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Meanings of Bhangra and Bollywood Dancing in India and the Diaspora

Anjali Gera Roy


The mid-1980s witnessed the invention of a new musical genre in Britain consisting largely of remixes of Punjabi folk music and Bollywood music. Dubbed the “new Asian dance music,” it emerged as an important site for the production of South Asian diasporic identities. From the beginning, these hybridized bhangra and Hindi film remixes attracted considerable media and academic attention in Britain and, over the last two decades, they have become a global cultural phenomenon, with South Asian youth from Amsterdam to Singapore dancing to these beats in clubs, at parties, at college functions and at community gatherings. While Asian dance music returned to India through its popularization in clubs and at weddings and other events, its emblematic status in the diaspora has elided other significatory functions of dance and music in popular, social and political life in the homeland. This essay examines the meanings of bhangra and Bollywood dance in India and the diaspora by drawing on fieldwork conducted among male and female youth aged eighteen to thirty-five at bhangra and Bollywood nights, clubs, community festivals and gatherings in Bangalore, Chandigarh, Delhi, Kharagpur, Kolkata, Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, New York, Toronto and Vancouver between 2004 and 2011.

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