Cultural dances can be deeply rooted into an individual’s past, becoming a part of their childhood memories and adult lifestyles. Even on a busy and modern campus like Michigan, there are still those that embrace their heritage and share it with the rest of us. I had a chance to talk with Howie Magaro, co-captain and choreographer for the Michigan Bhangra Team, to see how his group has become a part of campus while still holding true to the customary basis.

Sara Shamaskin

Bhangra is a Desi-originated dance, meaning it arose from Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi culture. The dance was originally meant to celebrate the harvest season, with different elements to represent the farming, growing and reaping of the crops. Since then, the dance has become an international performance, inspiring competitions throughout college campuses and large conferences. Magaro tells me that the perception of Indian dance is quite skewed, for many immediately think of Bollywood, and that the go-to thought of regular dancing today is only in a modern style.

“When we think of dance, we think very narrowly, in terms of either hip hop or some type of Latino dance like salsa. Nobody really knows of or has been exposed to the Indian types of dance. It is very exciting to watch,” said Magaro.

Though the dance’s popularization has vastly increased over the past forty years, there are still several ties that allow the meaning and integrity of the Desi cultures to shine through. Whether it be by means of dances like “‘Fasla’ that represent the wheat going back and forth with with your arms,” or with the traditional dress like the paag turban, the turla headpiece or the salwar kameez harem pants. These clothes, though old in tradition, are now put into a modern concept in order to be showcased in performances.

For those outside of the Desi farming culture, it’s important to view the display of the traditional Bhangra dance, clothing and props to learn about what has been so ingrained into this society. By understanding, and in turn appreciating, another’s cultural practices, tolerance disappears and acceptance takes its place. Tolerance doesn’t allow us to open our minds to experience how others may interpret events, such as a harvest. But acceptance enables us to willingly compare and contrast our own events, bridging one’s own culture with another’s.

Too many times has tolerance been viewed as a progressive moment, as if we are allowing some other person with values different than ours to continue on, unopposed by us. This isn’t a way in which people of varying cultures — especially on a college campus — should be interacting with other students. We should have acceptance be our goal, not tolerance. Acceptance allows the playing field to be even. If there is a discrepancy, a rift begins and then disunity prevails. Being a cultural performance group at the University, the Michigan Bhangra Team has worked with other groups as well, promoting themselves, their lesser-known culture and other groups on campus. “We’ve collaborated with various student organizations … such as some LGBT groups. We are very active not only in the Indian organization, but we have a very good relationship with the Central Student Government.”

We can see that there is an extensive amount of diversity on our campus. From the groups that perform on the Diag and at Hill Auditorium, to the dozens of tables promoting various cultural fundraising and appreciation groups during Festifall. If we attempt to homogenize the University, what will we have to offer as students to the campus, and as members of society to the world?

The experiences that we have while in the confines of this University will dictate how we understand or disparage others and their culture, views and values. Our Michigan Bhangra Team has become a strong cultural force on campus, but is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of cultural groups that promote and illustrate to the masses the aspects of their cultures that are unique and should be shared with the rest of us.

Sara Shamaskin can be reached at scsham@umich.edu.

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