The following interview was conducted with Gaitrie Devi who has established Buffalo’s First Authentic Bollywood Dance Classes, featuring a Tuesday Contemporary Workshop at Wasteland Studios (starting Tuesday June 17th at 12:30pm).
What are the origins of Bollywood dance?
The name came from a combination of “Bombay” (which is now Mumbai) and “Hollywood”. “Bollywood” does not refer to films produced all throughout India, but to a specific region, the Hindi Film industry. Other areas of India and South Asia now have similar names, including Tollywood, Kollywood, Lollywood, and Dahliwood.
Bollywood dance consists of a combination of Bhangra (a high energy form of dance originating from Northern India) Garba (which originates from the villages of Gujrat) and Classical dance, the murdras (hand gestures), facial expressions and footwork are key to this particular style (Bharatanatyam and Kathak).
When did it first come to the United States?
Unfortunately, I am not sure of the exact year it came to the states. But today from television to movie theaters you can either catch a film or watch it on So You Think You Can Dance. I noticed it more in the 2000’s, classes started popping up in various cities, and there was a buzz about it. Now, it’s exploded into the main stream. You can find classes, dance companies, costume shops, everything in almost every major city.
When and where did you learn the art of Bollywood dance? Who taught you?
Growing up I always loved watching the Indian films; I guess it started there with icons like Hema Malini, Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. Throughout my undergraduate years at UB I choreographer many dances, for cultural events, showcases and student run performances. When I moved back to NYC in 2006 I started taking classes at Bollywood Axion with Pooja Narag (NYC first Bollywood dance school) where I was immersed with Bhangra, Garba & other Indian dance styles. Within a few months I was given the opportunity to become a part of the school’s performing troupe. In 2009 I became a dancer for The Sa Dance Company, under the artistic direction of Payal Kadakia. Through Sa, I was able to push myself even harder to incorporate my passion for Indian dance into a more mainstream form; incorporating contemporary and hip hop into our routines.
I started teaching in Buffalo in May of 2013. I held my first workshop at Studio C in Buffalo and from there continued to hold workshops at various studios, then in June of 2013 I gained residency at Oasis Dance Center. I’ve capitalized on my years of dance, I’ve geared myself for teaching, taking in what I’ve learned from my past and current instructors to bring into the studio for my students.
I assume that the Wasteland gig is another Bollywood event?
Yes, Nancy Hughes has opened her doors at Wasteland Studios to choreographers from all across Buffalo to teach on a weekly basis. Having a Bollywood class with a contemporary flare is a true honor, this will be my second time teaching there and I am truly honored and excited!
When I moved back to Buffalo 3 years ago, I was anxiously looking to keep dance in my life, particularly Indian/Bollywood dance classes. I was not able to find what I had experienced in New York City; I felt a city like Buffalo needed it, so in 2013 I started to focus my energy on developing classes and workshops geared for everyone in the community.
Were you the first to break out in the local scene?
You can find some fusion classes in the area, as well as another instructor that teaches at the Hindu Temple, but I have geared my classes to the WNY community by working with studios and facilities in the area to work with individuals of non-Indian background and introduce them to Bollywood while honoring the authenticity within the dance form.
Is Bollywood dance related to, or does it share similar properties to, any other forms of dance?
This dance form evolves with the times, in its earlier stages it took on a very classical dance style of Bharatanatyam and Kathak (very similar to the disciplines of Ballet, with its footwork and gracefulness). Currently, it shares similarities to hip-hop and contemporary, as well as a very carefree and expressive form of dance.
Where can people learn to dance locally?
I hold weekly classes at Oasis Dance Center (see Facebook). There is something for everyone, a Beginners Bollywood class on Mondays at 6pm and a mixed level class Bollywood/Bhangra on Wednesdays at 6pm. In addition to that, I also have a more technique/Conditional class that I teach on Monday evenings.
Where do people perform locally?
I have a performing troupe that was recently formed in January of 2014 and we perform at events all across the WNY area. We have already performed at well over 10 events, including WNY Women’s Expo, Raising Hope for Family Justice Center, UB India Night 2014, UB World Bazaar, West Side Bazaar Women’s Day & Hands Across Buffalo. In addition, students have the ability to perform at two of the yearly Hafla’s that Oasis Dance Center holds (one in the Spring & one in the Winter).
What is the music that accompanies Bollywood? Are there any live bands around that play Bollywood music?
The music ranges from each region within Indian and depicts the style of dance. You have Punjabi music for a Bhangra routine, you have Gujrati music for Garba & Raas as well as everything in between – the music really makes the classes so appealing and different from your regular workout!
Is Bollywood a current trend, or is it here to stay?
I believe it is here to stay; it encompasses so many characteristics, from culture, to fitness to tradition. Bollywood is the top grossing film industry in the world; the dances are the main highlights in the films. It has gone global very quickly, I’ve talked to many of my students and they have had a love for watching films, listening to the music and watching the dances for such a long time.
What’s the best word of advice for anyone looking to learn Bollywood dance?
TRY IT! It’s fun, energetic, you learn about another culture and something new for everyone.
Is there meditation involved, or is it simply the art of movement, exercise and fun?
In my classes I incorporate stretching prior to the start of classes as well as a cool down. I practice Yoga regularly, so I included stretches that would be ideal for everyone. It is an exercise based dance classes geared for sweating, high energy, and cardio. You can get so much out of these classes more than going to a gym, while enjoying a dance class.
Who is the prime candidate for Bollywood dance classes?
Anyone and everyone, I know that is such a staple thing to say, but its true. If you’re a beginner its ideal, or if you’re an advanced dancer its ideal; I’ve had ballet dancers, zumba instructors, students who have never taken a dance class take my classes and they have enjoyed it.