dance into a staged, choreographed affair. You can trace all this back to an All-India parade that occured in the early 1950s. Unlike dances like Bharathanatyam or Kathak, which were classical and MADE for the stage, Bhangra needed to be changed and ammended in a short time to make it more of a performance art rather than an interactive one. Although my information on the subject is incomplete, I think it was around this time that Bhangra became an umbrella term for the folk dances of Punjab. Also, it was probably around then that, as Hans describes, outfits became more and more gaudy. 8 as the magic number of performers may have started around this time as well. I'd love for an expert to correct me on this stuff if I'm wrong, but from my understanding, this All-India parade codified whatever little "doctrine" there is in Bhangra. How much has Bhangra in Punjab changed since then? I'm not really sure, but I'd wager that it hasn't changed that much.

Let's get back to talking about Bhangra in the Western Hemisphere. As an old guy who's been observing the trends in Bhangra for the last 6 years, I can unequivocally say that Bhangra has been becoming more traditional. I didn't dance as a freshman, which was the last year of the Cornell "power" style. The emphasis was on power, stunts, and energy. It was a style that had worked because just one year earlier, in 2001-02, Cornell had won a bunch of competitions with that style. That changed a lot at Fusion 2003, where KJ brought an entirely different style out and shocked a lot of East Coast teams. At the time people thought these guys were really, really traditional, but when you watch those old dances now, its clear that they weren't. What did KJ actually do? They had the first Jhummer segments I'd seen, and instead of insane energy and stunts, they relied on grace. Soon every team was scrambling to do the same thing, and people thought that this was traditional (although as I've already said, it wasn't).

Let's fast forward a few years. Every team coast to coast is massively sweating the KJ style. Things start getting boring. All of a sudden, here comes TBT with a 15 piece band singing non-traditional songs, but at least coordinating the proper moves with the proper dhol beats. Sorry to use the word "proper" here Hans, I'm not trying to make a value judgement, but as we both know, if a team's stated goal is to be purely traditional, there certainly are "proper" and "improper" moves that can accompany a given dhol beat. TBT was extremely successful for a period of time because no one had ever seen anything like that.

Eventually, things started to shift again. Competitions stopped blindly giving out trophies to teams simply because they were all live; live teams were judged on an even footing with recorded teams and were evaluated on the fundamentals of their dance, such as strength of choreography, dancer ability, etc. Under this kind of system, teams like SGPD, NJ, and VCU have thrived. Although some may claim that this is a deviation from the trend toward traditionality, I would disagree. Competitions are simply not conceding the point that a live team is automatically "better" than a recorded team, and the results are reflecting this. In my opinion, the trend is at least "holding serve." Under these circumstances, I think DRP's style has helped them garner a lot of attention. Why? Because the overall trend is not purely towards being traditional, which may contradict some of the earlier stuff I've said. It's "towards keeping things fresh and interesting." While over the past 6 years, keeping things interesting meant getting more and more traditional, things may deviate shortly, and non-traditional teams may see their style get rewarded. A year ago, all guys teams were dominant, and subsequently co-ed teams have made a comeback. It's my prediction that co-ed teams that "push the envelope" will be the next trend in North American Bhangra.

Ok, that was a lot of typing. And I didn't really address the issue of what traditionality is. Traditionality is not even a word. Every time I type it, Firefox underlines it because its not in the dictionary. For some reason people in Bhangra use it like they know what it means, but lets be honest; no one does. I agree with Nevin's assessment though. There seems to be a continuum of what people find acceptable and unacceptable, although the distinctions between these points may be blurry. For example, if we have a line: A----------B----------C, with A being Gabroo Shokeen, B being Sher Foundation, and C being Columbia, its would show that Columbia might be close to Sher Foundation, but significantly deviates from Gabroo Shokeen. While it may be unfair for someone to criticize Columbia for deviating from the traditional "ideal" when there are a number of other teams that do so and get praised for it, the bottom line is that for most people, there is an "acceptable" level of deviation and an "unacceptable" one. These cut offs are often arbitrary and unfair. So Hans, I'm not trying to slag on you and say your team deserves the treatment it gets on a retard factory like POL. I'm just trying to explain the rationale, as flawed as it may be.
 

faizan

Just shut up and dance
Messages
1,736
the term Proper bhangra is used a lot, and many of you are right when you say that bhangra is constantly changing. The bhangra in India 40 years ago, is very much dif. than it is now. This is because of partition and the severing of ties with many of the regions where traditional dances like jhummar and luddi were done exclusively. Traditional bhangra will be dif. in 40 years in India...but I think the dance has started to become very standardized and the term "proper" can be used appropriately. There is a right and wrong way to do jhummar, mirza, sammi, etc. The jhummar done in india, is not proper, and if one compares an american team and says, they aren't doing jhummar right, cuz that's not how they do it in India...FYI, West Punjabi Jhummar is proper jhummar...partition left East Punjab orphaned from the grass roots versions of their dances.

At the same time, all this applies to the N.A. scene is a stricter sense than many like to admit. teams like sgpd, nj, vcu, are more traditional than CU or NYU, but they still aren't traditional teams by any stretch of the imagination. Traditonality is being bent up, and changed, and I love it. In this bending, things like jhummar are changed, and thus, are not proper any more. Which in N.A. is like a sin...but hey, the N.A. bhangra community has bastardized bhangra way worse in the past...i like where the over arching style is right now...and i think a lot of you guys do too...

"Competitions stopped blindly giving out trophies to teams simply because they were all live"

and then gotham city bhangra happen.
 

Hans

New Member
Messages
93
It looks like we've got a few different subtopics of discussion going on here, but Nevin seems to be the one most directly addressing my own posts, so I'll go ahead and respond to a couple of his points.

Nevin said:
The reason I choose to use pre-partition bhangra (and i understand im using bhangra as an umbrella term as it has come to be seen) is because i feel as if the essence of the art form has been lost in its 'evolution' over time. Punjabi folk dances were a way for people to come together, enjoy one another's company, share their happiness and be one as a community. This is the reason why 'standardized' move sets, phumannia, dhamaal, jhummer, were first originated, so as to create a vehicle for people to participate in an activity that was easily accessible to everyone within the community. Today if you take (and im going to use ur routine as an example, dont take it personally but its honestly the best example of what im trying to say and i think you will agree with me on this point) if you take columbias routine and analyze it for the potential communal applicability of your move sets, it doesnt provide, in my mind at least, the type of direct community accessibility that bhangra as an art form is supposed to provide. This is what i fea is the essence of Bhangra which is lost in the NA competitive scene.
I think your assessment of bhangra as a community affair that begs participation is a good one, and the logic of standardized move sets is not something I had heard before, but it fits well. I would argue, though, that this essence has manifested itself in 2 different forms. With pre-stagi bhangra, sure, people were encouraged to directly participate by dancing alongside their fellow villagers. When bhangra is performed on stage, however, direct participation is no longer possible. Instead we must rely on indirect methods of participation, which means getting the audience involved and connected to the dance.

In many ways, then, "non-traditional" routines may be more true to this essence than a "traditional" dance from Gabroo Shokeen or PPA. In North America, we dance for a different community than in Punjab. Whereas in Punjab, audiences relate to folk bolis and specific move sets, in North America a majority of the audience may have never heard a folk boli or seen "proper" jhummar. How, then, do we preserve the essence of community participation? Well, I would argue we do it by making the dance more relateable to the community at hand: the audience. If Khalsa Junction creates a routine of entirely "made-up" steps and then thousands of kids practice in their basements, memorizing the steps, and dancing those routines at their high school talent shows, isn't that more involving than Gabroo Shokeen performing a dance that was created in a different time period, for a different audience?

I'm not at all trying to imply that teams like Gabroo Shokeen or PPA are doing anything wrong by trying to stay as close to bhangra in its Indian form as possible. Teams like those are demonstrating cultural preservation in its purest, most literal form, and that is often a good thing, but it should not turn into an obsession. We shouldn't confuse bhangra's message, what you've called its "essence" -- the importance of community involvement -- with its form, which are the actual steps and the music that accompanies them.

Nevin said:
To me traditionality is the question: How accessible is your bhangra dance to a population that would like to participate?
Obviously, the topic of traditionality is one that I want to discuss for personal reasons, but I don't want this to become a discussion of my team's (or anyone's) routine specifically. Since you brought up our routine as an example, though, I guess I can use it to answer this question you've posed.

Short answer: I think our dance is very accessible. I've received countless messages from kids on YouTube who've seen our videos and ask that I send them the mix so they can perform the same dance in their communities. We've received so much support and appreciation from South Asian and non-South Asian students on campus that we've started bhangra classes and thrown bhangra parties where people come to learn our style of dance. We're simply performing for a different community than they are in India, and, as a general rule, our community seems to respond more to "modern" routines than the most strictly "traditional" performances.

Nevin said:
Dance forms like ballet are meant to be appreciated with a discerning eye, with someone who is knowledgeable about the dance form and its intricacies. bhangra is not supposed to be a discerning art form. It is supposed to be the peoples dance, punjabi folk dance.
I would personally be wary of making such statements, because I don't think anyone is ever qualified enough to tell us what art is "supposed to be." I think art is what it is, and as much as we'd sometimes like to, we can't control where it goes.
 

Nevin

New Member
Messages
3
Hans,

So i like your interesting take on the essence definition that i put forth, and while I agree with your assesment that on some level a 'non-traditional' performance of bhangra may be more accessible to a new audience than a purely traditional one i feel like you are missing the point of my original post that addresses this issue.

Dancing to promote punjabi culture is different than dancing to preserve punjabi culture.

Sure when entertaining an audience to introduce them to bhangra it would be beneficial to add certain 'non traditional' elements to the dance to engage the less knowledgeable. However, the question now becomes, to what extent is such deviation from root form bhangra for its promotion detrimental to the actual preservation of the dance? I am sure that you are not advocating doing a breakdance routine in full bhangra costume while slapping the bhangra label on it. But you can see where this is a potential gray area when trying to put forth the concrete definition of traditionality that we are trying to arrive at.

If we can agree on the definition of traditionality as a deviation from root form bhangra then the discussion can take the following form: How conducive is a given dance to a balance between preservation and promotion. After an audience views a performance, have they seen a reasonable balance between preservation and promotion? non-traditional and traditional? have they seen a presentation of bhangra that reflects its roots as well as its modern interpretation? If an adequate balance is reached then i can agree with your interpretation of essence, however if a team were to extend your definition of essence to a somewhat logical extreme and preservation is sacrificed to the point where the representation of root form bhangra is lost, then how can bhangra be adequately preserved?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts as well as what others think on this issue. again, solid discussion luckily we can actually keep it up here as opposed to pol where around this post we would have people saying "AyE yO dis ShIt is StuPID BRAP BRAP pump pump" and some variation of the words tounge, ass and dick directed towards the posters.

PS:
I feel like part of our disconnect rests in the extent to which we believe bhangra in north america ought to be representative of bhangra of the past. I feel that all bhangra teams have an obligation to incorporate some representation of root form bhangra out of a respect for our ancestors. This is a personal view and I wont elaborate upon the reasons I feel this way here, but perhaps it gives you a better idea of where I am coming from and what i am trying to say in this discussion.
 

Nikhil

New Member
Messages
881
Nevin,

if I had your ivy-league skills, that's exactly what I would have said!
I agree with your perspectives 100%.
 

Temurzai

New Member
Messages
397
i feel like im in philosphy class after nevin's post lol

but he raises some valid questions / points.
 

jessemalik

New Member
Messages
15
Hans said:
My question is, what exactly do we mean when we talk of "traditionality," and to what extent is it even important to attempt to define it when we speak of bhangra in North America?

In the end, then, who are we to judge one team's interpretation of bhangra against another's, if they're both extremely solid in their own right?

Isn't a bit restricting and narrow-minded that nearly every competition allots a minimum of 15-20 points for traditionality, especially when this term is so vague to begin with?



-Hans

I agree we do not have the authority to judge whether a team is "traditional" or define what traditonality is. But Bhangra competitions organizers and judges are able to decide what they feel is appropriate for their competition which they would express through their rubric and judges bio. If you are not in agreeance with them you should consider not applying to their competition.
 
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