Blog | 'Bhangra' In America - US Senators' Heartwarming Baisakhi Performance

There is some news coming in from the United States. Seven Senators and Representatives from the state of Delaware have fallen in love with Punjabi culture. They spent weeks to learn the Punjabi traditional folk dance, 'Bhangra', and actually performed it for members of Delaware's small but active Sikh and Punjabi community on the occasion of Baisakhi, one of Punjab's most important annual festivals.

"Balle Balle" is a Punjabi phrase associated with everything joyous and delightful, and thanks to the enthusiasm of these legislators, that was indeed the mood on 'Baisakhi' on April 14, the traditional harvest day celebration for Sikhs. 

'Intense, Enjoyable'

Speaking to NDTV, Senator Bryan Townsend, Delaware's Senate majority leader, said, "It's the first time in the United States when state legislators have done a Bhangra. It was an intense and enjoyable three minutes of performance for us!"

Representative Paul Baumbach said, "I attended the 'Baisakhi' event last year. When the idea of us performing came up, we couldn't say no."

The performance put up by the legislators was carefully choreographed, colourfully costumed, and made for a lively watch. The lawmakers spent hours with an expert Bhangra instructor and performed at the Sikh Center at New Castle, Delaware. It was a heart-warming event with diversity being truly embraced.

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US Senators trying on costumes before their performance.

Courtesy: Rohit Khanna

Senator Laura Sturgeon loved the experience, saying, "I had a lot of fun on stage, the adrenaline was pumping. Even if I made mistakes, I just kept dancing and smiling, and enjoyed myself greatly!" Senator Elizabeth Lockman, meanwhile, called it a great workout. "It was good exercise and a cultural learning experience. We had a great time as a team," she said.

Learnt From The Best

It was an extra special experience for Representative Sophie Phillips, who is just 27 years old and a former Miss Delaware beauty pageant winner. Why? Because she is of Indian origin. Sophie said, "My family is from India, from Bihar. So it was amazing to be with my community here. I think our performance was really good, at least that's what everyone's telling me!"

The legislative team was coached and choreographed by the Bhangra legend of the East Coast, Vishwas Singh Sodhi, a.k.a Vicky, known for his performances at NBA games. Sodhi was blown away by the dedication of the legislators. He said, "They are not familiar with our culture. They are prominent citizens, busy lawmakers. Yet they gave time and seriously learnt it all, and did the Bhangra for us. This is great for Punjabi culture." 

Age No Bar

For members of the group, which included legal aide Emmy Diaz, it was rewarding to get up, close and personal with Sikh culture. Representative Sherry Dorsey Walker said, "The most important part for me was learning about Sikh culture, and being immersed in it." Senator Stephanie Hansen, who was the oldest in the team at 62 years, said, "It is a tremendous asset to have Sikh culture here in Delaware. We're honoured to be invited to be part of this celebration."

The event sums up how the US is truly a melting pot of cultures. Delaware will remember the day they got together to say 'Balle Balle'!

(Rohit Khanna is a journalist, commentator and video storyteller. He has been Managing Editor at The Quint, Executive Producer of Investigations & Special Projects at CNN-IBN, and is a two-time Ramnath Goenka award winner.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author