Growing up in California, Manpreet Toor remembers coming into contact with Bhangra – a vibrant Punjabi dance form widely performed among Indian diaspora in her parents’ garage. “In Punjabi homes, we used to have parties in the garage all the time,” Toor said. She listened to the sounds of music like a folk and pop artist Sardul Sikander, one of India’s most beloved singers, who died of COVID-19 in February.
In March, Toor, a key figure in the Bay Area’s vibrant South Asian dance scene, and her fellow choreographer Preet Chahal paid tribute to Sikandar. In Youtube video With the look of a retro home movie, Chahal leads a group of men who perform Bhangra moves to the music of Sikandar in a garage-turned-dance floor. Toor walks into the scene wearing a festive lehenga (a floor-length skirt), and stuns her male fans with annoyance – a recurring motif in her choreography – before leading the female party-goers into the dance.
“We wanted to bring back the style of Sardul Sikandar,” Toor said. The garage parties of her parents’ generation.
Toor and Chahal’s video shows a new wave of Indian diaspora dance, a wave enabled by platforms such as YouTube and TikTok, and intensified with live performances during the pandemic. Bhangra embodies the coming together of genres like Bollywood, Hip-Hop and Gidda, another Punjabi folk dance-toor with its beautiful, unique style, which has found an enthusiastic global audience.
A decade ago, if you searched for bhangra on YouTube, you would find videos with rows of colorfully dressed, neatly coordinated dancers on college campuses and on the forums of national bhangra competitions. These young dancers, many of them performing in first- and second-generation South Asian competitive varsity teams, popularized the dance form, making some of their fellow Americans familiar with Bhangra.
Today, artists like 31-year-old Toor are changing the way we look at Bhangra and other Indian dance styles, creating dances that are consumed online in productions similar to professional music videos. While team-based performances emphasize the beauty of group synchronization, videos created for YouTube can draw on an individual artist’s skills, her facial expressions, her fashion and makeup choices.
Toor has long helped define what it means to dance Bhangra online. Her YouTube subscribers have recently reached 1.25 million, and her videos regularly garner hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of views among fans in North America, India, and beyond. “This is my platform,” she said, and her potential reach is limitless.
Chahal used the Punjabi term, saying, “Her nakhra is probably one of the best nakhras I have seen in a dancer – it is so innocent,” which describes a dancer’s personal nature, joy and connection with the audience. does.
Traditionally a male dance, although now performed by dancers of all genders, Bhangra is characterized by fast-paced, spirited movements. The arms and legs are thrown up in the air, making the dancers appear large and enthusiastic.
“It’s a very face-to-face dance,” said Omar Mirza, founder of acclaimed Bay Area Bhangra team Bhangra Empire. “It’s kind of nonstop high energy, and that’s what makes it so attractive to everyone.”
And yet “there’s an element of grace at the same time,” added Puneet Mirza, founder of the Bhangra kingdom and Omar Mirza’s wife.
“Bhangra is life,” continued Puneet Mirza. People in Punjab are “always doing Bhangra for any festival, any joyous occasion.” It can also be a vehicle for political discontent: Bhangra dancers and musicians around the world have been vocal in support of millions of Indian farmers and workers, many of whom are Punjabis, who are protesting the country’s agricultural reforms that began last year.
The style derives from folk dance forms in Punjab, northern India and a region in Pakistan. “These dances were largely, though not exclusively, created by farmers,” said Rajinder Dudrah, professor of cultural studies and creative industries at Birmingham City University in England. “To entertain themselves and partly to break the monotony of the day, they would sing songs or couplets to each other, clap their hands, and then they would also repeat certain moves, for example, the ground But to drop the seed. Raising the sickle in one hand and the other”—movements that also underpin current Bhangra choreography. For harvest (“The Harvest”), the dancers wave gently like wheat flying in the wind. For peacock chal (“peacock walk”), they spread their arms like peacocks displaying their feathers.
Toor grew up primarily dancing Bhangra, a style she calls “too masculine” and not too lyrical. His performances stand out for their light touch: on that, a trick like a peacock trick Looks a little more fluid, a little less choppy than other dancers.
Contemporary Bhangra emerged among the diaspora. “Britain was the cultural center of Bhangra, especially in the ’80s and ’90s,” Dudrah said. “It became very much a fusion-based musical, which then began to draw on the experiences, stories and identities of South Asians in North America, the UK and elsewhere”. The artists combined Punjabi songs and South Asian instruments, especially the dhol drum and single-string tumbi, with pop, hip-hop, reggae and other genres.
The new Bhangra music conveyed a sense of Punjabi cultural pride as well as created dialogue with the wider culture – Jay-Z famously sang the track “Mundian To Bach Ke,” or “Savdhan from Boys” by British-Indian artist Punjabi MC. thoroughly remixed. . It also reshaped the Indian music industry: “That music caught the attention of people in India, not only in Punjab, but in Bollywood as well,” Dudrah said. “He has also designed and created his own Indian, Indian contemporary Bhangra.”
The cross-pollination of Bhangra and “filmy” Bollywood dance – not one genre, but a fusion of several – is evident in Toor’s choreography. That said, she was always drawn to soft, expressive movements, and grew up imitating Madhuri Dixit Dance, 54, a Bollywood film star who was trained in Kathak, a North Indian classical dance form.
Toor took some informal dance lessons as a child—”we used to meet in a garage,” she said, “a mother used to teach us”—but she is primarily self-taught. She became popular on the Internet in early 2010, when she performed with a partner, Naina Batra (now a successful YouTuber in it’s own). The pair delighted audiences in person and online with their inventive Bollywood routines, showcased in competitions otherwise dominated by Bhangra.
With the success of her YouTube channel, Toor decided to drop out of college in 2016, where she was studying nursing, to pursue dancing. “It was a very quick decision,” she said. At the same time, he dance-fight in the hit going viral. “Bhangra Vs Bollywood,” Set to the song “Wonderland”.
Toor is known for his versatility. she can go by vigorous bhangra routine to do Fragile, Romantic Bollywood Oldies Mash-up with echoes of Kathak. “He’s like a sponge,” said dancer and choreographer Safat al-Mansour, who collaborated with him on a Recent Hip-Hop Routines Set to the English-Punjabi R&B track “Hore Labna” (or “Somebody Else to Find”). “Everything looks great on him. He’s a choreographer’s dream.”
Comparison videos are a major part of Toor’s channel, showing off her range and setting different styles against each other. in flirty”kill your eyes” (“Wink”), she slides and hip-shakes through new and old versions of a popular Bollywood song: one in pleather leggings and a crop top, lehenga and 90s dance moves in the other. In “track suit” Toor presents a modern twist on giddha, traditionally a women’s dance, said Dudrah, “the female counterpart to bhangra.” She and her backup dancers perform Giddha’s distinctive clap and foot stump, lighter and more contained than Bhangra but no less energetic. With a competitive air, Preet Chahal and two male dancers in tracksuits take the scene through a Bhangra routine to the same song.
“If you think of giddha through the body of someone like Manpreet Toor, who is in North American space, you can start to see that it’s the female body in the traditional, traditional sense of just clapping and dancing. No,” said Dudrah. “It’s also layered through the new choreography.”
Since their dances are set to music owned by record companies, YouTubers like Toor usually cannot make money from their videos. “If it’s by a big label, which is like Sony or T-Series most of the time, we have to give up the rights, so we don’t monetize,” she said. Dancers have to find other ways to earn a living. Unlike a style like ballet, said Puneet Mirza, in which dancers aspire to perform professionally, Bhangra does not have a clear career path. “If you study Bhangra, where do you go?”
For many dancers, including Toor, the answer is: teach classes. Toor has often recruited his students as backup dancers for his YouTube channel, including his most popular videos, “Clove Lachey” (“Cloves and Cardamom”), Chahal garnered over 32 million views (the girls in that dance “have been looking at him since they were little kids,” Chahal said).
The Bhangra empire, true to its name, has built a dance class business that is estimated to have reached 5,000 students in the Bay Area and other cities of Puneet and Omar Mirza. Omar Mirza said, “When we first started, we used to see ourselves as artists, but now we see ourselves as teachers trying to teach the next generation.”
Toor also has bigger ambitions: she has headlined music videos for artists like Punjabi singers gary sandhu and ukbased PBN (Punjabi by nature). She recently traveled to Mexico to film a music video with Bollywood’s renowned singer Harshdeep Kaur and British artist Ezzu.
His YouTube career has earned him a place in the Punjabi entertainment industry, even from half the world. Eventually, she wants to choreograph for Punjabi films. “Slowly but surely, I’ll get there,” she said.