On my way to Public Works, I realize that I’m singing the chorus to one of the songs we’re performing tonight under my breath — Loung Da Lishkara, Loung Da Lishkara — that’s all. As with any good earworm, my brain doesn’t repeat the whole song. Just one riff, over and over and over. It’s an occupational hazard, when you’re a dancer.

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Then we’re at the venue, and as I step inside, the music rattling around in my head is swept away by horns and dhol as Pavit, Jesse, and Evan practice for the baraat; and then by Juan, Marco and Michael from Bang Data soundchecking their instruments. Upstairs, Hina and Sam brace themselves for door duty. I dive into the monthly ritual of hugs and hellos and pre-event photography… .

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Dholrhythms then…

Nine years ago, at a place called the Punch Gallery, nine women, along with Jimmy Love and fifty or so of their friends and family, came together to celebrate Dholrhythms’ first birthday. That event was Non Stop Bhangra number One. Did the performance songs worm their way into the dancers’ brains that night? I wasn’t there (not until NSB 18 or so, a couple of years later) but four of the women who danced that night — Vicki, Suman, Rajni, and Binu — are dancing this night, too, at NSB 96, Dholrhythms’ Tenth Anniversary.

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…and Dholrhythms now

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Dholrhythms Dance Company and alumni
Standing, from Left: Andrea, Lana, Lisa, Nina, Suman, Vicki, Emily, Binu, Michelle, Rajni
Front: Mila, Carrie
Vicki, Suman, Binu, Rajni, and Carrie all danced at NSB 1

It’s not fifty people anymore; over six hundred folks came through the door. We had the entire crew: all ten of the current dancers (a special event in itself); Jimmy, Ravi, and regular guest J. Boogie on the decks; Amar on visuals; Pavit and Mehul on dhol. The floor began to fill as we kicked off with the baraat, and by the time we started the lesson I could see the shaking shoulders and the waving arms from the bar to the opposite wall, and nearly to the back of the room. The audience gave us happy and enthusiastic energy for our performance, and that was just the beginning.

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After an interlude for the crowd to get their bhangra on, we came back with not one, but two special guest performances. Aima the Dreamer (who nearly out-sparkled the Dholrhythmers — impressive) set the mic on fire with her rhymes and showed off her dance moves with Vicki and Suman. Bang Data tore the roof off, as they always do.

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In the middle of Bang Data’s set, during Deuce’s rendition of Amor Califas (a cumbiafied version of California Love), I looked to the side of the stage and saw a circle of Punjabi guys dancing. They were busting out their bhangra moves like it was Malkit Singh up on stage, instead of four guys playing Latin music. With huge grins on their faces. And that, to me, is an amazing and beautiful accomplishment.

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Dholrhythms was created to share Punjabi dance and culture with the Bay Area and with the world. And we do, but on the way, we’ve also created a space where hip-hop, cumbia, and bhangra can share the stage, literally at the same time. We’ve brought together a community where guys in turbans and women in kurtis dance Punjabi moves to Latin grooves — and more. Salsa, cumbia, bhangra, Bollywood, Balkan, bellydance, hip-hop, reggae: it’s all music, and it’s all beautiful.

Happy Birthday to us, Dholrhythms. I’m looking forward to the next ten years.

NSB 96 photos by Odell Hussey. NSB 1 photos by friends and family of Dholrhythms.