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Getting Down Bollywood Style - Dance Classes

Getting Down Bollywood Style - Dance Classes

January 31, 2011

Despite my inner awkwardness, I try a Bollywood dance class - and am pleasantly surprised.

The lure of Bollywood is strong--paved with rhythmic dance beats, glimmering clothes, and fairy tale romance, Bollywood has been making inroads into the West for some time. And yet, I didn’t realize quite how popular Bollywood was amongst non-Indians until a couple of months ago, when I attended a packed dance class at a local gym.

Despite my innate awkwardness (or because of it) I’ve taken a lot of dance classes. I enjoy them because they’re fast paced and, contrary to expectation, don’t require a lot of coordination--they’re about getting fit, having fun, and learning something new. And Bollywood dancing is known for its calorie-torching cardio--most dances have enough booty-shaking to keep even the most dedicated chocolate fiend svelte.

The set up was familiar: an all purpose room lined with mats, steps, weights, a full mirror wall, and a corner stereo. Thirty women--only a couple of Indians--waited, chatting, fidgeting, and occasionally glancing in the mirror while the instructor, Ambika Wali, of Jhumka Dance Company, introduced herself. Spending only a few moments taking the class through hand gestures and setting a hip heavy rest step, Ambika was quick to get started. And confusion reigned.

Confusion is a funny thing. Most of the time, we see it as a bad thing. Yet other times, confusion is freeing. Dancing in a room of lost people is far more fun than dancing in a room full of first-rate performers. And it showed--after the initial “uh, what’s this song again?” the room relaxed, and a whole lot of women started shaking their groove thing.

Bollywood dance is no picnic--from the first step through the last, it’s a workout, complete with small leaps, kicks, spins, and, of course, the signature Bollywood heart thump. After an hour of getting down, I was drenched in sweat and ready to sprawl on the couch in front of some trashy TV.

While sprawled in front of the TV half-singing a few songs (and eating a well-earned snack of pita chips and guacamole), I realized that my love of the class went a little deeper than I’d expected. Confusion, and not needing to be perfect, was fun. But for the first time ever, I was comfortable in a dance class. My usual fear of stepping off rhythm or tramping on someone’s foot slipped away within the opening moments of the class--slipped away so naturally that not only did I not break anyone’s feet, I didn’t notice that I hadn’t. Where other women settled into a new style, I had found myself on familiar ground: these were songs I knew, beats I knew, even movies I knew. These were moves I’ve done at family weddings, giggling with my cousins and swaying along as the guys showed off their mad Indian-fusion hip-hop skills.

Although my Real Housewives of Bollywood experience ended with the gym class, I find we spend more and more time listening to Bollywood music these days; every now and then, Joe catches Mir and I rocking out to Jai Ho or the Hindi top 10 on Desi Music Radio. (Mir’s favorite move is the duck--pop up--spin beloved by Indian choreographers everywhere.) Not all of the words make sense; sometimes I hit up the dictionary to translate a confusing lyric, or make a note to ask for help at my next Hindi lesson. But the real fun is in the dance. When we fudge a step or two, it’s no big deal--if anything, it’s a small victory, a chance to be graceful in our gracelessness, because these songs are our territory, and I love them. 

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