Aaja Nach Lai [come dance]: performing and practicing identity among Punjabis in Canada

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Author: Nicola Mooney
Date: Spring 2008
From: Ethnologies(Vol. 30, Issue 1)
Publisher: Ethnologies
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,356 words
Lexile Measure: 1640L

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Cet article traite des representations de danses folkloriques du Punjabi : la bhangra et la giddha dans differents contextes canadiens. Apres avoir introduit la notion d'identite punjabi, cet article offre une breve description des formes que revetent ces danses, de leurs origines agraires et de leurs natures sexuees, ainsi que du type d'evenements au cours desquels ces genres de danses sont performes chez les Punjabis canadiens, et plus specifiquement les Jat Sikhs. Je defends l'idee que non seulement ces danses expriment et entretiennent l'identite punjabi dans des contextes diasporiques, mais egalement que ces identites font reference a un << imaginaire rural >> jat qui se construit activement au travers de la danse et de la musique en reponse au phenomene de migration urbaine et transnationale. Cet imaginaire rural est usurpe par l'occidentalisation grandissante et la popularite croissante de la bhang dans la diaspora non jat du sud de l'Asie, ce qui remet en question le role crucial, le sens et l'identite jat.

This article discusses the performance of Punjabi folk dances bhangra and giddha in some Canadian contexts. After introducing a notion of Punjabi identity, the article provides a brief description of these dance forms, their agrarian origins and their gendered natures, as well as of the types of events at which these dances are performed among Canadian Punjabis, and specifically, Jat Sikhs. I argue that not only do these dances express and maintain Punjabi identity in diasporic contexts, but that these identities refer to a Jat "rural imaginary" that is actively constructed through dance and music in response to the displacement of urban and transnational migration. This rural imaginary is usurped by bhangra's increasing Westernization and popularity in the non-Jat South Asian diaspora, thus raising challenges to Jat centrality, meaning, and identity.


At Arjun's tenth birthday, celebrated in high style at a banquet hall, his elder female relatives put on an energetic giddha performance. Running around with his cousins in the hall's forecourt, he apparently wasn't that enthralled by their dancing, but his father and uncles seemed to enjoy seeing their wives and sisters-in-law in this traditional guise. Relying on the choreography skills of Arjun's cousin-sister's masi, Bindoo, whose team had won several college giddha competitions in India, the women had been planning their performance for a month, practicing several evenings a week, and carefully selecting their props and clothes. In contrast to the highly polished ensembles that they were wearing as party guests, looking like something out of a Bollywood film, their giddha outfits featured brightly coloured lehnga-cholis with often mismatched veils to accentuate their colour, and lots of tinseled finishes, as well as bold golden-coloured costume jewelry, hairpieces and bangles; their dupattas discretely veiling their heads, shoulders and breasts, they had taken off their elegant high-heeled shoes to dance barefoot. Standing and swaying in a circle, varying their claps to the beat of the CD being played across the speakers, they took turns to more forward in pairs to enact the scenes being sung in the boli--sisters...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A181989498