Are Bollywood Dance Classes More Than Just Cultural Appropriation?

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When I signed up for a Bollywood dance class, I honestly thought I would end up getting bored by the whiteness of the so-called Indian class. Coming from an Indian family, I was gently pushed into traditional Bharatanatyam dance lessons when I was 6 years old. While I was by no means an unfamiliar dancing talent, I learned the basics, which included lots of very deliberate hand positions and smashing my heels with determination. in the ground in an exact pattern. When I went to Bollywood Bhangra Beats last Wednesday, I didn’t expect to find anything resembling my old, somewhat classic bands. I expected trendy sports outfits, a non-Indian teacher and than Coldplay-Beyoncé song that is best known for appropriating Indian culture.

None of my lofty and powerful predictions were correct. Instead of finding Bollywood biddies dressed in Lululemon and inauthentic music, I found Achinta S. McDaniel (McDaniel being her married name), the founder and artistic director of Blue13 Dance Company, and a Bollywood choreographer who has appeared on television and in numerous Bollywood films. . From start to finish, her class reminded me of a traditional Indian wedding, where everyone – really, everyone – should raise their arms with their index fingers pointing upwards and pump their shoulders to the beat of the music.

According to McDaniel, my preconceptions about what a Bollywood classroom could be like weren’t completely unfounded. Just like there are inauthentic Zumba classes, yoga teachers who mispronounce “chakra” and guided candle light meditations that cost a fortune, there are impostor Bollywood classes in LA. McDaniel says she appreciates their genuine interest in Indian dance, although it’s hard not to laugh. imitators.

“I find it alarming and offensive that the instructors are simply deciding that they are now going to teach Bollywood and choreograph Bollywood with zero training or knowledge of style. It kind of strikes me as a ‘any idiot can do Bollywood’ statement, ”McDaniel said.

McDaniel teaches a group .;  Credit: Ford Theaters

McDaniel teaches a group .; Credit: Ford Theaters

“As ridiculous as it may sound, it is the feeling when inexperienced teachers, whether they are choreographers of children’s competitions, fitness teachers in gyms or famous choreographers, take it upon themselves to simply ‘teach a Bollywood class or routine. “It stinks of disrespect and ownership,” she added.

My Bollywood Bhangra Beats class was held at Downtown Dance and Movement, a beautiful, brand new studio. The space is sprawling and tasteful, but if you’re going to take a class on the same night as a Kings game, you need to leave early to give yourself more time to find parking.

If you are ever going to an Indian wedding, it’s important to understand that they don’t care if you aren’t comfortable (or just plain bad) their dancing style. They will make you dance anyway; it is part of their hospitable nature. McDaniel’s class was the same. She encouraged our class to move without fear of taking the wrong step, with the same emphasis my older cousins ​​had when they pushed me out of my seat and onto the dance floor at weddings.

Our Bollywood class was as much about theater as it was about dance. Bollywood films tell a story, but not in the same way American films do. They are theatrical in an exaggerated way, of escape from reality. (You would be hard pressed to find a Hindi version of Room, because there’s no way to incorporate vocals, dances, and bowed heads into the script.) The classroom reflected that Bollywood movie feeling.

“What are we wearing in this scene? McDaniel called, as we prepare to learn phase two of the choreography.

“Like, maybe a dress?” Peach or lavender? she asked, looking at us over her shoulder. “I think fishing.”

We nodded. Seeing that McDaniel already taught him Bollywood moves on the Fox sitcom cast New girl, I was inclined to trust her imaginary wardrobe judgment.

Bollywood is about big movements; it requires you to bend your limbs exuberantly. There is nothing reserved about this. Being a Bollywood star is miles from being a stone-faced ballerina. In fact, the movement is so lively and bouncy that it forces the corners of your mouth upward. I ended up with a sort of confused maniacal smile on my face because being willfully cheerful and always following the steps was difficult.

Whenever it became clear that we were falling behind on the choreography, McDaniel would break the steps: “Your right arm goes up like you’re hailing a cab. And even. Then you cross your arms like an airplane seat belt and push them down. ”

We have picked up the pace.

“Taxi! Taxi! Seat belt! Seat belt!”

We hailed taxis and lowered seat belts as we slipped / stumbled across the ground doing the Bollywood version of two-stop. We went back to the start and started the dance by bouncing our right feet back and forth while rotating our wrists with our hands holding a thumbs up to the side.

McDaniel shouted encouragement over Bollywood music, not caring that it could very well damage his vocal cords.

“GIVE YOUR FACE! “

“SMILE!”

“I’m so proud of you guys!”

If that class could be explained in an emoji sequence, it would be the red dancer, 80 exclamation points, and then the toothy smiley face.

McDaniel and students;  Credit: Photo by Anne Slattery

McDaniel and students; Credit: Photo by Anne Slattery

Bollywood, McDaniel explained when I asked him why we “give face all the time” is “let go of inhibitions, laugh throughout the class, put on a ‘mask’ and be the Bollywood movie star.”

The dance style is not so much sexual as it is flirtatious and alluring. It requires vulnerability in that you move your shoulders, hips, and feet in a way that doesn’t feel quite natural, but it doesn’t make me as uncomfortable as I thought.

The advent of Bollywood culture in Los Angeles is relatively recent. Just 10 years ago McDaniel says there were no Bollywood or Bhangra classes for the public in LA (or even New York, where she was before she moved). There were student groups, families, and temples hosting cultural events featuring Bollywood, but nothing was really accessible to the rest of the LA community who hadn’t grown up eating. aloo chole. There were no classes that could reach people of other ethnicities who wanted to learn more about Bollywood dance and the culture that accompanied it. That’s why, almost ten years ago, McDaniel started a course that she knew would appeal to dance studios and students of all ethnicities and skill levels.

“I started Bollywood Bhangra Beats at Swerve on West Third Street, which became very popular, so much so that I filed the name and quickly expanded it to teach the class in studios across town,” she says.

From what McDaniel and Linda Valentino, owner of the Downtown Dance and Movement studio, said, the Bollywood community is one of the most diverse in the LA dance scene, which is not surprising as the class is very “Indian” in that it is so welcoming. This amount of hospitality might seem overdone or fallacious in another setting, but in Bollywood Hollywood, it feels completely genuine.

Blue13 Dance Company offers Bollywood classes in Hollywood, North Hollywood, Culver City, Pasadena and downtown; bluedance13.com.


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