So You Think You Can Dance?
Cutting a rug at Pakistani weddings
“Start the dancing! What is this oldie singing?” screams a boy. The “other side,” the groom’s side, wants to start the dance competition, while the aunts from the bride’s side want to sing their old classics.
“Let’s start the real entertainment,” yells a young girl from the groom’s side.
You Think You Can Dance,” the popular dance routine program on Fox, has nothing
on Pakistani weddings. They typically last four days and consist of a number of
ceremonies, includingthe mehndi, a celebration of the bride
applying henna to her hands, and a segment where gifts are exchanged and the
dancing takes place. In
Many customs are observed. The bridal party decides on a dress code for participants in the mehndi. It can involve wearing a specific color, like the traditional green or yellow, or a more contemporary theme such as dressing up in 1970s garb. The atmosphere is intended to suggest lushness and wealth, especially the elaborate gift exchange between the families of the groom and the bride. Trays of organza and tulle embroidered with gold and silver are brought to the center room, followed by platters of gold and diamond jewelry with shoes and handbags, showing that the married couple will be well provided for by the parents.
covered in silk are laden with colored sweets and candles. Dainty clay pots are
filled with oil and burning wicks resting on fragrant flowers. The smell of
rice and kebab fills the air as friends and families sing and dance. The
dancing is rooted in the courts of Moghul
think that it is reflective of the competitive atmosphere [of Pakistani
weddings] in general,” says Aisha Zaidi, who is planning her cousin Saima
Tariq’s wedding in
dance contests have even generated local stars. Ali Siddiqui has become a
fixture at most Pakistani weddings in
It’s a lot of work. “My brother is getting married in November,” Siddiqui says. “We began practicing and putting the music together in April… [The competitive nature] is so high that since the bride and groom have mutual friends, the friends have stopped meeting each other so information on the dances doesn’t leak out.”
Hurray for Bollywood
Decades ago when this competitive streak began, the performances were freestyle, impromptu renditions to current Pakistani songs. Nowadays Pakistanis are turning to Indian as well as Punjabi music. Times are changing, with dance steps influenced by Bollywood and choreography taking center stage. Prep time can range from a week to six months, depending on the difficulty of the dances and the dedication of the dancers.
“I choreographed the dance steps for my brother’s
wedding,” says Sana Eshai, a
With family honor at stake, there’s extreme pressure in the air at Pakistani weddings. “So You Think You Can Dance” has professional judges, but Pakistani weddings have an even harsher tribunal: the audience. The guests have the last word on which side can really dance. At the end of the competition the women will gab about who did the better dances and will even go to the losing and winning families and give their two cents. At the end of the night one family will leave feeling let down and exhausted from the months of preparation, while the other enjoys the high of victory.