A kaleidoscope of  colors, gorgeous costumes, fierce acrobatics and swirling bhangra set artistic fire to Detroit’s Fillmore Theater on Saturday, March 22, 2008 .  Bhangra Fusion Nine was carried off without a visible hitch, making it the longest running professional bhangra competition in the United States.

The Visionalist crew does not claim to be experts on Indian folk dances… yet.  But having filmed the 7th annual Dandia Dhamaka Raas competition in Ann Arbor in February, and interviewed numerous participants in  the traditional Indian mock-fight folk dance, we’ve become lifelong fans of the ferocious and beautiful energies unleashed during such competitions.  Saturday’s Bhangra Fusion Nine sealed the deal for us and we look forward to attending all such events in future, if not as filmmakers, then as fans.

As a historical perspective, bhangra was created by Sikhs as a part of harvest and vaisakhi festival celebrations, finding its way to the performance stage after the division of the Punjab in 1947. The Punjabi dance performed at this time in ecstasy with the beat of dhol came to be known as bhangra; a tradition which spread to other parts of the region and developed into a unique folk dance form.  An evolving art, bhangra is said to be the world’s fastest growing dance and musical combo, and today, it is being performed by people of all races.  Based heavliy on the percussion instruments, bhangra often reflects the long, tumultuous history of the Punjab, and knowledge of Punjabi history offers important insights into the meaning of the words and the movements. 

During the last thirty years, bhangra has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide, both in traditional form and as a fusion with genres such as hip-hop, house, and reggae.  It’s said that this progression of bhangra has created an ‘intermezzo culture’ in the post-partitioned Punjab.

First held in 2000 in Ann Arbor, the sold-out crowd at the Michigan Theater was a hint to Bhangra Fusion organizers that the competition had legs (no pun).  Fusion quickly moved to the State Theater in Detroit  (now the Fillmore) and has been celebrated there to sold-out crowds every year since.

This year the event was hosted by hosted by Dan Nainan, the self-proclaimed ‘half-Indian, half-Japanese’ comedian, who had the crowd roaring with his irreverent poke at such hot topics as outsourcing and Bollywood films. Special performances by Surjit Sagar and EnKarma added to the lively evening.

Ten teams competed this year, and Michigan State and the University of Michigan were both represented.  Teams included  Bhangra Empire from San Francisco, Duniya All-Stars from Vancouver, Michigan Bhangra from Ann Arbor, MSU Bhangra from East Lansing, Michigan National Bhangra Association (NBA) from L.A., Sonay Gabroo Punjab De (SGPD) from Toronto, Texas Bhangra from Austin, UVA Di Shaan from Charlottesville, Virginia, VCU Bhangra from Richmond, Virginia and Virsa (Our Tradition) from New York.

This year, the stakes were higher than usual as the first place winner earns a bid to compete at the fourth annual Best of the Best competition held at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago on April 19, 2008.





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