By Rachel Sorgen– 

Fun, powerful, energetic and entertaining. These are the words Rukmini Yakkanti used to describe the Cardinal Bhangra dance team.

A senior at U of L, Yakkanti is currently co-captain and president of Cardinal Bhangra. Yakkanti’s responsibilities include creating and teaching choreography, taking care of the equipment and setting up performances. Even though he never took professional dance lessons or had previous training, this has remained a passion for him and is why he was interested in Cardinal Bhangra when he was freshman. “I do it because it is something I am passionate about and is a talent I love to display,” said Yakkanti.

Bhangra is a traditional Indian dance performed during the harvest season. Bhangra remains a big part of the Punjab culture. The purpose of Cardinal Bhangra is to spread awareness of the culture by sharing this art form with audiences. Yakkanti explained the need for Cardinal Bhangra grew in relation to the growing diverse student population. Soon there were enough people to form an organization and meet the needs to sustain the members.

Founded in 2008, originally as Jawani Fusion, Cardinal Bhangra is a recognized student organization. Spreading Indian culture on campus and the surrounding community, Cardinal Bhangra provides a platform for students to showcase their talent.

They have performed all over Louisville and several times in Lexington, notable venues include the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, The Louisville Palace and the Belvedere. The team gets requests to dance at weddings, anniversaries and to be the opening act for shows. You might have seen them on campus performing at Jalsa, raiseRED, the International Fashion Show and the International Banquet.

A common misconception is that Bhangra and Bollywood dancing are the identical. It is important that this difference is made to audiences so that customs and cultures are not confused. “Bhangra is more traditional and everyone and anyone can do Bhangra to all types of music,” said Yakkanti.

“The music used in Bhangra is different than that of Bollywood,” Yakkanti said. “There is a certain type of beat used in Bhangra, often referred to as the ‘Bhangra beat.'” The beat is created through an instrument called a dohl. Other instruments used include the saaps and khundra. Powerful and energetic, the music used is a mix of modern Punjab music and popular Western hits. Blend these styles together and happiness dominates the dance. The synchronization is what gives Bhangra dance its signature, as well as the Indian clothing. Men wear chadra tied around their waist and a pagh on their head. The traditional clothing worn by women is called a chunni, worn on their heads, along with pants and a long shirt.

Cardinal Bhangra claims to be the only recognized Bhangra team in Kentucky. In 2011, they placed second at the University of Kentucky Diwali Dance contest. In April, the team will be traveling to the University of Alabama to compete for their second time.

Photo by Dustin Massengill / The Louisville Cardinal