Over the past year or so, I have received many emails and messages requesting information about how to start a new bhangra team. I figured a post on it would be helpful to those that are interested. I’ll keep things high level to start out with and possible go into more detail in future posts, if there is enough interest.
1) Have Passion – This is a basic necessity and there is no way around this. You have to want to dance. You have to enjoy listening to bhangra music. You have to want to learn. You have to want to be on a team. You have to want to work together with people. Because, in all honestly, if you don’t want to do it, and are just faking it, then you probably won’t last too long (TWSS).
2) Find People – Unlike other dance forms, there really isn’t much demand for solo bhangra performances. Aside from the occasional wedding performance, you rarely see individual bhangra performances. So, you need to find people. Do these people need to be extremely experienced in bhangra? Sure, it would be nice, but it definitely is not a necessity. We’ve actually found that it’s easier to work with people who have less experience, because you are working with a blank slate, and do not have to deal too much with egos. Also, finding people who have experience in other dance forms can be extremely helpful. As experienced dancers, they normally know what it takes to be part of a team, and can bring a different perspective to your routine. The most common way to add team members is to hold tryouts where potential members learn, and perform, to a short segment of a pre-choreographed routine.
3) Appoint Leadership – Once you have a group of people (can be anywhere from 6 to 20) it is extremely important to figure out who is in charge. Just like any organization, a dance team needs leadership and direction. I would say that you need at least 2 people who drive the team. These people will be in charge of the direction the team goes, coming up with the routine, running practices, and holding people accountable. One person is most likely not enough, but any more than 3 or 4 would be too much. Opinions are good, but decisions will never be made if there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
4) Determine Your Style – This is an extremely important step that is overlooked sometimes. Whether you want to be modern, traditional, or in between, it is important to define that early on. And once it is defined, everything that you do should be aligned with that style. Also, do no be afraid to be different. Bring something unique to the scene. There are way too many teams out there that look exactly the same. Yes, the more different you are, the more criticism you might receive, but at the same time, the more you will stand out from everybody else.
5) Music – You will definitely need somebody on the team that keeps up to date with the latest tracks being released. YouTube has turned into an amazing source for not only watching music videos, but also keeping up with the ever-changing music industry. You can subscribe to a couple of punjabi/bhangra record labels (Moviebox, VIP Records, etc.) channels which will notify you anytime a new bhangra track is released. Though it is nice to have an amazing mix for your performance, it is not a necessity. I would honestly put it towards the end of your priority list. Why? Because even though a good mix helps accentuate a routine, in the grand scheme of things, a solid routine trumps a solid mix any day of the week. So before hiring a DJ to make your mix, make sure you have all of the other bases covered. For more information on how we mix, check out one of my previous posts: Empire Mixes.
6) Choreography – This really depends on the direction you want to take your team. If you want to be a traditional/live team, then your best bet is to scour videos on YouTube. There are a ton of videos of all live teams from India that can help you understand how to correctly execute traditional moves. If you are a modern team, I would advise the opposite. Don’t watch too many videos. As a choreographer, you don’t want to be influenced too much by teams, consciously or subconsciously. This is a mistake that occurs frequently in today’s bhangra scene. There are too many teams that end up looking the same. Bhangra is an art form and an art form can be interpreted in many different ways. There is a huge spectrum ranging from extremely modern to extremely traditional. Find a place on that spectrum that allows you to achieve your vision and differentiate yourself at the same time.
7) Practice, Practice, Practice - This is another one of those steps you can not get around. It doesn’t matter how amazing your routine is, or your mix is, or your outfits are. If you do not practice, you will not succeed. How much you should practice really depends on the experience level of your team and how well team members work together. On Bhangra Empire, we have practiced as little as twice a week for a couple of hours each, all the way to four to five times a week. Also, practices shouldn’t be confined to only practice days (if that makes sense). There is a lot of improvement that can be made over watching videos outside of practice. Set high standards during practice and try to push each dancer to meet those standards.
8) Outfits – Bhangra outfits, better known as vardiyan, are probably one of the last steps that you should worry about. Like a mix, great vardiyan can accentuate your routine, but will not make a subpar performance any better. We make all of our own outfits by going to local fabric shops and tailors. These days, the majority of teams get their vardiyan made from India, where extremely detailed work can be done for a very reasonable price. Either option works, and really depends on the type of vardiyan your team wants. For a more detailed look on how we make our vardiyan, check out one of my past posts: Bhangra Outfits
9) Performances/Competitions – A lot of up and coming teams try to perform at small local events to gain experience before venturing into the competitive world. In my opinion, this is important, but the experience of competing can not be replaced by any amount of practice. My advice is to do as many local gigs as possible, but also apply to every competition you can. With the amount of competitions growing so much all over North America, it is much easier to find a competition to get into. Though a new team will most like not get into a top-tier competition, starting at smaller competitions is a very good way to gain experience and tweak your routine to your liking.
10) BTF – And last but not least, an extremely useful resource is Bhangra Teams Forum. There is a wealth of information on this forum, but be careful. The discussions are extremely opinionated and really are not for all teams. Time and time again, I’ve seen new teams with distinct styles perform, and then go to BTF for advice and feedback. Though most of the posters have good intentions and are truly trying to help teams out, some of the feedback pushes teams to conform to a certain style. This same feedback is what limits teams to think within certain constraints and leads to the similarity we have across the circuit. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries. And don’t be discouraged if there is negative feedback. At the end of the day, remember, what you read are just the opinions of people. If we would have listened to the majority of those opinions, we most likely would not have had the opportunities we did. Stay true to yourself, your style, and your goals.
And that sums up 10 high level points on how to start your own bhangra team. Hopefully you learned something, and if not, I hope you at least got a kick out of the TWSS reference. I might be doing more ‘How-To’ posts, so feel free to let me know if there is a topic you want me to cover.