Bringing Beginners' Bollywood To The East Bay

There are movements that are simply embedded into the fabric of a culture. That people of that culture were literally born doing. We've all seen those samba dancers that make us wonder if their hips are actually attached to their spines at all, or African dances that take our breath away.

There is a world of Indian dance movements that are natural to South Asians.

I spent years teaching Bollywood dance to Indians. Piece of cake. When I moved to Oakland, everything changed.

These classes that I'd taught for years to packed audiences were suddenly not as fun. For my students or for me. 

I was now teaching in the East Bay. To a primarily non-Indian audience. There was no context. The language was of course unfamiliar to non-Indians, but so were the nuances of the movement, the connection between the musicality and the movement.

But I still love the music. The movement. And I know there is interest in non-Indian populations to learn the dances. They feel the music even if they don't understand it.

So what that means is I have to choreograph differently in the East Bay. Teach a beginners class. Start with the basics.

Sounds easy, but it is not. 

Designing a truly Beginners' class for something as complex as Bollywood dance is a real practice in trial and error. The complicating factor is that I am desi myself. Not Indian, but South Asian. So moves that feel natural and beginner-level to me are not to others. It's only when I see people struggle with a "basic" hip jut that I realize how complicated it really is.

 In all the work I do, my driving force is accessibility- to create safe space for people to explore their interests by making everything accessible. This is as true here as anywhere else. There is definitely a way to make ethnic dance accessible. You just have to break things down. Start at the beginning. 

So I'm designing classes more and more simply. They continue to be challenging to students- good challenging, so I think I'm getting close to the sweet spot. 

And I LOVE to see the results. I love seeing people who have never danced Bollywood a day in their lives, people who profess to only having seen Bollywood on an episode of The Big Bang Theory, do a full dance routine in just an hour.

I love hearing the feedback:

"I'm usually so lost in dance classes. This felt good."

or:

"The music is so much fun."

Exactly.

This is why I do it. Because the music is fun. And because anyone can enjoy it. Regardless of their language or their dance skills.

Our very first dance class at our new Berkeley location focused on classical Indian dance movement. Look how beautiful!