Kids Corner


A Phulkari Of Bhangra In
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley






We are holding a series titled, ‘Phulkari: Pieces of Our Shared Stories Within the Fields’ at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

Our first event is a bhangra workshop and an introduction to the dance form. It is a kick-off celebration of the hard work that farm workers do to put food on the tables of all Canadians and an appreciation of the farming process.

And what better way to do that than to celebrate through bhangra!

Bhangra is a highly energetic folk dance form that has made its mark worldwide. It has been derived from a number of key dance forms from Punjab. It is a hybrid of sorts and brings together dance forms as well as moves from various villages across this region.

Although, the dance form’s history is continuously sought and debated, the written evidence suggests that it is only a few hundred years old. Of course, this dance form predates the Partition of Punjab in 1947 between newly minted India and Pakistan. Thus it comes from a region that once formed the northern part of both these countries as we know them today.

Moreover, researchers speculate that some aspects of the dance actually moved from other regions such as the Pashtu people to Punjab, which isn’t a surprise, since a historical relationship existed between these areas. For instance, the earliest word that researchers have been able to find related to bhangra comes from the Pashtu people -- Bangra and the Khattak tribe of the region.

Likewise, the existence of the jhummer dance form in various regions has been noted by scholars (incorporated in bhangra today). The earliest written account of bhangra dates to 1883, while Punjabi dance forms such as giddha and sammi largely predate this account.

Thus, bhangra’s emergence, as we know it today, appears to be a relatively new phenomenon in comparison to the history of other folk dance forms, although this remains an issue of contention.

Overall, most people recognize Bhangra as a dance form that is performed during Vaisakhi to celebrate the harvest season. Even many of the names given to the dance moves today are derived from various aspects of farming.

For example, chaafa, phasla, and phull are Punjabi words associated with different components of farming. The dance form itself is an overt display of the happiness and joy that a farmer felt when his crop was ready. Traditionally, bhangra was a male oriented activity but in the diaspora it expanded to include women as small cultural groups emerged that began teaching women this dance form.

At a time when few Punjabis resided in Canada, the United States, etc. bhangra became a way for young people to connect with their heritage without an in-depth knowledge about the form itself and its “rules”.

Today, many bhangra dancers have sought to create a vocabulary for this dance form and establish a set of standards for the manner in which each step should be done. However, the historical chronology of this folk dance form suggests that no such standards existed before Partition and it became an amalgamation of various forms that people from different areas exercised.

For example, the dance moves in bhangra today such as jhummer, dhamaal, and sammi were performed as separate forms amongst different people from various areas of Punjab and represent their own set of traditions. An increased focus on folk dance forms in the subcontinent and the institutionalization of bhangra itself, particularly at the competitive level, has perhaps changed its adaptive nature and inclusiveness.

Nevertheless, people continue to push boundaries and we will likely see this form alter over time as it has historically done.

The dance form has opened up to women and it has gone from a dance of the villages to the dance of an international diaspora wherever Punjabis have migrated. In fact, it has extended beyond the people of the Five Rivers to people of various cultures and identities. Bhangra seems to have a language of its own and refuses to be condensed into the boundaries and borders that some bhangra artists impose.

It is even incorporated by some Zumba dancers and it has become a popular workout method. Whether it’s the beat of the dhol or the magic of its moves, people everywhere can feel a connection with Bhangra’s energy, joy, and sense of hope.

In a similar vein, we are introducing this bhangra workshop as a part of our series and allowing all those who live in the Okanagan to participate in the bhangra experience. If you are passionate about Bhangra and learning more about its history, come join us at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art on July 18, 2015.

The event will begin at 3 pm and you are encouraged to rsvp through email:

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July 18 - Bhangra Dance Workshop - 3 pm
August 1 - Bollywood Dance Workshop - 3 pm
August 21 - Film Screening & Discussion - 7 pm
August 18-28 - Portrait Exhibit

For more information check out our Facebook Page.

Or our Website

July 9, 2015

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