First and foremost I need to emphasize this from the jump. I think BFunk as a whole is awesome. They’re some of the first brown people around my age that made it big. And not internet big, but recognized by major brands and people BIG. They got sponsored by Nike and were in freakin’ Toyota ads. It’s kind of incomprehensible how amazing that is. Within a few years they went from teaching some dance classes to being posted on IG by the actual IG account and being able to make a living dancing. It’s something practically everyone who has danced in DDN has ever wanted. (I know the DDN, Desi Dance Network, in reality just means the bollywood-fusion circuit, but for simplicity’s sake when I say DDN in this blog I’m referring to the competitive Raas-Garba, Classical, Bollywood-Fusion, and Bhangra circuits). It’s genuinely so god damn exciting and amazing to see desi dancers, let alone female desi dancers, from the circuit making DDN a more mainstream thing by being out there and getting recognized. It paves the way for so many other desi creatives to go out there and still make a living doing hype ass stuff.
If you don’t know who BFunk is lemme give you the tldr. BFunk was founded by two people, Shivani Bhagwan and Chaya Kumar. Both of them are mainly trained in Classical dance but also danced in the DDN circuit, dancing competitively throughout college. After college they started running desi dance workshops under the name BhangraFunk and went super viral on YouTube. They became well known for their twists on various desi dances mixing Bhangra, Bollywood, Classical, Raas, with various Black Street Styles
When their first “Bhangra Funk” videos went viral, it was immediately clear to dancers in the Bhangra circuit they weren’t the best Bhangra dancers. I think they themselves would admit as much. I remember at the time circa 2016 many on the Bhangra circuit were a miffed by them. ‘Why do they get super viral doing bad Bhangra when we’re out here dancing better and not getting any recognition’. Let’s be real, a lot of that is unvarnished jealousy seeping into those statements.
I’m moreso in the camp of if they’re spreading Bhangra to an audience outside that’s awesome. You get broader audience interested in desi dances → that means more eyes on desi dances → means more money for desi dances → which means more and better quality desi dances. I can go on a whole diatribe about how I think the DDN circuits need investment and need to market ourselves outside our collective circuits if we as a whole want these dance forms to stay alive in the West, but I can save that for another blog. To go back to what I was saying earlier, they’re bringing Bhangra and other desi dances to the awareness of other dancers and a broader audience and that’s dope.
What I want to bring attention to with this blog is a recent controversy surrounding their tutorials. A while back they started selling a subscription service so people can learn their workshop dances step by step and a few series teaching them the basics of dances. The most recent tutorial they did was an “introduction to hip-hop”. It features a prominent South Asian street style dancer Tanishq Joshi (@taneesky on IG). Word got out to many Black and brown dancers and they were heated. @castroreg on IG has a complete breakdown of what and why what they did was wrong and I’ll link that video here because I will not be able to do his own words justice. But to crudely summarize, charging people to learn hip-hop from people who are not of the culture isn’t cool, they’re lumping in various different dances that aren’t actually hip-hop, they’re not correctly labeling and giving out historically inaccurate information, and overall the execution and content of the tutorials are flawed. Charging people $20 a month for an inaccurate and flawed tutorial on hip-hop is just objectively kinda icky.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
While all this was happening a friend of mine pointed out to me that BFunk had previously released a Bhangra tutorial. I figured it’d be fine, but it genuinely isn’t. Now before I go into it, I once again feel like I need to re-emphasize what I said in the beginning. I’m not tryna start a riot here. I am not out here tryna cancel BFunk. I just want to point out in this one very specific instance where they should have done their due diligence and thought this through. Most importantly, how they can address and resolve this.
I also want to establish some context for my argument. People are paying $20 per month to access these tutorials. BFunk are brown and known for doing Bhangra and other desi dances. Most people without exposure to competitive Bhangra are going to assume BFunk is doing the right way to do Bhangra and has all the correct information about Bhangra. That is not what is happening in these tutorials.
Shivani and Chaya are not at the level of Bhangra dancers. Period. Anyone who has spent even a year in the circuit can tell you that. Their form is not good, posture is not good, arm strength is lacking, fundamental footwork is weak, and general ability to choreograph Bhangra steps smoothly with other Bhangra steps let alone incorporating it well into other styles is shoddy at best. They don’t talk about the culture where Bhangra comes from, they don’t talk about dhol, they don’t talk how these steps came to be, they inevitably strip the culture from the dance and that’s not cool.
Now, if someone just puts out videos on how to dance, by itself that’s no big deal to me. The thing that bothered me about this instance is how well known they are and how they are often many people’s only exposure to Bhangra. So misrepresenting Bhangra in this way is especially noxious. They’re also charging $20 per month for this and they had the knowledge and resources easily accessible to do this tutorial right.
They’re based in LA. There is a wealth of Bhangra in LA. At least 2 large academies are based in LA. UCLA has a competitive Bhangra team that places nationally every year and is based in LA. Bruin Bhangra, some people call it “The Super Bowl of Bhangra”, happens every year in LA. There were plenty of people to consult to get the proper information for their Bhangra tutorials or better yet do a similar thing they did with Tanishq and have a trained Bhangra dancer lead the classes to demonstrate Bhangra and make sure that the information is accurate.
Instead, BFunk is charging people to learn inaccurate and poorly done Bhangra from people that don’t dance Bhangra.
I know that sounds a bit harsh. I would admit that. It’s only because this dance means a lot to me as a Pakistani Punjabi. There are people out there (I’m looking directly at you Masala Bhangra and Sarina Jain) who unabashedly exploit Punjabi dance to sell classes when she has no idea what the hell she is doing. And she doesn’t care. She doesn’t take the time to learn. She doesn’t care about improving her craft. She is solely out there to make money and if they gotta sell out an entire culture, she routinely does it without hesitation. I don’t want to see BFunk, two dancers from the DDN circuit, go down that route or even appear to others that they have gone down that route. I want BFunk succeed. I want them to do well. If they become bigger → they make Bhangra and other desi dances bigger → and that’s good for the culture.
I can blabber on, but I’ll end this blog with a message directly for Chaya and Shivani. I know this all just sounds like hate. But seriously, I just want to give some constructive criticism because I genuinely want y’all to do well. Addressing this is simple (I understand it’s easy for me to say from the outside, but you know what I mean). Redo the tutorials with someone from the Bhangra community who knows Bhangra and have them lead the tutorial. Your product will be 1000% better → people who buy your product will be able to learn better Bhangra → they’ll be better able to do your dance workshops → they’ll be more likely to recommend your dances to others. Everyone wins.
I just want to see Bhangra flourish, I hope y’all at BFunk do too.