Teaching Bhangra

© Copyright 2001 MIT Bhangra

Written by Radhika Nagpal and  Sunil Vemuri, but based on the experiences of many.

MIT Bhangra has been teaching open and free classes since 1992, but never were they as popular and as well attended as today! And never did we have so many people willing to put their time and effort into sharing bhangra and sharing culture with the community. Over the years we have managed to accumulate a great deal of shared experience and practical advice about how to run a good bhangra class. This isa first attempt at putting down those ideas in a way that makes it easier for us all to learn from each other. Although this is aimed at MIT's open classes, we hope ithelps others too.

This page is a work in progress. Eventually we would like to add to this a catalog of traditional bhangra moves. If you have comments on this page or would like to contribute ideas/information, please send email to bhangra-request at mit.edu.


Goals and Objectives of the Open Classes:

How to run a class depends critically on the goals and audience that it is for. For this page, the goals are based on introductory classes which are open to the community and open to dancers irrespective of age and experience. For an "advanced" or special-topic class the goals and techniques would probably be very different.

Our Goals are

Format for a Class:

The format of a class really depends on the style of the person teaching the class. However, one thing that always remains true is that it is critical to have a PLAN before coming to class. Nothing substitutes for preparation. For big classes, its nice to to have one class LEADER whose job it is to come in prepared with a plan and a bunch of instructors who are there to carry out the plan. What the plan is like really depends on the leader's style. But here a basic plan that commonly used.

A possible Plan (roughly 1.5 hr)
The rest of this page talks about each of these pieces in more detail as well as the more philosophical (and very important) issues about keeping the spirit of the class high and keeping the spirit of the instructors that of respect and friendship.

WARM UPS:

The open class are not about intense conditioning, however it is CRITICAL that people stretch really well and do some cardio before jumping into bhangra. Otherwise it is really easy to get injured. Encourage your class to come on time for the warm up.

Sunil came up with this great idea for a bhangra warmup that was inspired by how introductory salsa classes are run. In the first 5 minutes, you do a warmup to a bhangra song that is really just a run-through of different bhangra steps - (feet only) pehlwani, mundri, wheat, calisthenics, gidda, etc and then shoulders only (single beat, double beat, slowly raise arms). On occasion we also did slow squats if we planned to teach a squat move. People don't learn the step from this but it does provide them with practice every time, and its a fun way to warm up (beats jumping jacks any day..). There are really three main goals of the warmup: (1) to stretch muscles (2) practice basics and fundamentals (3) eases intro to bhangra for firsttime students.

TEACHING MOVES:

For an introductory class a good thing to emphasize is how to do the basic moves well. And well means including all those things that make it look beautiful - shoulders, head, hands, real detail about it. Even if they can't get it the first time they'll internalize it for sure. This is not to say you can't teach a hard step, but in some ways there really is no hard step if you know the basics and are in shape. Focusing on a small number of steps, and giving all the details and subtly, is usually better than doing too many moves. It also underscores the need to for individual attention. Have instructors circulate amongst the group and spend time one on one.

Another goal of the intro class is to talk about the context of the move. Many of the moves have special names and special meanings, its worth finding out about these and then relaying the information on when you teach the step. Taking the time to learn and read about the context and history of bhangra can make a huge difference to the way you teach. Another important aspect is your own personal context - when you learned it, what you like about it, anecdotes, etc. Personal context makes for a fun class and helps build a relationship between everyone and propagate. Again, nothing substitutes for preparation. Bhangra has A LOT of moves, but on the spot its always hard to think of what else to teach! It is important to carefully think about what moves you would like to teach before entering class, and even line up music in advance.

Of course this all means that you have to learn and know the moves well yourself first. Eventually we hope to document all the different moves in bhangra and their context, as a reference for all bhangra instructors. Until then you have to build your own informal guide. On our site, we have translated lyrics, videos, information about costumes, etc. There are some good resources on the web for moves, especially the Learn Bhangra in 7 Days video and the Vancouver Video on our site. The site www.jatt.com has a some good written articles on bhangra, like the essay by Jaspal Uncle on bhangra, and the links to Romantic stories (Heer-Ranjha,Mirza-Sahiba) of Punjab.



BREAKING IT UP WITH SOME TALKING


MIXING IT UP

There is alot more to bhangra than just doing moves in a line or circle - the social aspect, the creative aspect, the different styles. Bringing that into class can be alot of fun. Sunil and I spent alot of time during our IAP series thinking and experimenting with new ideas of what to do with the class. Here's a list of some that worked with surprisingly good results.

Also, TRY YOUR OWN IDEAS. It requires doing some homework but the results can be spectacular. I personally do this because I think it helps me grow and forces me to move my horizons on bhangra further. This list is meant to be a growing list, so send me the results of your own experiments.

THE END:

Bringing it all together. Generally what we have done is have everyone in a circle and then go through all the moves. Its a great way to end on a high note. Circles are great cause it feels like bhangra (rather than line dancing) and people can see each other. On the other hand its getting infeasible as the number of people get large. Breaking up into smaller circles in one option. Generally this has always ended things on a high note.



SPIRIT OF A CLASS:


Priority 1: Class is for fun. Our criteria for success should be based more on how much fun people have and less on how perfect the dancers are at the end of class. Remember, bhangra is a folk dance meant for *everyone*. For some students, dancing is terrifying; the mere act of trying takes courage and they should be rewarded for that.

Class is also about building relationships. Between us and the community, between the community itself. Most of us met through exactly this process - it is one part of class that outlasts everything else. This inclusiveness is something that is unique about our club and something that we always hear about from the community.

SPIRIT OF INSTRUCTORS:

Respect and Camaraderie and Having Fun.

The first is the most important. Respect is what allows us to disagree, and pursue our own ideas, without sacrificing the second part - friendship. And in class this is *critical* - a small comment that is fine between 2 people, can become very insulting when delivered in front 65 strangers. And the class immediately sense when this happens. People can very easily get very hurt by this behavior.

Luckily in class there are some easy ways in which you can avoid this (in general the issue of respect inspite of difference is much harder). Here are some suggestions:


And lastly, teaching should be FUN. Not a chore. As a club we are not committed to mass-producing open bhangra classes. Do what is important to make it fun for you. If you like teaching a small class, limit enrollment. If you love gidda, teach a gidda class. If you just want to show people some videos, have a movie night. If you want an intense conditioning class, do it! That's the beauty of it. We all share what we love best and everyone wins.





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