Bollywood style dance is coming of age in America. Although a section of our American culture seems to fight every day against the expansion, and acceptance of other cultures, opposing this is a large contingent of people looking to show the world that we will be more accepting, and open minded. In many American cities, refugees, and immigrants from around the world have impacted the local culture, and brought with them learning opportunities for those who are open to them.
Indian culture in recent history has often looked west, and found influences within cultures that deviate from their own traditions. With the rise of film media in the early 20th century, and influence of Hollywood in the west, simultaneously Indian culture also adopted this new art form, and began its own film making industry. Most people in America are probably aware of, but less familiar with Bollywood. However, both the quantity, and worldwide popularity of the movies produced from India’s film industry is staggering. Part of this popularity stems from the high-energy, entertaining styles of dance that are incorporated into Bollywood movies, that blend influences from traditional Indian dance, with more contemporary western, and latin dance styles such as jazz, salsa, and hip-hop. Although based heavily in traditional Indian, and other regional dances, this dance form has evolved with the times, and continues to be reinvented as it draws influences from other cultures.
Although in our western culture we tend to focus on more contemporary dance styles, and our communities provide a multitude of options for learning those styles, the introduction of dance styles from other regions is beginning to have a larger influence on the variety of learning opportunities available. In a smaller, but growing city such as Buffalo these new styles, and the opportunities to participate in experiencing them tend to stand out due to their uniqueness, and relatively recent introduction into the community.
Devi Bollywood Dance, operated by Gaitrie Devi, represents one such opportunity to not only learn the Bollywood influenced dance style, but to learn more about the culture it originated from.
“Bollywood gives you the opportunity to step into a whole different style of dance, that people have probably never experienced before,” explains Devi, “and it allows people to connect with an entire community that is very open, and welcoming.”
After modest beginnings four years ago, Gaitrie has grown her dance company, and the cultural influence of her genre within the Buffalo dance community.
Devi spoke to me about her roots with learning dance, and the Bollywood style specifically.
“I grew up in the Bronx, and with my parents being new to the country, they didn’t feel comfortable sending us places, so my opportunities were limited. But I discovered Bollywood later in life, and fell in love with it!”
Moving to Buffalo later was difficult, since she found her options limited, she decided to take a risk, and begin her own dance company based on the Bollywood style.
“I wanted to see if there was an interest, so I started with some pop-up classes. There has been a really great response from the community, they’ve really opened their arms.”
Devi Bollywood Dance has performed in a variety of local cultural, and dance art shows, and in April, Devi will be hosting her second showcase performance titled, Shakti: A Bollywood Dance Showcase, which will feature eight dancers performing a variety of dance routines, as well as a live, traditional Indian musical performance
“Shakti means empowerment. It will show the diversity, strength, and talent of the dancers. I love working with them because they all come from different backgrounds.” Devi remarked. “When I have new students, you can see they’re unsure, and questioning themselves. But by their last class, their confidence is beaming, and they say, I did that dance! I can do this! It’s amazing how different of a person they become through trying something new.”