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Boston Bhangra Blast Celebrates Culture

By Sonali Mukherje

If you happen to go past Kresge on Friday evening, and see a throng of people dressed in brightly rich Indian costumes, or hear upbeat, vibrant music emanating from the auditorium walls, do not be confused: while the time for Halloween has already passed, the time for dancing just begun.

Sponsored by the South Asian American Students (SAAS), the second annual Boston Bhangra Blast Competition will be held at MIT. The program will showcase student teams from MIT, Harvard, the University of Massachusetts, Tufts, Northeastern, Cornell, and Boston University as they compete in the ultimate dance competition for the top prize of $1,000.

Bhangra is a form of Indian dance that originated in Punjab. Originally performed as a harvest dance, bhangra is one of the most popular forms of dance for Indian students who have been raised in America.

“It is a dance that combines both grace and power,” said Rizwan S. Dhanidina ’99, a member of Noor-E-Punjab, the MIT Bhangra group. The team, whose name means “the Light of Punjab,” was created three years ago to offer MIT students the chance to learn and perform bhangra. The group has been showcased at events such as the International Festival in Boston.

Dhanidina describes the team as a cyclical learning process for both its new and experienced members. The experienced members become teachers for the new members and show them how to combine the strength and the flexibility one needs to do bhangra. Then, when they graduate, their students become the teachers to a new group of members. “It’s a most fulfilling activity,” Dhanidina said.

Noor-E-Punjab will be performing as one of three filler acts for the event. The other two acts have a theme of the melding of Indian with American culture, a topic that many Indian-American students must deal with everyday.

The Fusion Dance, which is danced to the song “Satrangi Re” and was performed last year at Culture Show ’99, is one of the acts. This dance is a combination of Indian and American steps.

When the performers combine the two dances together, they have the ability to show the audience how the two cultures complement each other. “[The cultures] fuse, realizing that their talents are unique and extraordinary, and create a dance that is the best of both worlds,” said Selina R. Allibhai ’01, a performer in the group.

Another performer, Smita S. Aiyar ’01, agreed-- “The dance reflects the Indian-American point of view, for it is a mixture of both cultures.”

The other filler act will be a drama performed by the Princeton South Asian Theatrics, also known as P-SAT. Believed to be the first South-Asian American drama troupe, P-SAT will present to the MIT community its two-act play “Desis of Our Lives.” A tumultuous love story that combines feuding families, angry clashes, and the occasional outburst of a song and dance reminiscent of Hindi films, “Desis” portrays the world of a group of Indian students in New Jersey as they set out for one of the most apprehensive moments of their lives: Princeton University.

A university review of the play has described it as dealing “humorously with ‘issues of assimilation familiar to all South Asian-American students: the pressures of traditional values and parental expectation vs. the pressure to become Americanized.’”

Bhangra Blast is one of the many events that SAAS sponsors during the year in order to bring the flavor of Indian culture to MIT. This group often addresses the process of Indian students adapting to the American way of life. Their open-minded melding of the two cultures in events such as Bhangra Blast goes to show that cultural harmony can and does truly exist.