Smita Sarkar

Bollywood dance goes international

Shah Rukh Khan shows off his dancing skills at Yale University, earlier this year

Shah Rukh Khan shows off his dancing skills at Yale University, earlier this year

By Smita Sarkar

Bollywood dancing has westernized drastically over the past years, a phenomenon made possible by a group of artistic and internationally-trained choreographers who took bold leaps in experimenting with contemporary western dance styles in Bollywood dancing, that has worked fantastically in appealing to the mass in India as well as internationally.

“I think dance is a big cohesive community on its own. So whether it is Bollywood taking the world by storm or elements of western styles in Bollywood choreography, it basically makes music come alive!” says Shiamak Davar, India’s leading Bollywood choreographer, whose profile has filled the digital space quite deservingly.

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Shiamak Davar

The world is taking notice of Indian dancers and choreographers working on international productions in India and abroad. Terence Lewis –known as the down to earth, yet firm judge for the popular Dance India Dance television series; is choreographing the musical Beauty and the Beast, (launching on 21 October 2015) in Mumbai.

This is a Disney India’s production that aims at a launch at par with its launch in New York’s Broadway and London’s West End. “Its on a scale larger than the shows abroad, so am very excited about choreographing it for the stage in India,” said Terence.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, the Managing Director of Disney India has roped in Leslie Lewis for Music Direction and Vikranth Pawar is the Show Director and Creactive Head of the production.

“This time of the year is always busy. I have a series of shows almost back to back so practically rehearsing with my dance company 24×7!” says Shaimak Davar. “My contemporary dance show Selcouth is taking place again on 17 October 2015 so working on that as well.”

Selcouth will be showing at the NCPA and has received raving responses from the Bollywood film fraternity during its previous screenings.

While some choreographers are working on delivering international productions at home, Ashley Lobo’s dance troupe’s A-class dancers’ Navdhara, will be performing a Bollywood musical ‘Passage to Bollywood’ at the prestigious Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, Isreal.

The Suzanne Dellal Centre is a prominent platform for Israeli and international dancers – and hosts regular festivals to showcase western and Asian dance styles. It is more than a significant platform for Ashley Lobo’s dance troupe, the Danceworx.

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Ashley Lobo

Ashley, judged India’s Dancing Superstar at Star Plus, and is a Bollywood choreographer with a definite style. The Bollywood production choreographed by him was a special request made by the host country; who will also be showcasing his Indo-western dance production Amaara, at the Centre. Amaara had received critical acclaim from its tours all over the world, including the Broadway in New York and in other cities in the United States last year.

“It is historic and I would have really liked others to get the courage to try and perform overseas instead of just being awed by foreign companies doing international dance,” said Ashley Lobo. “It will give them the experience of performing to a foreign audience that does not understand the meanings of the songs. They will then be forced to use real connection and acting to communicate the songs accurately.”

Dance is a great way to take our culture across the world. With many Bollywood classes running through in different parts of the world, a bit of our culture is shared with the world when local residents join in along with the Indian diaspora to experience Bollywood.

While working in London, I helped my multi-cultural friends from the Middle East, North African, Americas, China and UK wear sarees for Bollywood parties. Actually, non-Indians hosted most of these ‘Bolly’ parties. They borrowed my jewelry and picked up dance steps while ranting about how sexily Hritik, Shah Rukh, Kareena and Kathrina moved to the dance numbers. They loved Bollywood dances for the glamorous multi-location overseas shoots.

“Bollywood is a mish mash of many styles but it is super exciting and fun to both dance and watch. It already is used overseas in competitions and a lot of the contestants have probably never seen a Bollywood film. To that extent the films have created enough awareness to push out the dance style,” says Ashley.

While working in Hong Kong, I heard Bollywood music in public parks and clubhouses. There were Chinese, Malay and Indonesian residents dancing and attempting the eye-fluttering bhangra-visarjan dance styles of Bollywood in fitness centers.

Pooja Laugani, a well-known Bollywood dance and fitness trainer in Hong Kong reiterated the growing popularity of Bollywood dancing among the expatriate community there. “I have Australian, Chinese, Malay, Filipino, American and British clients who are gung ho about Bollywood dancing,” she says.

“Language is not a barrier for them; they understand the emotions very well,” she laughed. “The colourful depiction of music and the blend of different dance styles in Bollywood is what impresses them. Some even find it spiritual.”

Hrithik and Aishwarya in Dhoom2. The film regarded as one of the finest examples of choreography and dance in Bollywood

Hrithik and Aishwarya in Dhoom2. The film regarded as one of the finest examples of choreography and dance in Bollywood

“People have obviously become more open to incorporate structure in Bollywood choreography and include elements of western dance styles,” says Shiamak. “The demand for Bollywood dance is huge globally and we have classes running in Canada, Australia, UK, UAE and USA, people love the energy!.”

Matilde, an exchange student from Marseilles in France, studying in the prestigious NMIMS in Mumbai has been watching Bollywood movies for nearly a decade now. Her first movie was Devdas and she became a big fan of Indian culture and movies since. She has a different take on the changing trends in Bollywood movies.

“I don’t like the way Indian choreography is changing. It’s too western now,” she says.

“Bollywood dances are supposed to move the story forward. I love the romance, the costumes and the Indian-ness. I don’t want to see some Honey Singh rapping and women doing hip-hop and salsa. I will watch a Hollywood movie for that. Why should I watch a hindi version of Step Up in ABCD?”

But ABCD was a big hit. Sequels are being made. Who would have thought that a dance subject like hip-hop (with no A-league stars) could become a Bollywood hit with sequels in the making?

“The public is very well informed today, so it is only the genuinely original sequences that actually stand out,” says Shaimak.

Bollywood actors have picked up international dance styles remarkably well. Varun Dhawan and Saheed Kapoor trained with Shiamak Davar. Saheed was in Shaimak’s the dance troupe as a dancer in ‘Taal.’ The dance prowess of Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor, Tiger Shroff, Hritik Roshan, Katrina Kaif, Aishwarya Rai, Mallika Arora Khan, Anoushka Sharma and others have all performed western style numbers.

Ashley Lobo, recently choreographed Tamanchey and Bombay Velvet and trained Anoushka Sharma and Richa Chaddha extensively in street jazz dance styles.

“It’s getting much more international,” says Ashley. “The icons of international dance have changed over the years from Jeetuji to Hrithik Roshan etc. It will continue to evolve but the classical style like what Saroj ji does, the folk styles like bhangra and the visarjan dance style is here to stay.”

Terence had introduced Indo-contemporary style to Bollywood with Ram Gopal Verma’s Naach. The lead was actress Antara Mali, another rather unconventional Bollywood dance movie that did well.

“The classical styles will never go out of style,” says Terrence. “Derivatives keep emerging but one should master basic disciplines like Kathak and Bharatnatyam to be an adept dancers.”

Shaimak’s Dil to Pagal hai with soft jazz and contemporary dance sequences was also a hit.

Bollywood dancing is showcasing India in a glamorous way; keeping aside notions of poverty, disease and snakes roaming around the streets. There has been a paradigm shift from traditional heavy-hip beauties dressed in trendy sarees dancing in exotic flowery locations (with over-sized background dancers) – to women with pierced belly buttons, sizzling sirens – half bred-Indian variety who are doing everything from the salsa, hip-hop, belly dancing to contemporary western dance styles with great ease.

“World dance was always around but I think the internet brought all worlds closer onto one stage and eventually into mainstream Bollywood cinemas,” says Terrence.

The mushrooming of dance schools and dance troupes have played a role in this phenomenon as well. It has created awareness and popularized western dance forms. Ace dancers tour the world with Bollywood dance sequences and Bollywood events taking place in locations all over the world.

When I asked how dance troupes contributed to popularizing Bollywood, Shaimak said that teaching dance will always be his priority because it is the process of learning that actually inculcates technique, so students understand dance and movement.

Ashley said the dance classes bring in awareness about the different dance styles –“ the more awareness the better. It’s about being seen. If schools and dance companies tour more then awareness will grow.”

Terence said that dance schools should focus on good training to dedicated students and not become moneymaking ventures. Performing troupes should continue to inspire their audience to take up dancing professionally if they like what they see on stage and wish to be a part of the performing arts in dance.

Dance also has the power to heal. Through Shaimak’s NGO, Victory Arts Foundation his instructors teach dance as therapy to people with special needs and the lesser privileged.

Students in a Bollywood dance academy in Australia

Students in a Bollywood dance academy in Australia

Bollywood dancing is inspiring everyone – rich, poor, young and the not so young also. There are many housewives and senior Corporates in their mid-age who have joined classes to chase their passion.

“Dance does not judge, it does not discriminate. Whether people are on wheelchairs or crutches, you can feel their energy, you can see them dance and see their spirit fly!,” says Shaimak.

54-year Sharmila Ghosh, who is learning Bollywood dancing to surprise her son and daughter-in law residing in New Jersey, shares the same passion. “I always wanted to dance like Madhuri, but was busy raising my kids and looking after my family. I was also embarrassed to start dancing at a late age. But many elderly people are signing in for contemporary and Bollywood classes, so I feel a lot less conscious now.”She grins in her tight slacks and figure hugging top “Look at me move now… I can imagine the expression on Josh’s (her son) face when he sees me do the sashey (a jazz step).”

Bollywood dancing is an integral part of our country’s culture, giving us time to disconnect from our worries and become a part of something wonderful. It can be an addiction – something that makes us feel euphoric and artistic at the same time. Accepting, adapting and loving this ‘khichdi’ of choreography styles is making us somewhat international too; all thanks to our talented and radical Bollywood choreographers – I think it is all going the progressive way.

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