AEG Bhangra meets Masala Bhangra®
I feel as though I bore witness to a dance peace-offering, or more of a cultural connection with the traditional and the modern, the young and the old – but probably not in the way that you think. The Ailey Extension program held a special master class featuring Sarina Jain (aka “The Indian Jane Fonda”), creator and founder of The Masala Bhangra Workout® with Anakh E Gabroo (AEG), an all-male bhangra competition team from New York. Two different schools of thought, though very similar in culture, joined together for an evening of high energy dance and unbiased enlightenment. For those of you not familiar with Masala Bhangra®, it is a workout program based on traditional Punjabi dance (bhangra) mixed with Bollywood. Jain was the first to bring Indian dance to the fitness industry back in 1999, and since then, she has received both praise and ridicule for her program. In the fitness industry, her workout is considered one of the top programs in the world, but in the Desi community of young, college bhangra competition teams and hard-core “bhangra traditionalists”, her workout was not so well received. “I would get threats from protestors who would post some nasty stuff online, sometimes threatening my life. It was getting out of control,” says Jain. With the rise of dance aerobic classes taking over gyms across America and the world, other programs began to incorporate Jain’s style of bhangra and Bollywood as well, usually bastardizing the original element of what bhangra should look like. No wonder these kids in turbans and chadras were getting ticked off; this was a personal blow to the efforts of maintaining the Punjabi culture.
But of course, both sides have a story. Jain was introduced to AEG, one of the top bhangra competition teams in the US – a group of young men who truly love what they do, are proud of where they come from, and hold quite a high reputation in the bhangra competition circuit. With a recent interview at the Columbia University bhangra event, Bhangra in the Heights, Jain and the AEG team made a connection, overcame their differences and realized they were both working towards the same goal – to keep the Indian culture alive for future generations to follow. Whether it was intended for the college Desi community, as AEG targets, or for the general population, as Jain targets, both were a means to the same end.
This past Saturday night was two hours of worlds colliding, sweaty dancers sharing a space together, and faces smiling the entire time. The AEG boys began with a full-out bhangra performance for the students, using popular bhangra props such as saaps and khundas. Dressed in full traditional garb straight from Punjab, the boys impressed the audience of Masala Bhangra® regulars and gave the students a taste of what they were about to learn. At the very last song in the AEG mix, Sarina Jain, dressed in a full giddha outfit, came dancing in to join the team. It was a beautiful moment that really highlighted what this whole night was about – coming together.
At the end of the class, the team had a special treat for us all, choosing one male and one female dancer to each dress up in a traditional bhangra outfit. It was incredible to see the amount of time (and amount of fabric!) used in putting these costumes together - they are gorgeous! The event ended with a new positive friendship between these two communities, and AEG said it well in their announcement online to the rest of the bhangra competition community - "It was moving to see how receptive people of all ethnicities and age groups were to the dance form, and how similar their feeling of joy was to the one we feel when we dance every day. When most of us think of bhangra, we think of young Indians in their late teens - early twenty's, but seeing it bringing happiness to people of other ages and ethnicities really opened our eyes to the unifying ability of dance."
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Masala Bhangra Workout® classes: Masala Bhangra classes are offered Mondays at 8pm and Saturdays at 10:30am at The Ailey Extension, with other classes throughout the US and the world. For classes in your area, go to www.masaladance.com 2. Bhangra Competitions: The amount of dedication and talent that is showcased at bhangra competitions is overwhelming – go experience some of the best bhangra you will ever see this side of the hemisphere at one of these events! For a full list of competitions and teams, click here. 3. Love the music? Bhangra music features the sound of the dhol drum, a very particularly sounding instrument. For more music, check out Bhangra or Beware by Panjabi MC. 4. Happy Holi! Right now, Indians around the world are celebrating Holi, the festival of color. Some upcoming Holi events in and around NYC include these featured in L Magazine! 5. The Ailey Extension: The Ailey Extension offers an extensive list of cultural dance classes including Afro-Caribbean, Capoeira, Samba, and more. And don't be intimidated by the Ailey name - The Extension specifically caters to non-professional dancers!