Dance Week Diary, Part Five: Punjabi folk dance

To conclude her National Dance Week celebration, Heather Wisner takes Bhangra from DJ Anjali

Editor’s Note: With a last Punjabi folk dance class at Viscount Dance Studio, Heather Wisner completes her five-day, five-dance class sashay through Portland dance studios. We’re hoping her celebration of National Dance Week will inspire you to make it National Dance Year. Good dancing out there!

Part Five: Bhangra and Giddha at Viscount Dance Studio []
What is it? Punjabi folk dance
What makes it fun? Buoyancy
Who is it for? People who like group dances/clubbing/Indian pop music
Who is it not for? People with knee issues

Between the luck of the draw at BeMoved® and my 10-minute accidental warmup at Vitalidad, I’ve done more Indian dance than I expected this week: my only deliberate attempt is a Bhangra and Giddha class at Viscount Dance Studio. Up to this point, my Bhangra training has consisted of a barefoot bop at Arbor Lodge, where Jai Ho! host DJ Prashant taught the basics during last year’s Portland Parkways.

DJ Anjali teaches Punjabi folk dance forms at Viscount Dance Studio/Photo by Heather Wisner

So I have some catching up to do—and if you haven’t been to Viscount in the last five years, so do you, since the studio moved from its longtime Burnside location around the corner to Sandy. The new space isn’t huge, but there’s a good-sized dance floor bordered by a long wall of framed vintage album covers (Polka Party! looks promising).

Our teacher is Anjali Hursh, better known locally as DJ Anjali, who, with the Incredible Kid, has been deejaying Indian-themed dance parties for the last 18 years. She studied classical Indian dance herself, from her Kathak-trained mother and from Bharata Natyam instructor Jayanthi Raman; she learned Bhangra, as many people do, on the dance floor.

If you haven’t heard of Giddha, it’s sort of the female counterpart to Bhangra, which was traditionally done by men. This being a nontraditional setting, the male and female students in our class learn both. At the beginner level, at least, it’s not complicated, but it is aerobic: there’s near-constant hopping—on one foot, on two feet, in triplets—paired with shoulder-shrugging, face-framing, windshield-wipering arm movements.

The challenges come in when the music speeds up, the combination begins to integrate all the elements you’ve learned in the last hour and the class dances those elements in the round. DJ Anjali smiles beatifically throughout the class, and unlike the rest of us, never seems to break a sweat, despite the warm day and the close surroundings. This is a dance you could do just for the exercise, but the camaraderie and the music make it seem less like a workout and more like a social event.

*****

National Dance Week ends April 28, so there’s still time to officially celebrate by trying a new class, seeing a performance (check out Oregon ArtsWatch’s calendar of local dance concerts), going dancing with friends or even cutting your living-room rug with loved ones. As someone who grew up in a small town with one dance studio and very few performances, I’m gratified by the wealth of choices Portland offers to learn and explore.

This was a challenging week, physically and mentally. I’ve realized that I’ve been out of a studio for too long, defaulting to the gym to avoid rush-hour traffic and for other not-very-compelling reasons. But this was also a fun, soul-rejuvenating week, and I intend to keep celebrating dance unofficially once National Dance Week is over.

I left Viscount with a flyer for Tropitaal!, billed as “A Desi-Latino soundclash” remixing Bollywood tunes with reggaetón. It’ll be held June 9 at Goodfoot, so look for me there: I’ll be the one bouncing down an imaginary runway, grinning like an idiot, waving my jazz hands and swinging at serial killers.

 

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