SCENE: NonStop Bhangra brings the dance

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PHOTO BY SPENCER HANSEN

From Scene: The Guardian Guide to Bay Area Nightlife and Glamour -- on stands now in the Guardian

You've always been the, shall we say, expressive one in your group. Eye-fluttering comes naturally to you. Your hands have been known to fly to your face at the slightest appearance of everyday anguish. You enjoy flouncing. So go east, young thang — straight to dramatic Bollywood.

Can't quite swing the flight to Mumbai? You're in luck, because since 2004, Vicki Virk and Suman Raj of the dholrhythms dance troupe, along with DJ Jimmy Love and others, have been holding monthly NonStop Bhangra club nights (www.nonstopbhangra.com) that turn the Rickshaw Stop into handclapping, bangle-clanging, whirling celebrations of bhangra, the dance music that drives Indian cinema. They spend the night's first hour schooling audiences to bhangra basics, leaving each diva free to bob and spin for the rest of the night to the tunes of an ever more impressive lineup of dub, hip-hop, and electronica DJs and musicians. We caught up with Virk to chat about how she's made this unconventional club night a multicultural institution in the Bay for the past six years.

SFBG How did you first come into contact with bhangra music?

VICKI VIRK I grew up in Punjab, India, and moved to the United States when I was around 12. My family's culture has always involved bhangra music. Suman learned about Punjabi culture when she married my cousin and we became close soon after. We talked a bunch about doing something that was community-oriented, would bring a lot of people together, and was positive.

NonStop Bhangra all started accidentally — I never thought this is what I'd be doing! We started off by hosting a free dance class. I started dating DJ Jimmy Love, and when we wanted to celebrate our class anniversary, he suggested we host a party where all our students could practice their dance. We invited our family and friends and people really loved it, so we did another show a couple of months later. Then we approached the Rickshaw Stop, and it just turned into what it is now. It's grown so much. We're hosting our 65th party this month.

SFBG Has the night's experience evolved since those beginnings as a bhangra showcase?

VV It has changed a lot, but the base of it has stayed the same. We now have a live element: hip hop and electronica DJs and drummers, and we've added lights. It's a ritual now. We open the doors at nine, start the lesson, and the whole audience does it together. It's better than a regular club night because participants get to learn it, watch it, and then do it. Bhangra's easier to learn and has a happier vibe than other types of dancing. All kinds of people can dance to it regardless of ethnicity. Most of our crew is not Indian — we have white people, Koreans, Filipinos. The audience sees an eclectic group onstage and it reminds them that music is universal and full of passion.

SFBG How do the other genres mix with the bhangra sound?

VV Bhangra has a heavy bass, a four-four drum beat. It's a really down-to-earth kind of music, and if you have good DJs, it goes really well with hip-hop and reggae. I explain it to people as the hip-hop of India. It's what plays in all the clubs there regardless of the region.

SFBG Are people from India surprised to see bhangra performed in this all-inclusive way?

VV We did a show in front of the Contemporary Jewish Museum when one of our MC's cousins was visiting from India — and the cousin was shocked at the diverse crowd. He was taking pictures, calling his friends back home. Bhangra is such a cultural dance. It hasn't been taught that often outside the Punjabi community. And sometimes that community is concerned about the shows, they think maybe bhangra will be taken advantage of. But then they learn about what we are doing, and they love it. Now people bring their parents. We'll have an older woman dancing next to a hipster kid! *

NON STOP BHANGRA

Third Saturdays, 9 p.m., $15–$20

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF

www.nonstopbhangra.com

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