28 August 2007

Who's Sari now? - a traditional dance story

Aussies were purchasing traditional food too - ice cream and packets of chips....like going to a Celine Dion concert and finding that the support group is Motorhead!

Indian culture truly is an amazing thing given its facets and its extensive and rich tradition.

Being married to an Aussie Punjabi means that I frequently get to experience aspects of that culture. To a small minority of people that might mean having a ‘curry’ rather than a meat pie and chips! To others it could revolve around meditation, yoga or getting in touch with your spiritual self. Though to some of my friends their ‘spiritual self’ revolves around sculling a scotch and coke or three!

Anyway, at the weekend just past, we decided to go to an Indian dance show that was being put on at the local civic centre. My wife and daughters got dressed in traditional clothes. My wife wore a Punjabi suit (salwar kameez) and the gals wore multi coloured lenghas. As for myself and my father in law, we decided to go in traditional clothes too. In our case as casual Aussies!

We got to the civic centre about 5 minutes before the show started. Inside the foyer there were a few stalls selling Bollywood DVD’s (no Tom Cruise or Hollywood movies here!), Indian handbags and henna displays. There was even some Indian food on offer.

The show was split into two parts. First part traditional and second part modern. The first part covered the story of Krishna Leela. This involved a series of dance scenes following the life of Lord Krishna. Having not seen many traditional Indian dances I found it very interesting. Although we had great seats there were a number of latecomers arriving that occasionally hindered our view. The latecomers were working on what Aussie Indians call ‘Delhi Time’. That is the latecomers are still on ‘Indian time’ which is approximately 5 hours behind Australian time!

At the end of the first part of the show the MC stated that there would be a ‘short break’ of 35 minutes. I was amazed. How can 35 minutes be a short break? Surely 15 minutes is but not 35 minutes! Was this another example of Delhi Time?

We went into the foyer to stretch our legs. While waiting for the second part of the show to start I noticed that there were 2 food queues. Indians were queuing up for the traditional food - murgh makhani (butter chicken) and rice. Meanwhile in the other line Aussies were purchasing traditional food too - ice cream and packets of chips (crisps to us English)!

By the time the second part of the show started I noticed that there were many more people in the auditorium than before. Naturally, the vast majority had come to witness the excitement of Bollywood and bhangra.

Straight away the audience was becoming more passionate as the dancers started going through their well choreographed steps. Then, when the first bhangra dance started, there was a huge roar from virtually all the Punjabi’s in the audience. At the back of the theatre a group of them were enthusiastically dancing away.

When the roar came, my mind went back to England where I would stand on a freezing terrace while watching a football game and cheering on my team (normally to defeat – I am a Manchester City fan, after all). It really was similar. I expected the chant “En-ger-land” to start but, of course, it didn’t.

Indian music is, on the whole, quite sweet and melodic. However, Bhangra is loud and raucous. Its like going to a Celine Dion concert and finding that the support group is Motorhead! The incessant drumming of bhangra music makes it a favourite of dance dj’s worldwide.

The other noticeable thing is that Punjabis are quite vocal, rowdy really, and totally get into the music and its meaning. On the night we went there was a stark contrast between the boisterous Punjabis and the rather polite ‘Hindus’. Maybe the predominantly Hindu audience were really English in disguise?

By the end of the show most of the Punjabi’s were on the stage dancing away with the dance troupe. I too was there with my father in law, and my two daughters who had danced away through virtually the whole second part of the show.

It really was an interesting night and if you get a chance check out your local Indian dance scene, or initiate your cultural experience by ordering a curry from your local Indian restaurant!

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