Mason Bhangra team looks to future of work and growth after talent show success

Jessica Wang | Staff Writer

The Mason Bhangra team practices dancing to celebrate their culture.

Jumping to new heights, Gajdi Jawani’s recent win at the Mason High School talent show bolstered them to showcase their club and culture on another level.

For the past few years, Gajdi Jawani (GJ), has been a staple of the National Honor Society (NHS) talent show — and this year, they won first place. The dance team performs Bhangra — a traditional Indian dance that originated from a region called Punjab. Traditionally, the purpose of the dance was to celebrate the spring harvest festival. Today, however, the dance is commonly used for entertainment and to showcase the Indian culture.

According to senior Kiret Sangha, dynamism and vibrancy are essential to pull this dance off.

“The biggest thing about Bhangra is that you try to look big,” Sangha said. “So you try to keep your arms up and spread your body out. We also wear a lot of colors to show off and celebrate. It’s very active, you move around and jump around a lot. There are a couple of different forms and it’s really energetic.”

Performing Bhangra, GJ was able to place first in the NHS talent show. However, senior Shreya Gundavarpu says their journey to the top wasn’t easy. As a completely student-run organization, Gundavarpu’s responsibilities as a captain extended far beyond simply dancing.

“This year we have 3 practices a week for 2 hours,” Gundavarpu said. “We also started teaching workshops once a week to raise money because we are completely student-run. We don’t have any adults; we have our own bank accounts, and we perform at different events to earn money so that we can compete and buy our own costumes. We also choreograph our own dances and find our own music.”

From booking their own gigs to ideating novel choreography, Gundavarpu says that being a part of GJ has been no easy task — a hard-working team is essential. With the GJ’s selective audition process, she and the team ensure that each member is truly passionate about Bhangra.

“Everyone who is on the team wants to be on the team,” Gundavarpu said. “We do a whole audition process where we hold tryouts. We looked at every single video that people sent in, we looked at the videos that we took at tryouts, and talked about who was working the hardest at tryouts and who had the biggest improvement from the first day to the second.”

Sophomore Natasha Jha went through this two-day audition her freshman year. Growing up, she said she had always admired GJ and becoming a member herself allowed her to not only pursue her love of dancing, but also stay in touch with her Indian heritage.

“Culturally, it has opened me up so much and has made me realize how interesting and colorful the Indian culture is,” Jha said. “I’ve never really ignored or have been embarrassed about being Indian but through GJ, I was able to connect more not only with other Indian kids but with myself.”

For senior Deeya Shah, the cultural aspect of GJ has also been vital to her — especially amidst the predominantly white city of Mason. “The culture at Mason is you’re Indian — but you’re a whitewashed Indian,” Shah said. “When I go home, there’s culture there, but at school, the Indian culture has been diminished throughout all the students. When we’re at school, we don’t talk about our culture, so GJ has helped us stay immersed in our culture.”

Despite the sparsity of her culture, Shah has not been discouraged. Rather, it motivates her to build a bridge between the Indian culture and other people within our school and community.

“For me, it’s not a big deal that there’s not a big brown culture here,” Shah said. “It’s fun to perform in front of our classmates. I think some people on the team might find it embarrassing to show their culture. But for us, we think it’s fun because we love doing it and it’s fun to see our classmates cheer for us and get hyped about our culture.”

Seeking to help their peers become more involved with the Indian culture, GJ started doing workshops.

“We’re currently hosting these classes and making it open to everyone so people see that they can do it,” Gundavarpu said. “You don’t even have to be Indian to do Bhangra. I’m not even from that part of India where Bhangra origi-
nated — I wouldn’t have known about Bhangra unless I had seen the team and tried out for it.”

Beyond these classes, GJ has found the NHS talent show to be the perfect platform to spread their culture and passion. However, with several elite members graduating the year before, the team was unsure of how they would perform.

“It is nice to see how much people appreciate our performance and look forward to it,” Jha said. “But after some of our strongest dancers graduated, we thought we wouldn’t be able to reach the same energy level and quality as they had done in the past years. We had some big shoes to fill. In fact, before the talent show, a couple of people thought we wouldn’t be able to even place after coming third last year.”

Despite the difficulties, thanks to the efforts of Gundavarpu, GJ was able to exceed expectations and even place first.

“Shreya Gundavarpu was the one who kind of took on the role of captain for this performance,” Jha said. “She worked her butt off to make us enjoy the performance as much as possible. And then, before we knew it, we were holding the plaque for first place.”

Despite their win, the team has not taken a break — in fact, with an upcoming competition in April at Virginia, Sangha says that the team has to work even harder than before.

“There are not a lot of high school Bhangra teams,” Sangha said. “So at the competitions, there are a lot of college teams. So we have to be over the top to match those teams.”

From traveling to winning, GJ has experienced it all. However, according to Jha, what is perhaps even more gratifying than the glory and recognition is the relationships they have formed.

“Our team is super close and we have each other’s back through thick and thin,” Jha said. “I feel like we can all talk to each other about anything — not just dance. Bhangra has really brought us closer together. We also do a lot of team bonding activities like playing card games and just hanging out over the weekend to get closer together because that’s what we really need in order to be successful for this competition and in just any performance.”

Photos by Della Johnson