Gravesend Bhangra dance group keeps members in touch with Asian roots
PUBLISHED: 09:24 07 March 2013 | UPDATED: 09:24 07 March 2013
It can be something as simple as a taste or smell that transports us home.
But for one Indian man adjusting to life in 1970s England, it was Bhangra dancing that kept him in touch with his Asian roots.
Establishing Jugnu Bhangra Group in Gravesend, Dr Surjit Singh sparked life into a troupe of dancers that is still going more than 40 years later.
Taking centre stage at weddings, festivals and even Berlin Fashion Week, the dancers often travel the country to entertain audiences.
They have even performed for the Queen at Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey.
In recent years Jagdev Virdee has taken the helm as group chairman, but his link with Jugnu Bhangra almost goes back to its beginning.
“I have been involved in one way or another for about 10 years,” said Jagdev. “But I actually booked the group to dance during my days at City University, in London.
“That was during the 1970s and was their first university gig. It had all started as just a way to keep dancing and help youngsters growing up here to relate to culture back home.
“Now we have more than 100 members of all ages and we travel all over the place to showcase Bhangra dancing.”
The artform is considered a male dance by traditionalists, with women dancing Gidha – a folk dance originating from India’s Punjab region.
But Jugnu offers classes three times a week for anyone who wants to learn, and though the basics can be picked up in a matter of hours, Jagdev says it can take years to master some routines.
He added: “The basic steps you can learn quite quickly, but the main performers in the group do more advance movements like climbing on each other’s shoulders.
“Some of the workshops we do in schools end with the children learning a Bhangra dance, so you can learn quickly – but it takes a long time to perfect it.”
Their annual tours have seen them dance their way through Bulgaria, Holland, Romania and India – though perhaps their most glamorous trip abroad came last year.
“We were invited to dance at Berlin Fashion Week last year,” said Jagdev.
“One of the companies wanted us to wear their gear and perform, which we did. It wasn’t something we have ever done before, but we enjoyed it and were glad to be a part of all the excitement.”
Jugnu Bhangra use the income from jobs such as the one in Berlin to fund their colourful costumes, travel costs and, most importantly, ensure dance classes are free for all who attend.
Though they’re often found travelling the country, the group made a big investment in the local area 11 years ago when they joined forces with Holy Trinity Primary School, in Trinity Road, Gravesend to create a new dance studio.
Jagdev said: “We have a long-running partnership with the school who funded the land, while we paid for the new studio to be built.
“We have first option to use the studio on weekday evenings and at weekends, but it’s a lasting sign that Jugnu Bhangra plays a positive role in the community.”
The group will take to the streets once again next month for Gravesend’s Vaisakhi festival celebrations, which can attract up to 7,000 in and around Europe’s largest Gudwara, in Khalsa Avenue.
To find out how you can join a class at Jugnu Bhangra, visit jugnubhangra.com