Finally, the day of my school’s Talent Show had arrived. The members of my group, the Indian culture club, had practiced non-stop for the past three and a half months for this moment. The theme of our Bollywood dance number, “Sunderella,” was Cinderella. We were all nervous because after all the practicing, the performance was here.
It started with the king announcing that a ball was being held. Next, our lead who played Cinderella danced with the evil stepmother. Then, the fairy godmother came and it was my turn to start performing. All of us girls moved onto the stage from the side. We were performing a traditional dance that is energetic and fast-paced. All the moves had to be big and full of energy because you have to show the audience that you’re having the time of your life on stage, and the crowd was cheering and screaming for us. At the end of the song, my friend and I get tossed into the air. During our rehearsals, we had been having problems getting me high enough, so when our stunt went flawlessly, I grinned.
The next dance was a partner dance. The couples had to look like they were in love, but I didn’t have to worry—I was so excited about performing that I couldn’t stop smiling. Finally, the group dance began. I could feel the emotions in the air—happiness and excitement. When we got into our final formation, the audience burst out in cheers and applause. To make all the weeks of rehearsals that much more worth it, we received the award for best club act. In the end, we got our fairytale ending.
I’ve been Bollywood dancing for more than six years. My friend Karisma brought me to my first Bollywood dance class when I was 9 years old. I sat on the side, watching. They were in two lines and moving in place. All of a sudden, the back line switched with the front. I was amazed that it could look so good even with 14 girls in the class.
I wished I were dancing with them. I got lucky, because one of the girls in the class wasn’t there. The teacher asked me to step in for her. I started doing what they were doing, making big arm movements and transitioning to different lines. I had always wanted to be able to do Bollywood dancing.
When I was a child, I watched Bollywood movies with my family on Friday or Saturday nights. If there’s one thing these movies are known for, it’s their dance numbers. When something important happens to the main character, that’s a cue for breaking out into song and dance. It’s so fairytale-like, especially when they’re falling in love. Later in my room I practiced the dances in front of the mirror and pretended I was that character.
Bollywood dance is a mixture of classical dances that originate in India and more modern influences like hip-hop and ballet. We usually dance to music from Bollywood movies, which are movies from India’s movie industry. The music is usually remixed versions of old Indian songs. It’s upbeat so you need to be energetic while dancing.
Even the basic moves were hard to learn
After going to that dance class, I joined my friend’s studio. During the first few months, the routine was the same. We formed a couple of lines and the teacher stood in the front. Then, he began to dance. The goal was to follow him. “Bring the elbow up, be sharper,” he would say loudly. Once, he said in front of everyone that my hand movements looked like airplanes crashing into each other. My face was burning from embarrassment. Sometimes I would complain to my parents but they’d say, “We paid for your dance classes so you have to put up with it.”
I had to learn basic steps such as the up-and-down (which is like walking in place), turns and the hand motions. I started doing the up-and-down step around the house and I practiced the hand motions in my room. I would twist my hands so they looked like lotus flowers. I would practice the “deer” position (the pointer finger and the middle finger touch the thumb while the other two fingers are spread apart). Once I learned those, I moved on to other moves such as the “light bulb” (moving the hand in a motion similar to unscrewing a light bulb).
It’s really important to have facial expressions. If the song is about sadness, your face has to reflect that. If it’s a happy song, it’s important to smile. It was really hard to keep facial expressions because all I wanted to do was concentrate on my moves and not my face. At home I’d lock my door and practice the poses and facial expressions in front of the mirror because there were no people to criticize me.
After a year, the teacher would say, “Look at Shivani, she’s doing that well.” I got more confident and I didn’t want to give up anymore. He gave us harder dances and expected us to practice at home. We also learned the poses of Shiva, one of the Hindu gods, and what the words meant in the classical songs.
Bollywood dancing embodies my culture—it’s vibrant, constantly changing but still true to our heritage, and fun! I love the connection to my culture.