With every respectable dance studio offering Bollywood classes, is it time for the South Asian dance world to sit up and take notice?
Hooray for Bollywood! Indian culture couldn’t be hotter at the moment, after Slumdog Millionaire’s recent Oscar success. But Bollywood has been building towards this boom for many years. Andrew Lloyd Webber first ignited western interest back in 2002, with his West End musical Bombay Dreams. There followed several cross-cultural films, including Bride & Prejudice, and last year Anupham Kher launched his ‘Actor Prepares’ Bollywood school in London.
UK-based Bollywood troupes are currently in high demand as corporate clients look to spice up their events and brides-to-be aim to bring an Eastern flavour to their big day.
Meanwhile every respectable dance studio now offers weekly Bollywood classes, with Asians and non-Asians alike enjoying those energetic routines and that upbeat music.
Key to Bollywood’s success is the widespread Indian population worldwide, who have brought Bollywood culture with them. It’s also easy to learn and makes an enjoyable workout.
Honey Kalaria, founder of Honey’s Dance Academy, agrees: “Bollywood dance is something you can just go to and have instant gratification. It’s an amazing form of exercise as well. Many people come to our classes for fitness and fun.”
Vandana Alimchandani, director of Bollywood Grooves, reports a big rise in enquiries about performances and classes recently.
“Either someone up there is being really nice or there’s just a mad surge right now,” she laughs. “Bollywood has got beautiful music and a mixture of east and west. It draws on classical Indian dance, bhangra and a lot of modern dance styles, like jazz and street. That’s the appeal to people when they hear Bollywood songs – there are no rules.”
Vandana is keen to embrace that diversity in her troupe too, with performers coming from a variety of cultures, from Chinese to black African. Some are professional dancers and actors, but many work full-time, including doctors and lawyers.
Carlia Stanley is a professional dancer and one of several non-Asian performers in Bollywood Grooves. She spotted an audition poster two years ago whilst at a dance studio.
“I’m normally a commercial dancer, but I’ve always had an interest in Bollywood,” she recalls. “When I was a kid I used to run around with scarves over my head, singing in a high-pitched voice! I currently perform once a week with Bollywood Grooves. It completely suits me down to the ground; it’s so energetic and expressive.”
That energy and expression, along with grace and clean steps, is what Vandana looks for in potential performers.
“Music goes beyond languages,” she says. “We have a mixture of people that bring interesting things to the group. Some are trained in contemporary styles, some in classical Indian. Others can do amazing somersaults and acrobatics.”
Corporate bookings range from charity balls to product launches. London restaurant Moti Mahal recently introduced a Bollywood dinner and dance class package.
“We provide bindis, bangles and hip scarves to get everyone in the mood,” says operations director Sebastien Chaniac. “The Bollywood package was something we had thought of doing for a while. When Slumdog Millionaire came out it seemed a great time to launch the concept.”
The package is also suitable for team-building events or hen nights – another market Bollywood Grooves has been quick to capitalise on, already running five or six hen workshops every weekend.
It doesn’t end there. Bollywood dancing is now a frequent fixture at wedding events themselves.
Honey Kalaria also founded Diva Entertainments, providing Bollywood-style entertainment, mainly for Asian or mixed wedding parties, but occasionally for non-Asian couples who love the country having worked or done business there.
“Costumes and songs may change depending upon where we’re performing,” she says. “If it’s a Muslim wedding, certain songs may be too modern and the costumes need to be more covered, whereas at a Hindu or a mixed wedding, the costumes have more skin showing, adding a bit of glamour to our performances.”
Not content with just watching a professional display, some families like to surprise the bride and groom with a choreographed group routine, whilst the couple themselves may want to impress with a Bollywood-influenced first dance. Then there are non-Asian brides wishing to ingratiate themselves with their Indian in-laws by performing a Bollywood routine with their girlfriends. Juggling all these surprise routines can be quite a challenge for a Bollywood teacher!
Corporate events and weddings are allowing more people to appreciate Indian culture, according to Honey, where traditional disciplines may not have opened up that access.
Anusha Subramanyam, artistic director of Beeja dance company, specialises in bharatanatyam but also offers Bollywood workshops. She recognises that current interest in Bollywood can be built on to introduce classical Indian dance. Anusha takes an integrated approach, by including some bharatanatyam and folk in her Bollywood workshops. During school workshops teachers often take to the storytelling element of bharatanatyam and want her to return to teach more classical dance.
“There probably was some preciousness from the classical styles ten or fifteen years ago about Bollywood,” she explains. “Now there is such a thirst for dance, and Bollywood has become synonymous with fun. Not everybody has the patience for classical dance, so why not do Bollywood?
“I’ve had a lot of Bollywood dancers coming to my bharatanatyam class. They really want to learn technique.
“One thing that is common to the South Asian culture is expressiveness. Even when people talk they’re very emotive and that’s seen in both bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance.
“Bollywood is dance from film, so it really reflects the pop culture. You might see a hip hop movement, then a more classical Indian movement; that’s what makes it Bollywood.”
Honey Kalaria agrees: “Bollywood has evolved with the times. In the 60s, rock and roll dancing was introduced in Bollywood movies, then later breakdancing. What’s happening in the western world is slowly integrated into the Bollywood industry. I think it’s very sustainable.
“Bollywood is going to become one of the biggest industries in the future. Now it’s here, it’s here to stay.”