A Bollywood Beat Steeped in Culture
Friday, July 28, 2006
Salsa had its time in the sun. And it doesn't seem so long ago that every other club had a weekly swing dancing night. Even Irish step dancing had its moment, what with "Riverdance" and that shirtless Flatley guy and all.
Now, if Priya Pandya's hunch proves true, is the time for people in the states to dance to a Bollywood beat.
Pandya is the founder of Washington's Dhoonya Dance School, which offers lessons in traditional and modern styles of Indian dance.
"Indian culture -- as the world has globalized more -- people are having more interest in it," says Pandya, 25. "It's the movies, the fashion, the books, the music."
And, of course, the dancing.
For many Americans, their first exposure to Bollywood culture came from such films as "Monsoon Wedding" and "Bend It Like Beckham," both of which feature scenes of rollicking wedding celebrations. The dance floors in each movie seem to vibrate as revelers in jewel-toned silks twirl and swivel to the DJ's feverish beats.
At a Dhoonya Dance beginner's class, the same rhythms are pumped into a mirror-lined room -- da-na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na -- and instructor Sejal Shah leads her dozen students through a choreographed routine that appears deceptively fluid when she performs it.
The movements are all shoulders and wrists and hips popping from side to side. A five-minute session of stretching leads to the most intense part of the workout, an energetic series of steps that has beads of sweat forming on the brows of more than one student.
For Pandya -- and many of the second-generation Indian Americans who are Dhoonya Dance regulars -- the rhythms and moves are touchstones of a culture imparted by their parents and being recast as their own.
As a girl growing up in New Jersey, Pandya was taught many classical dances by her mother, an Indian immigrant. When she arrived as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, Pandya joined a team of dancers that choreographed elaborate performances for an annual event celebrating South Asian arts and heritage.
After graduating and moving into the working world with a career at the World Bank, Pandya found that she no longer had an outlet to practice the dances she had done most of her life.
"It's always been my way of connecting with Indian culture," she explained. "It just felt like a comfortable way to express my Indian side, and as I got older I felt like I was starting to lose that."