Hardeep Sahota captures the first “visual dictionary” of Bhangra dancing

In Bhangra Lexicon, the dancer and World Bhangra Day founder documents 300 movements and gestures from the dance and visualises them through long-exposure photography by Tim Smith.

14 January 2021

An online exhibition opened this week documenting and depicting the gestures of Bhangra dancing, and in doing so claims to be the world’s first “visual dictionary” of the art form. Created by dancer and World Bhangra Day founder Hardeep Sahota, the Bhangra Lexicon project saw Sahota catalogue over 300 dance movements from the genre and its sub-genres. Dancers performed holding coloured lights in semi-darkness, and were photographed by Tim Smith in long-exposure shots or so-called “light paintings” so that each nuance of their actions could be traced and visualised.

The project was borne from the Huddersfield-based dancer’s research into Bhangra’s history, which originated among farming communities in the Punjab during the spring harvest festival of Vaisakhi. Sahota explored the rich and diverse heritage of the dance and looked to document it to ensure its preservation for future generations. The shots also act as an alternative online resource for those learning the dance. His research examined elements of Bhangra moves or Mudravan, from traditional Puratan moves and how they correlate with specific Dhol beats, to more contemporary Samakali interpretations that have evolved over time. Among the images are also Irish dancers and breakdancers, similarly documenting their unique movements using light.

Rather than a straightforward video, Sahota wanted to create a set of compelling images that gave physical and sculptural form to the dance and its “fleeting nature”. The results are impactful and beautiful shots akin to calligraphic strokes in light, shot during the evening at locations around Yorkshire including Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is hosting the show. In contrast to typical “light painting” images wherein the people are usually anonymous in the shadows, the dancers in Bhangra Lexicon are illuminated with a targeted flash because Sahota was keen that the costumes and cultural identities of the dancers played an “equally important role” as the moves in the final images.

View Bhangra Lexicon online here, curated by Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

GalleryHardeep Sahota: Bhangra Lexicon. Photography copyright © Tim Smith, 2021

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Hardeep Sahota: Bhangra Lexicon. Photography copyright © Tim Smith, 2021.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.

Jenny is currently on maternity leave.

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