© 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
- Introduce the MIT/Boston community to Bhangra
- Teach basic steps to beginners
- Emphasis on good form
- Introduction to history, boliyan, culture
- Emphasis on fun and participation, not perfection
- Bring people together
- Medium impact workouts
- Training for novice instructors
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.
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
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
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
BREAKING IT UP WITH SOME TALKING
- Sunil's favorite: pick a question of
the day, go around and get everyone to introduce themselves
by name and answer the question (e.g. where was your last
vacation). Key is to pick a question not about bhangra. Facilitates
people getting to know each other and a little reduction in
- Radhika's favorite: lyrics.
And you DON'T have to sing. Our website has ALOT of translated lyrics. Give everyone a
copy of the lyrics and let them read it, then play the song and let
them follow along to see what the song is saying - how often do people
get to understand what is being said beyond the chorus line? Our
experience has been that people love this.
- Sumer's favorite: Just mingle and
talk!. Take a water break for 10 minutes and let everyone
mingle and talk and get to know each other. Very relaxing and very
nice way to get people to stop talking during class :)
- Invite someone from the community, like Jaspal Uncle to
come talk about Bhangra or Punjabi culture. Ask Moninder to come give
a dhol demonstration. Watch videos.
- Give a lesson focussed on expression, hands, shoulders, head
etc where everyone sits.
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.
- Separate Girls
And Guys: Then concentrate girls on learning
girlish bhangra steps or learning about gidda (acting +
steps). Can concentrate guys on doing powerful guy moves, (or
graceful guy moves, we've never actually done this), or some
simple stunts. Pitfall: hard to manage two sets of music
playing in class. Surprising Result: If you gear it toward
a small mini-choreography that guys present to girls and then
girls present to guys, they REALLY enjoy it.
- Social Bhangra: Divide the
whole set of people into groups of 10. Give each group a single
instructor. Using moves learned so far each group comes up with a mini
dance. Then we all get into a circle and each group gets a chance to
come to the center and dance (without the instructor). Has been
incredibly successful!! People really love this one.
- Rotating Partner Moves: Line
up everyone in a line, and teach a partner move, let them
practice. Then rotate the line (dandia style) and continue. Make sure
each time they introduce themselves to their partner. Works ok,
helps people get to know each other and stop dancing on an isolated
island in the middle of the ocean...
- Concentrate on ONE Move:
Pick one move and discuss and go through all the variations. Then
break up into groups and have each group come up with THEIR OWN
VARIATION. Caveat: never tried this :).
- Teach a gidda class There is
no rule that says we can't restrict a class for a special
purpose. Moninder (Jheeta) and I (Radhika) once had a complete ball
teaching gidda for most of the class.
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.
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
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
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:
- Leading. Maximum, one or two instructors should have the class
"lead" at a given time. The leader has the plan and is in charge.
- Several Instructors. Goal is to help the leader carry out the
plan, follow the lead given. And deliver INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION, move about
in the crowd and give 1-on-1 help to people.
- Identify ALL instructors at the beginning of class. This is
because we DO need to explicitly acknowledge each other's presence and
authority in the class.
- Rotate the teaching of moves. All instructors should be given
the opportunity to teach. "Hogging the microphone", though tempting has
alot of cons: the leader gets really tired and the instructors get bored.
Why do that when we can all have fun!
- Respect the person who is currently in the lead. Help out. When
someone else is teaching, do everything you can to be helpful. Distracting
behavior (e.g., chit-chatting with friends) is disrespectful to whoever
is teaching and sets a bad example. Similarly, be courteous. People usually
do not like being interrupted while they are teaching - asking if you can
"add something" is better. And when you violate the above,
and get a curt correction from the leader, then respect the fact again
that they are in the lead and you are supposed to be helping. Give unconditional
support - concrete help in the nick of time, criticism later.
- Be generous and allow mistakes. We all make mistakes,
especially those listed above. Both the person noticing the mistake and the
person making the mistake have to remember the all important lesson of humility.
Teaching is a lifelong learning experience.
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
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