Skip to Content

The Arts

The Arts banner

Bhangra music and danceBookmark

Learning area: The Arts
Year level: Year 5, Year 6
Country: India

In this learning sequence, students explore the origins and culture of the vibrant Bhangra music and dance from the Punjab region, and its modern popularity. This is followed by experiential learning through creation and performances of their own exciting Bhangra dance sequences.

Key inquiry questions

  • What is Bhangra, its origins, its current popularity, and how does it reflect the culture of its region?
  • What elements of dance and music should be included to create a vibrant Bhangra performance?
  • How can Bhangra be performed in the most exciting way?

Colourfully costumed male dancers performing the Bhangra danceDancers performing Bhangra

Related resources

Activity 1: Exploring Bhangra dance and music

In this activity, you will:

  • explore the origins of Bhangra dance and music
  • analyse the dancers' movements and costumes, music and musical instruments.

Key inquiry question: What is Bhangra, its origins, its current popularity, and how does it reflect the culture of its region?

About Bhangra dance and music

  1. Write down what you know about Bhangra dance and music. Share your thoughts with the rest of the class.
  2. Read through the notes provided on the origins of Bhangra and discuss what they tell you about the culture of that region.
  3. Break into pairs and very carefully watch the video, Bhangra Empire, a performance at Bruin Bhangra 2012. You may need to watch it a couple of times. Pause it as you go and examine the dancers' steps and movements.

  4. Use the following questions to analyse and discuss your observations about the performance:
    • How many dancers are there?
    • Do the movements tell a story?
    • What is the mood of the dance?
  5. Describe the costumes and present your opinion on why the dancers dress this way.
  6. Use the following questions to analyse and discuss your observations about the dance movements:
    • Are the movements fast/slow or strong/weak?
    • Are there repeated movements or sequences to the dance?
    • Can you see patterns in the movements?
    • Are there differences between the movements of the male dancers and the female dancers?
  7. Listen to the music of the dance and consider the following questions:
    • What is the pace or rhythm of the music?
    • What musical instruments are played during the performance?
    • Is voice a part of the performance and if so, how does it improve the dance or storytelling of the dance?
    • Are there loud/soft or fast/slow parts to the music?
  8. Complete the activity by sharing your observations with the rest of the class.

Activity 2: Practising Bhangra styles

In this activity, you will:

  • examine the choreography, costumes and music in greater detail
  • create and perform your own Bhangra style dance and music sequences.

Key inquiry question: What elements of dance and music should be included to create a vibrant Bhangra performance?

Bhangra dance moves

  1. Watch the video of a Bhangra performance together and discuss key elements of the choreography, costumes and music.
  2. In a group of six or eight, read the notes on Bhangra styles of music and dance (below) and discuss the key elements of a Bhangra performance and how you will use them to create your own performance.
    Traditional elements of Bhangra dance

    Bhangra dance traditionally illustrates the sowing of seeds, hoeing, cutting of wheat and the selling of crops.

    In a typical Bhangra performance, several dancers execute vigorous kicks, leaps and bends of the body to the accompaniment of boliyan (short songs) and, most significantly, to the beat of a dhol (double-headed drum). Struck with a heavy beater on one end and with a lighter stick on the other, the dhol gives the music a syncopated accent on the weak beats.

    This swinging rhythmic character has generally remained the hallmark of any music that has come to bear the Bhangra name.

    Traditional Bhangra costumes

    While performing, the male dancers wear:

    • a traditional chaadra – a piece of cloth wrapped around the dancers' waist
    • a pagri – a head turban
    • a kurta – a long shirt that may include a vest worn over the top
    • a turla – a fan attached to the pagri worn by some dancers
    • phummans – small balls attached to ropes sometimes worn on each arm.

    Female dancers are costumed in colourful neckpieces called chunnis and wear a simple Punjabi dress known as a salwar. A kameez (long baggy pants to the ankle) is worn under the dress.

  3. Your task is to choreograph and perform a Bhangra dance. You will be performing it as a solo and in a group. To begin, you need to learn the basic steps of the dance, and the movement of both arms and legs.
  4. Solo performance: Read the information on Creating the dance and take notes on the key elements.
  5. View the video How to learn Bhangra, an online tutorial of six basic Bhangra dance steps. See if you can remember all the steps in one viewing.
  6. Watch the tutorial at least three times to become familiar with the dance steps and movements.
  7. Listen very carefully to the instructions and pause the clip at points to practise the steps.
  8. It's important to practise your steps individually so you can perfect the movements. Focus on one or two small improvements each time you rehearse.
  9. Reflect on what you are trying to achieve and ask yourself, for example:
    • How is my rhythm?
    • Can I change any part to make it better?
    • Am I performing with the right amount of energy?
  10. Make sure you warm up before practising your dance movements. Here are some suggestions:
    • Stretch your hands high over your head to the ceiling.
    • Swing your arms down by your sides.
    • Stretch your arms down to touch your feet.
    • Slowly come to a standing position.
    • Turn you ankles in circles.
    • Twist your body from side to side.
    • Take deep, controlled breaths while lifting your arms and lowering them.
  11. Group performance: Select other students who will form your dance group of six or eight.
  12. Your group is responsible for choreographing a dance section to eight counts. You will count to the music in eight beats: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. These sections will form a 'motif'. Each motif can then be put together in a variety of ways. Some suggestions are:
    • Repeat the same movements for another eight counts
    • Repeat the same movements with greater dynamics or bigger moves
    • Perform the motif backwards, that is, retrograde.
    • Start the motif again two or four counts after one group has started it, ie canon.
  13. A good place to start is to watch the tutorial on how to learn Bhangra, showing the basic six steps of Bhangra dance.
  14. Practise each of the moves on your own by replaying and pausing the video. Once you have learnt the basic moves, find and watch other examples of Bhangra performances and adapt the steps and sequences of movements to improve your own dance. You may wish to develop the Bhangra style into a hip hop, reggae or contemporary dance routine.
  15. Remember that it's not necessary to write down the dance steps. By labelling each section as 'Sam's motif' or 'Jo's motif' you will remember the sequence using physical muscle memory and auditory skills.
  16. Once you have learnt your dance movements, the group needs to practise to synchronise the whole sequence.
  17. Now you need to add music. You may wish to access Bhangra music via a website such as ‪
  18. You could create your own music using the video, Creating a Bhangra performance. If you decide to create your own music, ensure you do the following:
    • Listen very carefully to the sound bites.
    • Choose an instrument and copy the music you hear with guidance from the audio recording.
    • Make sure you all help each other to perform the music.
  19. Once you have choreographed your dance, design your costumes and props. These can be traditional or reconstructed for a contemporary context.

Activity 3: Performing Bhangra Music and Dance

In this activity, you will:

  • refine your Bhangra performance in your group of six or eight
  • discuss and rehearse improvements in choreography and timing of music.

Key inquiry question: How can Bhangra be performed in the most exciting way?

Perform Bhangra

  1. Rehearse: In groups of six or eight, practise the dance movements to music in small sections to refine your alignment and ensemble. Ensure your group synchronises the dance movements. This will take a number of rehearsals to perfect.
  2. Refine: Perform your Bhangra dance pieces to music in front of other students. Ask them to provide constructive feedback about your choreography.
  3. Present: Perform your Bhangra music and dance. You may wish to perform a Bhangra flash mob. This is a group of people who congregate in a public place to perform. To see a Bhangra flash mob in action view the following video:

  4. Record: Film yourselves performing. Review the film and make a list of the things you can do to improve the music and dance.
  5. Reflect: Brainstorm ways of improving your performance using costumes, props, backgrounds, digital projections, levels, facial expressions and make-up.

Activity 4: Reflection

In this activity, you will reflect on the cultural elements of Bhangra and discuss your experiences of creating and performing Bhangra dance and music.

  1. Create a class wikispace to document your Bhangra learning journey. Include what you have learnt about Bhangra dance and music, how you began and perfected your performances.
  2. You may wish to include information about the place of Bhangra in popular culture today.
  3. You could include images or footage of your performances and comments about the learning process.

This learning sequence provides students with the opportunity to develop their inquiry learning skills and cultural understanding of dance and music from India and Pakistan and create a Bhangra performance.

Activity 1: Exploring Bhangra dance and music

Bhangra dance and music originates from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. It is a traditional celebratory folk dance that heralds the coming of spring. It began as a style of lively folk music performed at harvests in the Punjab, India, more than 500 years ago. It represents Punjab culture and history, in particular, symbolising the struggles of its people over time. Its joyousness and liveliness has in recent times led it to become a popular form of dancing in many parts of the world.

Prior to discussing Bhangra, it would be beneficial to utilise and build upon students' background knowledge about the location of India in relation to neighbouring countries and the rest of the world.

Information about the various elements of the Bhangra performance is provided within the activity. The Non Stop Bhangra Story provides a context for teaching about Bhangra.

Traditional Indian musical instruments

The most well-known Indian traditional instruments are the sitar and tabla.

The sitar is a multi-stringed instrument that is played like a Western-style guitar. A sitar can have 18, 19 or 20 strings. Six or seven of these strings run over curved, raised frets, and the remainder are 'sympathetic' strings, which run underneath the frets and resonate in sympathy with the played strings.

The tabla is a pair of drums that are traditionally played sitting down. By striking the drums in different places, different tones are produced. Patterns of rhythmic variation can be complex and exciting. The drums are tuned to the same raga as the melodic note, creating a very close musical match to each strike of the drums. Tala is the name given to the rhythms of patterns of notes. In fact, where Western musicians might use the word 'rhythm', Indian musicians may use the term 'tala'.

Raga is the name given to sets of notes in Indian music, a little like a scale in Western music. A raga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. However, the way the notes are approached and rendered in musical phrases and the mood they convey are more important in defining a raga than the notes themselves. In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the day or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a raga.

Activity 2: Practising Bhangra styles

A specific pedagogical technique is suggested to assist students to develop dance awareness and cultural understandings. Informal music learning is a feature of the Musical Futures curriculum from the United Kingdom, stemming from the work of Lucy Green. This may be likened to social learning or discovery learning inquiry models.

Refer to the activity images, notes and videos on creating the dance and music.

There are many theories as to what the elements of music might be. Here is a list that may assist:

  • Duration – the relative length of sounds and silences in music – rhythm, beat, pulse and tempo.
  • Expressive devices – ways of influencing the mood and character of music – dynamics, louds and softs, and contrast.
  • Pitch – the relative frequency of sound including melody, harmony and tonality.
  • Structure – the form and design of music including repetition and variety.
  • Texture – the density of sound including layers of sound, and melody versus accompaniment.
  • Timbre – the characteristic quality of sound sources or tone colour including instrument combinations, brightness and mellowness.

Activity 3: Creating a Bhangra performance

Whenever teaching music and dance to students, it is important to follow workplace health and safety guidelines. Stretching and warming up and down are important parts of safe dance practices. In addition, the volume of music is a consideration for the safety of young ears.

Students could discuss why it is necessary to stretch and warm up by considering the following elements or components of dance movements: 

  • Action – movements of the human body used in dance, such as travelling, balancing, stillness, gesturing, flicking, jumping, falling, and turning and twisting.
  • Spatial elements – how the body moves spatially to create patterns on the floor or in the air.
  • Dynamic elements – how the body moves, including concepts of magnitude of movement, force, fluidity, rhythm and accent.
  • Form – the structure of a dance, including repetition, variety and narrative.
  • Non-movement components – the number of dancers, their gender and role; the visual setting such as performance setting, costumes, multimedia and props; and aural elements such as sound, music, spoken word and silence.

Activity 4: Reflection

It is important that students have the opportunity to reflect on the cultural elements of Bhangra and discuss their experiences of creating and performing Bhangra dance and music.

Useful websites

  • Traditional Indian music– provides a description of various forms of traditional Indian music with additional links to more resources related to each type of music
  •– has free Bhangra music that can be downloaded
  • Bhangra Empire @ Bruin Bhangra 2012 – a YouTube video of a Bhangra performance by winners of the 2012 Bruin Bhangra competition
  • How To Learn Bhangra – a YouTube video about how to learn the six basic steps of Bhangra dance
  • Bhangra Flash Mob at Redmond Town Center – a YouTube video of Pratidhwani Dance Group, who gathered in a public place to perform Bhangra dancing
  • The Non Stop Bhangra Story – a video by Odell Hussey about the award-winning Indian monthly event in San Francisco called Non Stop Bhangra, where a group of people produce a unique and cultural nightlife experience

It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website. Teachers should check each of the video performances regarding their appropriateness prior to their being viewed.

The full resource can not be displayed on a mobile device.

back to top