Surprise Bhangra at San Francisco’s City Hall

Visitors to India often comment on the serendipitous surprises they encounter: an elephant in traffic, a roadside celebration with dancing and music, a clever gymnastics performance during a traffic jam. Well, recently San Francisco held its own.

I’d gone to City Hall for a meeting. For those unfamiliar with it, San Francisco’s City Hall is a beautiful beaux art domed building; inside, there’s a dramatic marble staircase beneath a three-story rotunda.

It’s where marriages are registered, and legal weddings performed. Often the young couple honor the occasion by dressing up themselves, so there’s a certain festive atmosphere to what is essentially a bureaucratic office building. There’ll almost always be a bride or two floating around in fairy-tale white gowns, often accompanied by cute kids all dressed up too.

But Friday last, it was more than happy brides. I entered the building to the sound of a tabla, looked around, and on the steps at the first landing saw a musician sitting at his instrument, drumming away.

I stood around, intrigued. The tabla stopped, and gave way to the energetic beat of a dholak. And half a dozen young women in pink and green salwar-kameez inspired costumes came bounding out to perform a bhangra.

All the bhangras I’ve seen before this were performed by men. It’s an exuberant and energetic dance, originating in the Punjab. These women definitely captured the spirit of the thing, even if they didn’t make some of the acrobatic moves I’ve seen from bhangra performers in India. The pace and energy was awesome.

(Later, while doing some research for this post, I discovered that bhangra has become an international art form, not restricted to men or Punjabis or even to Indians. Cultural globalization at its best.)

Unfortunately, that was the only dance I could watch; I had to attend my meeting. But someone kindly handed me a flyer.  It was a performance by the Duniya Dance and Drum Company, which “performs and teaches traditional and innovative performance pieces from Guinea, West Africa and Punjab, India.”

It’s one of the Rotunda Dance Series. So maybe there are other surprises in store for people who think they’re going to a government meeting.

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1 Response to Surprise Bhangra at San Francisco’s City Hall

  1. nk says:

    Rupa, Navendu Vasavada’s daughter told me about ten years ago, that she was a member of the Bhangra Club at Stanford. I was a little surprised. She then added, ” Not Gidda, Bhangra…Bhangra!”

    Because traditionally Gidda is for girls and Bhangra for boys.

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