Bhangra is like a big happy dance.
It started as a folk dance by Punjabi farmers in India to celebrate the harvest.
It’s done together in a big group – guys with guys, girls with girls, guys and girls.You don’t have to try to be sexy or pull off polished dance moves.
Every month the joy of Bhangra dance parties comes to Seattle, thanks to Portland-based computer engineer Prashant Kakad.
A poster for Saturday’s event at Chop Suey caught my eye with its Jai Ho! Bhangra theme – Jai Ho! was the ending theme song to the 2008 movie sensation Slumdog Millionaire.
The poster said “New Year’s Resolution: Treadmill is out, Bhangra is in!”
The party was by far the most fun I’ve had in a club outing in recent memory. “In Seattle, the dancers are like vampires thirsty for blood, but they’re thirsty for dance,” Kakad told me. “People just dance until the wee hours of the night.”
With Bollywood music videos playing in a loop behind him, Kakad DJ’d the event from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. He asked the capacity crowd to dance the whole night with him, and they happily obliged.
At 11 p.m. he strode to the front of the stage and schooled the crowd in some accessible Bollywood dance moves: the Indian head wiggle, a beat-timed shrug of the shoulders, twists, turns, claps, and even a two-person spin-in-place.
“I added the lesson part at the beginning because it really opens people up,” Kakad said later. “I know how it feels to go in a room where you don’t know what you’re up for. And so those dance lessons really help break down those barriers for people.”
Kakad just kept on dancing, even while DJ’ing, during the event. It’s clear from his enthusiasm that this is his one true passion.
Five years ago he began teaching dance lessons to small group of kids in Portland, but it caught on with the parents and spread through word of mouth. He quit his job at Intel to “dig deeper” into DJ’ing, choreography, and singing.
The first party in Seattle took place two years ago. Now he’s quitting another engineering job so he can focus on spreading the joy of Indian music culture full time.
“I feel like a more productive citizen of the world as an artist and a businessman,” he says. “I mean, you were at the party and you saw the kind of joy that it creates. It’s very gratifying.”
One of the party-goers told me he used to be sedentary and out-of-shape. “I didn’t dance at all, but this is just so, much, fun. You just get up and go!” he said.
It’s true. There was nothing remotely pretentious or intimidating about this dance party, unlike many nightclub events.
Next month’s party goes down February 18 at Chop Suey and this time the theme is Bollywood Disco with costumes. (I’ll be there!)
“I’ve never had cocaine but I feel like I can get a sense of what it’s like,” Khakad explained, “because [the parties] are just like bliss.”
Hyperbole? Not really. He says the crowds in Seattle get bigger every year. It’s not hard to see why.