The only people having more fun than you will while watching Shaan Mutiyaaran Di dance are the dancers themselves. The all female NYC-based Bhangra dance team—whose name translates to “the pride of women”— has been taking the competitive bhangra world by storm. Bhangra is a traditional folk dance from the Punjab region of South Asia and is typically male-dominated in competition; all-women teams are uncommon and all-women teams winning are almost unheard of.
SMD was founded in 2008 by Dheerja Kaur after she graduated from Columbia University and was surprised by the lack of female bhangra teams competing. In the eight years since SMD was created, they have won 17 trophies. Their international success did not come without years of struggling to be respected in the competitive circuit.
"Traditional Punjabi culture sometimes tends to put women down and does not allow for us to do the same things as men," said SMD dancer Shana Narula in an interview with Broadly. “I am a Punjabi girl and never knew that it was controversial for me to do bhangra until I got more entrenched in the competitive scene."
All-girls teams aren’t completely novel in the Bhangra world; however, teams like SMD face a huge amount of discrimination and rejection. "2009 to 2012 were like three years where I felt we were just fighting against this wall. It was the kinda thing that every time we went to a competition and one of the all-guys teams would be there and we'd be thinking, 'OK, great, they'll get first and maybe we have a shot at second. We just automatically assumed that," said Kaur.
Their kinetic and hypnotizing performances play off of traditional bhangra co-ed choreography, which often pairs off dancers into color coordinated couples called jodi. The couple will dance in dizzying circles around one another and act out romantic scenes in the more mellow sections.
“What was interesting to me as a choreographer was what can the female body do to progress the dance itself," said Kaur.
When men are removed, the choreography opens up to a new progressive style that can be gender-bending but is always aesthetically pleasing and delicately powerful. Every SMD dancer is continuously smiling a genuine smile as they twirl, leap, squat and basically do an entire leg-day-worthy work out on stage to energetic music while remaining perfectly in sync. Their joy is palpable even through the internet tubes and their international success is breaking barriers for female bhangra dancers everywhere.
Images via SMD/ Facebook
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