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Boiler Bhangra Shares Passion for Dance

Boiler Bhangra performs during the fall 2022 family weekend BBQ in the Co-Rec.
A dedicated group of Purdue students is sharing their passion for the energetic, free-flowing dance known as bhangra with the campus community and beyond.

Members of Boiler Bhangra devote hours a week to learning choreography and building camaraderie to perform bhangra, a traditional folk dance from the Punjab region of northern India. Club members perform at community events and compete in competitions at other colleges and universities. The club includes members from around the world who have entered the club from different paths.

Shraeya Santhapuram, a junior from West Lafayette and one of the club’s team captains, was introduced to bhangra as a teenager through her older sister, who was part of Boiler Bhangra when she attended Purdue University. From the first time she saw her sister dance, Santhapuram knew she wanted to learn to dance bhangra at Purdue.
“I fell in love with the dance,” Santhapuram says. “The energy just fits my personality a lot. I’ve been teaching dance since I was a junior in high school and I wanted to incorporate that aspect of my life into this style of dance. Becoming a leader in the club has also made me a way better dancer.”
Boiler Bhangra students enjoy a recent practice at WALC.
Bhangra is an expressive dance traditionally performed to the dhol, a large drum, and boliyan, short phrases and lyrics that describe scenes and stories from Punjab. Traditional lyrics typically reference themes of love, patriotism, strength and celebration, while the dance combines elements of different dances and cultures from the Punjab region. Bhangra is performed in colorful, loose-fitting uniforms called vardiyaan, which highlight the mobility of the dancers.

Boiler Bhangra combines traditional elements of the dance related to footwork with modern upper body moves, transitions and formation changes to create a unique and creative style. The club typically dances to a fusion of traditional Punjabi and modern Western music. Club captains design and teach dance choreography to club members.

Karan Ratra, one of Boiler Bhangra’s captains, has been dancing bhangra with friends and family since he was five years old. Ratra says combining his love for bhangra and choreography, as well as the friendships he’s made through the club are a significant part of his experience at Purdue.
“I’ve made some of my closest friends on this team,” Ratra says. “I decided to run for captain and I’ve been doing it ever since. I like Punjabi music a lot. I try to pick songs I like and think the team will like and make a lot of the choreography. I like implementing the music and giving my ideas on the moves and the mix.”

Boiler Bhangra welcomes members of any background and experience. Many club members had never danced bhangra before joining the club. President Priyanka Subrahmanyam, for example, had experience dancing bharatanatyam, a southern Indian dance, and wanted to join a bhangra club due to her familiarity with the thriving bhangra scene on collegiate campuses. She found exactly what she wanted through Purdue’s club.
“I’d always known that I wanted to join a bhangra team and the environment was very, very welcoming when I joined,” Subrahmanyan says.
Saaps, the white accordion props, are a traditional prop used in competitive bhangra.
The camaraderie and positive team environment extends beyond practices to team bonding activities. Club members say they spend a significant amount of time together hanging out, making dinner, getting meals together and playing games. Upper-class students in the club will often meet younger club members for a meal or boba tea to spend one-on-one time connecting with new members. The club also hosts formal holiday activities, such as Friendsgiving and Secret Santa. Making all club members feel included is important to club leadership.
“I would say the main thing I’ve learned from being president is how to foster team culture and balance multiple personalities,” Subrahmanyan says. “It can be hard to work with friends sometimes or even with different personalities, but I’ve learned how to work with everyone in more of a work environment.”
Team building activities and extensive dance practices help the club prepare for performances and competitions. The typical practice schedule outside of the competition season includes three two-hour sessions per week. The club performs annually at Global Fest, a local celebration that highlights dance, music and cultures from around the world. Boiler Bhangra also regularly performs at the university’s celebration of Diwali, hosted by the Indian Student Association, and Family Weekend, and has collaborated with Purdue Student Union Board and Purdue University Dance Marathon.
Footwork, a traditional aspect of the Bhangra dances, is a very important part of every performance.
Boiler Bhangra members cherish opportunities to participate in a popular and growing competitive bhangra scene on college campuses. Each spring, the club sends teams to compete in competitions at colleges and universities around the US. Different teams are selected for each competition via tryout, allowing club members to participate in events that best fit their interests and schedules.

Boiler Bhangra recently placed second in an event at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Team member Ishani Singh was recognized as the best dancer in the event, while Aalok Mann, a music mixer the team works with, received recognition for best mix. The club has also competed at Ohio State University this spring and will later travel to a competition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and another event in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s very fun to travel with your friends and peers,” Subrahmanyan says. “We’ve won a couple of competitions. The whole experience of putting in so much work, fundraising and practicing with the team makes it really rewarding to go to the competition, have that weekend go smoothly and sometimes to be able to win.”

A recent practice found Boiler Bhangra hard at work late into the evening. Team captains, including Ratra and Santhapuram, led club members ran through a complete routine, demonstrated new choreography and focused on incorporating saaps, wooden instruments consisting of x-shaped parts that expand and contract, into the routine. Despite the frenetic pace and length of the practice, team members were all smiles, sticking around after practice to visit, joke and make dinner plans.
“Even during practice, you can tell that we’re pretty close,” Ratra says. “Everyone is always talking with each other and laughing during practice.”

Bonds created during these experiences through Boiler Bhangra have helped many club members, including Santhapuram, find their place on campus.
“There are so many personalities on the team that you always find a way to fit in,” she says. “There’s no way you can’t fit in on such a large team. Everyone wanted to join this team for a reason, so we all have that joint passion that also combines us. Dance is such a great way to bring people together.”

Boiler Bhangra welcomes students with a passion for dance to connect with the club. While tryouts are typically held during the fall, the club does host workshops and other events open to the public. Connect with the club and stay up to date on upcoming performances and competitions by following @BoilerBhangra on Instagram.