Published in South Asian Woman Magazine!

Just wanted to share a recent article published in this summer's issue of South Asian Woman Magazine.  Although I sent in a couple of bhangra performance pictures, I'd like to note the picture that ended up affixed to the top of my piece is absolutely priceless.  Enjoy!

"Bhangra is a generally considered a male dance, so it’s a bit surprising that I’ve found a sisterhood through bhangra.  Every Wednesday night we leave different corners of the Bay Area to gather in the Mission District of San Francisco for class with one of Dholrhythms’ founders, Vicki Virk.  What ensues is an hour of bliss.  As the reflection of changing traffic lights illuminates the windows behind us, we step, we jump, and we twirl.  We loose track of ourselves while joining the irrepressibly upbeat Punjabi dance.  By the end of class we walk out happier, sweatier, and slightly more sore-shouldered versions of ourselves.

I started taking bhangra classes as a bit of a lark.  A former colleague drug me along to one of Vicki’s classes with the caveat, “You like Indian things.  You’ll certainly like this!”  And I did, despite the fact that I had trouble keeping my feet straight, barely managed to keep up with the pace of the dance, and wondered what in the world I was expected to do with my shoulders.

Bhangra itself is an instant high.  You can’t dance bhangra for more than twenty minutes and remain in a bad mood.  Although I’ve tried, I’ve found it’s a physical and mental impossibility to be both depressed and dancing bhangra simultaneously.  As soon as I hear the first dhol sounds of “DINGA-dinga-dinga-dinga” the corners of my mouth, of their own accord, creep upward.  But it’s not just the immediate experience of bhangra that keeps me coming back.

Those of us who come to class don’t just learn routines, we also perform.  Although we’re part of the student group, we dance in front of crowds several hundred strong and share the stage with the professional Dholrhythms troupe.  It’s through these performances that I found my sisterhood.  We’re taught the basic choreography in class but the entrances, exits, transitions, costumes, and music are largely left up to us.  It’s through the carefully negotiated territory of “should we switch lines here so everyone gets a chance to be in front?” and “we already have two people wearing red, would you be willing to wear yellow?” that I learned to work with, and appreciate, the women I dance with.

We come from a variety of places and backgrounds, and few of us speak Punjabi.   But as we learn to move gracefully in formation together, we come to know each other’s families, children, jobs, and favorite Bollywood actors.  We share subway rides, reminisces, meals, and intimate knowledge of each other’s tyrannical bosses and relationship woes.   And as we debate, for the hundredth time, which song we want to dance to or run into yet another aisle of the discount fabric store and say “Yes, but what about this color for the dupattas?” we collectively take a deep breath, and tell ourselves it’s worth the trouble.

 Our group has changed over the course of time.  One of our women now lives in Fresno- she makes regular trips to the Bay Area to visit relatives and meet us for chaat at Vik’s in Berkeley.  One of our other women is pregnant- we’re planning to throw her a bhangra-themed shower with baby elephants on everything.  As we’ve all improved as dancers, we do fewer masculine bhangra steps and more giddha, the proper feminine form. We find ourselves now performing at friends’ Lohri celebrations and weddings.  Bhangra is no longer something we do ourselves, or do together; it’s something that we share with others.

Bhangra is a celebration, a place of community, a way to be joyous and share joy with others.  It’s also a place of refuge.  Regardless of a day’s difficulty or life’s challenges, they can be left at the door or the side of the stage when the music starts.  Wherever I am, I know that if I find myself in the Mission on a Wednesday night there’s a group of women who know me, enjoy dancing with me, and are happily moving in harmony."