Bollywood Heroine for a Day
I am a huge SRK fan (for those of you not familiar with the Bollywood lingo, that stands for mega Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan). Netflix has been a God-send to me, making used-to-be obscure Hindi films now readily available at my fingertips. The words dil and pyaar and ishq, all different forms of the word love, are now part of my vocabulary. Legendary choreographer Saroj Khan and her multi-faceted sing-song numbers dance in my head as I try to memorize the thousands of steps she's brought to life. And my iTunes is full of dramatic Indian love songs with sky-high female melodies sung by the great Asha Bhosle and younger protegé Shreya Ghosal. In other words, I seriously pyaar Bollywood. So when the opportunity presented itself to join Bollywood Axion (BAX), a Bollywood dance school in New York City, and eventually perform like the on-screen divas, I jumped on it! This past weekend was the BAX annual showcase, held at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, where all levels of dancers and a variety of styles were featured: Bollywood, bhangra, hip-hop, Zumba, and of course some excellent and adorable kid numbers. Canadian born Pooja Narang, Artistic Director and Choreographer of BAX, started the company in 2003 and has since then had her choreography and dancers featured on prestigious projects including The New York Times premiere of the Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire, and the world's first Bollywood flash mob, performed in Times Square to promote IFC's Bollywood Hero.
Recounting her life story to me, Narang grew up in a strict, Punjabi household in a suburb of Toronto where school and studies were her family's focus. In order to live her dream of becoming a Bollywood dancer, she graduated high school early and did the fast-track through college and graduate school, filling her summers and evenings with full semesters-worth of work. She promised her family she would get her masters, and in the process, she became the youngest ever to graduate from her University: "The day after I finished school, I was on a plane to India." That is where she studied with Saroj Khan and was later cast in Le Gayi, one of the most famous contemporary Bollywood dance numbers, choreographed by Shiamak Davar.
Watching Narang dance is like stepping foot on a Bollywood set, getting a one-on-one with a humble starlet who expresses herself best once the music starts playing. Her grace, beauty, and perfect execution of choreography to Bollywood lyrics are what all of us BAX students try to emulate. I joined the school in October of last year, and my biggest challenge is understanding what the lyrics are saying in order to convey the proper mood, facial expressions, and possibly even mouth the words (Hindi lessons next on my list!) And with a bhangra background just as strong, Narang's Punjabi blood runs thick in her veins, passing down her family's tradition to dancers eager to learn.
It was a thrill to be able to get up on stage and perform with new friends and have some old ones in the audience cheering on. With quick changes in the wings, some costume and prop malfunctions, and my adrenaline pumping, I felt right at home. It was a dream come true for all of us in the school - becoming Bollywood superstars for just one night.
THE BARE FEET™ FIVE: 1. Classes at BAX: Bollywood Axion offers weekly classes in New York for all age levels and dance experience, from beginners to advanced. For more information on classes, go to BollywoodAxion.com. 2. Saroj Kahn, genius at work: One of my favorite Bollywood dance numbers of all time, of course choreographed by Saroj Khan, is Dola Re Dola from the film Devdas, featuring Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai and Bollywood dance queen, Madhuri Dixit. 3. More Bollywood Films: Some legendary SRK films include Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Veer-Zaara, Devdas, and Mohabbatein (all available on Netflix!) 4. Bollywood Music: With all wonderful Bollywood films comes their lush and romantic Bollywood soundtracks. Be sure to check out the music from all the films listed above, available on iTunes! 5. Bollywood in the Gym! For some people, choreographed dance classes are a little intimidating, but don't worry, you can still feel like a Bollywood star in the gym - The Masala Bhangra Workout®, a dance workout based on Bollywood and bhangra, is offered throughout the US, Japan, parts of Europe and soon India!