Dancers from Singapore, Canada and across the United States are traveling to Binghamton University this weekend to compete in Bhangra Fever, an internationally recognized competition.
The event was first held in February 2009 and will celebrate its eighth year on Saturday, Feb. 10 in the Osterhout Concert Theater of the Anderson Center.
Bhangra is a type of folk dance from Punjab, a region of northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan, that is traditionally performed as a harvest dance. Jaspinder Ratth, director of Bhangra Fever and a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, said the style of dance has become more popular in Western culture over the last two decades — especially in the United States and Canada.
“Over the years the University has seen themselves [that] Bhangra Fever has actually made a name for itself,” he said. “Last year’s Bhangra Fever was actually very very successful — there [are] celebrities that actually had videos that they retweeted from this competition. So it kind of put Binghamton on the map.”
The competition was dreamed up by members of Binghamton Bhangra, a coed dance team at BU.
“They wanted to, in a sense, showcase their culture so they really wanted to bring forth a competition named Bhangra Fever,” Ratth said. “At the time, they didn’t have much funding, so it was really important for them to really push hard to go get sponsorships and get donations and whatnot, just to start something up to show what they’re capable of.”
While the team doesn’t participate in the competition, they do perform an exhibition dance at the end of the show. Their real work happens behind the scenes, according to Nicki Tornabene, head of public relations for Binghamton Bhangra and a senior double-majoring in psychology and sociology.
“Everyone really puts their heart and soul into making this event the best it can be, from my PR committee making Fever’s name pop all over campus and the internet, to the dancers practicing three hours a day, to our new members making their mark on the way the event’s run,” Tornabene said. “Fever is truly a bonding experience for our team and a spectacular event for our audience.”
This year, the event committee received 30 entries and narrowed the field to eight teams. These teams will compete for cash and trophy prizes.
When it came to choosing the competition judges, the event committee selected dancers widely known in the Bhangra world: Gurpreet Dhaliwal from San Diego, California, who has competed in over 40 Bhangra competitions; Hardeep Sahota from Vancouver, British Columbia, a founder of the Royal Academy of Bhangra; and Prabh Saini from Toronto, Ontario, a member of Shaan Punjab Dee, the team that won Bhangra Fever in 2017.
Ratth also noted that the event has become a weekendlong extravaganza. On Friday night, the competition committee hosts a mixer with all of the teams in the Mandela Room in the University Union. They play icebreaker games, eat dinner and meet the different teams and judges. On Saturday, they hit the stage.
According to Ratth, one of his most memorable Bhangra Fever moments was a 6-year-old’s performance. According to him, the young girl stole the show with the same skill level and intensity as her team members.
“It just goes to show that dance, no matter what your age is, it’s just how much heart and passion you put into it,” he said. “She was all over YouTube, she had over 200,000 views on Instagram so she really went viral and helped put our competition on the map.”
Because Bhangra Fever wasn’t held in 2016, the committee found it difficult last year to get newer students interested in attending a show they didn’t know much about. But this year, ticket sales have improved, Ratth said.
“Overall I really think that events like these actually help [BU] because the University is not in a really big town,” he said. “But it’s surprising that people know what Binghamton is, especially through [Bhangra Fever] because it has a really big name. That’s great to know that we can help the school.”
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the show will begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase from any member of Binghamton Bhangra, or at the Anderson Center Box Office. Tickets are $8 for students, and $10 for the public if bought in advance. They can also be purchased at the door, at $10 for students and $14 for the public.