Under the Knife: South-Asian beats move Bhangra team

Although Geneseo's Bhangra team only came together three years ago, they immediately established a name for themselves on campus as one of the school's most competitive and diverse groups. Geneseo Bhangra dancers perform at Geneseo events and area competitions alike.

Bhangra dance originated in the Punjab region of South Asia, which today consists of India and Pakistan. Originally it was performed by farmers in hopes of yielding successful crops, but as it spread across Europe and Asia, it became a more celebratory dance. Recently, it has caught on in America: There is a very active, diverse and competitive American collegiate Bhangra scene.

In 2005, four students formed Geneseo's team, which became quite popular in Geneseo's intercultural community. Of the four original captains, only Brad Sickels, a senior, now remains on the team as an advisor.

Whereas the majority of college Bhangra teams adhere to a very traditional style of Bhangra dance, Geneseo's team makes an effort to incorporate elements of many cultural dances into their choreography.

"Geneseo [Bhangra] has a distinct modern style that includes musical beats from hip-hop, reggaeton and traditional elements as well," said junior Andrew Sewnauth, one of the team's three current captains.

"On the team, we're all about other people coming up and contributing…there's a lot of freedom in Bhangra choreography," added Sickels.

Each semester, the team attends several Bhangra competitions. For these events, they prepare six to eight-minute routines, their accompanying music ranging from traditional Indian music to modern fusion songs. Last year, they took first place at Muqabla, a competition at the University of Buffalo. This semester they will travel to Cornell and Syracuse for additional competitions.

Geneseo Bhangra is also devoted to participating in on campus events. While in past semesters they appeared in multiple intercultural events and student showcases, due to their busy schedule, the team will only perform in one on-campus show this semester. In April, they will be featured in the annual Shakti showcase, an event that they have attended since their inception.

The team also reaches out to Geneseo's residential community. This semester, they plan to host a Bhangra workshop at Geneseo elementary school.

Auditions for the team are held each fall. Although most of the team's 15 current members did not have any experience with Bhangra prior to acceptance to the team, the auditions are very competitive. This fall, over 40 students tried out for only 12 openings.

Students who are selected for the team must be highly committed. Rehearsals are held at least three times a week, and they typically last for two to three hours. Sewnauth, who leads practices, typically teaches new choreography a few times throughout the semester, and remaining rehearsals are spent practicing for performances and competitions.

However, participation in the team is not without benefits. Because of the time and energy- consuming nature of Bhangra dance, the team is a friendly, cohesive unit.

"[We] have become a family more than a team," said Shivani Polasani, a junior who has participated in Geneseo Bhangra since its creation.

"I've come to know the value of kind and helpful teammates," agreed Sewnauth, acknowledging the difficulty of keeping up at practices for new members. "Once you begin learning more and more choreography, however, everything just flows out and you have a great time."