Is Bollywood paving a way for Indian Classical Dances?

October 29, 2018
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India is known for Bollywood, cricket and its culture! We all know that Bollywood films are world famous and many Bollywood stars have their huge fan following worldwide…Indian classical dances and music have been used for many Bollywood songs as their base for composition and choreography! We are also observing an increasing popularity of Indian classical dance forms in foreign countries, more and more non-Indian dancers are learning and performing Indian dance forms, migrated Indian dancers are spreading this art form in different parts of the world and number of International dance festivals are inviting Indian classical dancers!!

There are some people who are performing fusion dances with Bollywood dance styles calling it ‘Bollywood Kathak’, ‘Bolly Bharatnatyam’ and so on. We tried to find out if, in any way, Bollywood dancing is paving a path for Indian classical dance forms and artists abroad?

We spoke to a few non-Indian dancers who are learning and performing Bollywood dances along with Indian classical dance forms in various parts of the world and we found interesting opinions of them.

Anna Dimitratou from Athens, Greece is trained in ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary and oriental (middle-eastern dances) belly dance styles and has worked as an actress after graduating from a Professional Drama School in 2003. She was introduced to ‘dance’ as a subject in her Drama school and developed an immense interest in dancing since then! In 2005, when she was playing a character of an Indian girl in a play, she was first introduced to the world of Bollywood and Indian dances. She recalls at that time, “There was no one to teach these dance styles in Greece

Watching ‘Maar Dala’ song performed by the dancing queen Madhuri Dixit from the ‘Devdaas’ movie was a turning point for me.  I was blown away by the sheer brilliance, costumes, expressions and the style of movement which made her fall in love with Bollywood dancing!!

Later she came to know about the vast pool of dances in Indian classical and folk dance culture and started learning Bharatnatyam and Bollywood dance in 2007 from dancers in India and Europe.

“I wanted to spread this culture in Greece, so I started ‘Bollywood Dance Academy’ in 2013 and started curating one of the biggest, one of its kind Bollywood and Multicultural Dance Festival. In this festival, different Classical and folk dancers from India and all over the world perform and train the dancers from Greece.

Anna Dimitratou

Anna says, “I have always been awestruck by the diversity and richness in Indian dance and music. It is so unique and everything is very detailed! I find Bollywood dance and music energetic, diverse, yet everyone can connect with it so well! As I came to know about different Bollywood dances based on Indian classical dance forms, I became even more curious to know more about them. When we perform Bollywood dance choreography with the flavor of classical dance; I have used terms like ‘Bollywood Kathak’ but making it clear to the audience that this is very different from a traditional Indian classical dance repertoire and the choreography is only inspired by the dance style.”

Internet and online sites like Youtube have also helped dancers like Anna having an access to watch Indian dance styles and learn from them!

“I know that Indian Classical dances require a devotion of lifetime to actually understand the details of the art form and perform the full-length repertoire.”

I have studied Bharatnatyam and Kathak for a few years, but I don’t dare to call myself a Classical dancer. Unfortunately, we don’t have Gurus in Greece who can impart advanced level and long-term education of these art forms, so we mainly learn from workshops we attend here or in India. This helps us in at least introducing these art forms to the audience in Greece as I use some simple classical dance steps or techniques in my choreographies.

According to Anna, Indian dance performances are visual treats for the audience in Greece! They find the attire, music, movements very engaging although it is hard for them to understand the exact story of the dance piece. Most of our Indian dances are based on Indian mythology yet due to their theatrical quality; they have the power to draw the audience into the world of the performance! She thinks, Bollywood has played a big role in promoting Indian classical dance styles as Classical dance legends like Pt. Birju Maharajji has also choreographed Kathak based songs in Bollywood movies. In this fast pacing era and trend of 1 min Instagram videos, people do not have the patience to sit and watch the entire traditional Indian classical dance performance based on Indian mythology; but they prefer watching short performances based on popular songs which they can relate with better!

Anna says, “I see more and more classical dance workshops and festivals taking place in Europe and people are taking a keen interest in learning these art forms. If we have a student exchange, Government scholarships program to come to India and learn classical dance; it would be a boon for dancers like us who stay abroad”

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia based Azim Riaz developed an interest in dancing after watching Bollywood movies and started dancing since 1997. He runs a company called ‘Mast Millenium Dancers in Malaysia which promotes and performs Bollywood along with other Indian dances! He loves Bollywood music and primarily listens to them.

Azim Riaz and his Mast Millennium Group

Azim thinks that Bollywood had been a connecting passage to Indian classical dances for him and many others in Malaysia. He prefers using the term ‘Indian classical/folk dance’ as opposed to dedicating the entire performance to one style like Kathak, Bharatnatyam as local audience does not know the difference as much. Azim is also observing a rapid change in the presentation of the traditional art form as people are collaborating, making fusions like performing a classical dance on songs like ‘shape of you’, ‘Despacito’ and these performances are much appreciated by the public… “Malaysia being a multi-cultural country, it appreciates different art forms and every art form has its own audience; hence there is no competition between the dance forms!” says Azim.

Anna, Azim and his brother Sham are taking Kathak lessons from the renowned dancer and teacher, Dr. Tina Tambe in Mumbai.

Azim and his group taking kathak lessons from Dr. Tina Tambe

Valentina Manduchi from Rome, Italy has graduated in cinema and performing arts from Roma Tre University and she developed an interest in Kathak when she saw Devdaas movie in 2002. For her, Bollywood movies are reflections of colors and traditions of Indian dance and music; hence she doesn’t appreciate a lot of use of western dances on Bollywood songs. Valentina’s ‘Apsara Dance Academy’ promotes Indian dance styles. She has also performed with Bollywood super stars like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan.

Valentina Manduchi

Valentina has never used terms like ‘Bollywood Kathak’, ‘Bollywood Bharatnatyam’, etc. as she doesn’t relate with it, but instead, Valentina prefers using ‘Semi-classical dance’ as a term when she performs classical dance techniques with different songs.

Valentina says, “Bollywood helped me discover the ocean of Indian classical and folk dances and later I learnt Kathak style in India and UK. When people see my pirouettes of Kathak, they get amazed as they usually don’t see such performances in Italy.

She further says, “A lot of people also think that I’m from an Indian origin!! I think when we practise dance or any other art form from another culture, we should be very cautious and responsible as we are portraying that art form in our own country… It is our responsibility to respect that culture and deliver the real essence of it to the world. I feel, if we want to know more about Indian culture and Bollywood, we should also learn Indian classical dance styles as they serve a base for other dance forms of India!”

According to Valentina, though Indian movies are promoted in Italy, there are very few Indian festivals celebrated like Navratri where people dance for nine days.. Initially, it was a difficult task for her to promote Indian dance culture in Italy and there are very few Indian artists residing and supporting these art forms in this country!

She says, “Efforts from cultural organizations and Govt. of India to promote these age-old traditions and rich heritage to the world would make a big difference…”

Lola Martín from Madrid, Spain has been trained in various disciplines of dance such as Spanish classical and flamenco, oriental dance along with Indian dances like Kathak, Mohiniattam, Bharatnatyam and folk dances of India… She has also worked as a National Director, Producer and Choreographer of Miss India Spain, in collaboration with USA Miss India Worldwide.

Lola Martin

Indians residing in Spain always appreciate her intention and efforts to promote Indian culture and dances in Spain.

Lola thinks if you love India and its culture; you will definitely find more about Indian classical dances as well. They offer a completely different perspective and style from European dance styles.

She has never used terms which fuse ‘Bollywood’ with any other ‘classical dance style’ as she doesn’t feel it is right to do so! Instead, she tends to use the term ‘semi-classical choreography based on (name of the dance style)’ which helps the audience understand the origin of the steps used in the choreography.

Lola has experienced that majority of people find it difficult to relate to the traditional classical dances and appreciate the efforts, dedication one needs to make to perform those dance styles, but Bollywood is for the mass if we say classical dance is for the class…

Bollywood songs are cheerful, colourful, vibrant and very energetic; it seems to be the best way to connect Europeans to the world of Indian classical dances!

“Bharati Show’ by the artist ‘Bhavna Pani’ based on Indian dances has been a popular and successful one in Europe. We need more such big productions to portray Indian dances on the international platforms… Maybe educating foreigners to understand and appreciate the nuances of Indian culture and dances through various workshops, books, conferences, movies, videos would be helpful, which would create a good audience for these beautiful dance styles!”, says Lola.

Lola Martin performing Mohiniyattam in a show

It was amazing to know the opinions of people with different nationalities, origins, cultures and ethnicities; yet connected with one common thread- ‘Love for Indian Culture and Dance styles’

On the whole, we saw that Bollywood and its humongous popularity has helped dancers from different countries to connect with the world of Indian classical and folk dance styles.. What seems to be promising is the efforts taken by these dancers overseas, to learn and understand the origins of these dance styles, and promote the Indian culture in their respective counties!!

Nevertheless, it is true that audience in foreign countries is not yet fully prepared or educated to understand and appreciate the traditional classical dance repertoire or full-length classical dance performances; as these dance styles are quite different from the western, European dance styles and they are rooted in Indian mythologies to a large extent…

To me, terms like ‘Bollywood Kathak’, ‘Bollywood Bharatnatyam’, etc. don’t make much sense in India or abroad as it is not a different style of dance. Instead one can choose to say ‘choreography based on classical dance techniques’ when they perform Bollywood songs with steps of classical dance styles…

Though Bollywood has opened the gates for Indian dance styles in other countries; it is our responsibility to spread more awareness and original, authentic knowledge of our traditions in the world.

These days, Indian classical dance styles are getting independent recognition and respect in many countries; people are inviting Indian classical dancers for prestigious International Dance Festivals and workshops. The classical dancers and institutions need to work more in collaboration and as a community to present our traditional dances in their authentic forms globally which would be easy and attractive for the foreign audience to relate to them!

Cultural exchanges, government policies to promote Indian cultures on the global platform would be helpful for artists from India and abroad…

Let’s all work together to not let the people from different countries limit Indian dances to Bollywood dancing and we better use the popularity of Bollywood just as a starting point to promote Indian classical dance styles globally!

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