This is a topic I've written about before but I feel the need to do so again.
Bhangra is a dance form from Punjab. Originally the dance was performed by men, but as its popularity has spread all over the world, it's been popular among both men and women with co-ed and all female bhangra teams. Females in the bhangra community have striven to make their mark and many have done so. But even in 2016 some discourage women from doing bhangra and believe it's 'inappropriate'. Although female bhangra teams participate in competitions all over the world, some organizers still refrain from allowing females to take part in these events simply because of their gender, specially for live bhangra.
Although bhangra started off as a dance form solely for men, peoples thoughts have evolved and times have changed but there are a select few who are not comfortable with that change. In our culture we're taught to treat everyone equally. But why the inequality when it comes to bhangra? Some may say that men wouldn't do giddha (a Punjabi dance meant mainly for females) although Malwai Giddha is becoming more recognized. I'm sure that in the future if Malwai Giddha teams wanted to compete or show their skills at an event they would be accomodated somehow. Times DO change. The main focus should be to keep this art form alive, and that's what most bhangra dancers, male or female, aim to do. I believe that a woman's choice to do bhangra or giddha should be solely HER choice and she shouldn't be judged for scrutinized for it. Do people really believe that our traditions will remain exactly the way they were over a hundred years ago?
I had the chance to speak to a few people who are currently involved in the circuit and have been in the past. Here's what they had to say:
"I started off in bhangra back in 2008 with Bhangra Knightz when very few girls teams were present in the circuit. As I learned more about bhangra I always questioned why girls weren't in the scene as much as guys were. It wasn't until 2010/2011 that I started to see girls team like Toronto All Star Girls, Shaan Mutiyaaran Di and PANJ emerge and completely dominate the circuit. I'm very big on woman empowerment and in 2013 I made it a goal of mine to bring together a girls team in the Bay Area and thus Royal Bhangra Girls was born. We started off small with melas and small shows and eventually made our way up over the years to perform on one of the biggest stages of all time, Bruin Bhangra. We had an amazing reaction and so many supporters. I believe the bhangra circuit is making progress with shining the light on girls doing Bhangra and proving that girls can dance equally if not better than guys. There are however, many out there that still cannot wrap their heads around girls doing bhangra especially live bhangra where girls have proven that they can out dance an all guys live team ex. TAG girls at MCB 2015. To all those naive people I would just like to say its not 1996 anymore people we are in 2016 and whether you like it or not girls are coming up and their presence will be know and I along with many others will fight for the cause."-Ranjit Nijjar- Coach of Royal Bhangra Girls, California
" I began competing in 2005 with Stanford Bhangra. During that time I can only recall 2 all girl teams, UBC girls from BC, Canada and Sherni Di Shaan from Berkeley, California. Since then a lot more girl teams have joined the scene. In 2007 I remember UBC girls doing a live segment at Bruin Bhangra, it was about 2 and half minutes but they still did an amazing job. After that came Jawani Bhangra, also from BC, and almost all of their performances started off with live segments which was great to see. After watching them I knew it wasn't gonna be too long until a girls team did a full live set. At 2011 Nachda Punjab, for the first time in bhangra history an all girls live team emerged, Allarh Mutiyaaran Punjab Diyaan (AMPD), although they weren't the cleanest live team, they brought this energy level that I thought only a selectfew guy's teams had. They opened new doors for all girls doing bhangra. I myself had the chance to play with another all girls live team, Shaan Punjab Di. I played for them at 2 competitions and had a blast playing for them. After our Warrior Bhangra performance I knew we had a high chance of placing. Some of the judges were shocked by our performance (even the few that didn't like girls doing bhangra). It's 2016 and looking back from 2005 to now female bhangra teams have truly evolved. The only sad part is there are still a few people who feel like it's wrong and think that the girls can't keep up with the guys. It's more sad that guys who used to make bad/vulgar comments about girls and bhangra are the same ones hosting bhangra competitions and are doing what ever they can to make sure girls teams don't compete against guy teams. It's 2016 some people still living in the past. For all the girls out there, continue to do bhangra and don't let anyone tell you that you can't. As a matter of fact, girls actually respect bhangra more then most guys." - Gagan Dholi
"Jawani Bhangra faced much discrimination by leaders in the bhangra community, esteemed judges told us we should stick to giddha etc. It deterred us from furthering our style as a folk team, and naturally we went to the more modern gimmicky fun side. It wasn't all what we wanted but it's kind of the direction we were molded. Personally the objective aspects such as stamina formations technique facial expression etc. are the same in male and female teams and if the girls can step up then why not let them compete in the folk comps.Until the current generation of "Uncles" and "Paaji's" are retired from the scene, the blatant sexism will continue because it's ingrained in them. For the girls who want to take it folk, do your thing! If you feel discriminated against, SPEAK UP. Ask questions, don't take judging decisions as the word of God and keep at it. You don't know who is watching you and getting encouraged, and it's all a part of the learning process for the circuit as a whole. " -Bharathi Sandhu
"Women face discrimination every day and it's no surprise when I say that in Bhangra, us girls face it too. We're looked down upon and are always discouraged. So that's why when I step up on that stage, I do it for the people who never had faith in me. I do it for the people who didn't believe that girls could be something more than a stay at home wife. I do it to show how empowering women are when given the chance. But most of all, I do it for myself. To prove to myself that I am so much more than the powerless and frightened young girl that people always saw me as." - Nimrat Brar- Royal Bhangra Girls
I also had the opportunity to speak to Daljit Mann from AVA Girls. Although the team is no longer active, Daljit was kind enough to share her thoughts with me. She explained that certain songs or moves were 'off-limits' in a sense due to the fact that they weren't necessarily appropriate for females. Despite these minor setbacks these girls worked tirelessly to be able to execute a routine on stage as perfectly as they could. Despite their efforts there would be occasions where judges would favor male teams and make remarks about how girls shouldn't be doing bhangra. She also mentioned that some parents would be against their daughters dancing and didn't find it appropriate.
This is still a huge issue today. I'm blessed to have had a father who supported my decisions and career choices and that is the only way I'm here working for what I love to do. Parents- I hate to say it but your daughters could be out doing things much worse than bhangra. So if your daughter chooses bhangra as a way to express herself you should truly be thankful and support her. Bhangra is still a part of our culture and although you may feel uncomfortable having your daughters perform at certain events, there are always Teeyan Da Mela's or others that you may feel comfortable with. Please go out and support your daughters. Be at their competitions and cheer for them! It will mean so much more to them than you think. From what I've seen, female bhangra teams are almost like a sisterhood. These ladies create life long friendships, work extremely hard with dedication and determination, and keep our culture alive. Times ARE changing. So either role with it and accept the changes or get left behind. As for those ladies who dedicate their evenings or weekends to their bhangra teams, working tirelessly to perfectly execute that routine on stage despite the harsh criticism- what you do takes a lot of willpower and hard work, KEEP SHINING :)