It’s been some time since I last featured a classical Indian dance, so I thought I’d bring up another one of my favorite classical Indian dance styles: Kathak.

kathak-couplePhoto from flickr.com

Kathak is a northern Indian style of classical dance that traces its origins back to nomadic bards who were storytellers. In fact, the word “kathak” is derived from the Sanskrit word katha, meaning story. The dance form has several influences ranging from temple dance to the Persian influence of the Mughal courts from the 16th century.

I only recently discovered that kathak had a Persian influence, but then I realized that this was evident in the kathak costume itself. If you look at images of traditional Persian dress, you can probably see similarities in the dress style with that of a kathak costume:

Traditional Persian Costume

Picture from Google Images

Picture from Google Images

The most striking similarity I see is the cut of the skirt. The Mughal kathak style of costume has a tighter-fitting blouse and emphasizes the skirt with a cut that allows the bottom of the dress to flare out, which has a great effect when the dancer spins.

There are three main gharanas, or schools, of Kathak:

  • Lucknow Gharana: This gharana originated in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It emphasizes facial expressions (known as abhinaya) and naturalness in dance.
  • Jaipur Gharana: Developed in Jaipur, Rajasthan, this school emphasizes the more technical aspects of kathak, such as complex footwork and multiple spins. (A side note: a unique aspect of spinning in kathak dance is that the dancer learns how to turn and land in the same position. It’s very difficult to spin and land with your heel in the same spot twice, yet these dancers spin multiple times–up to twelve or fifteen sequential turns at a time!)
  • Banaras Gharana: This school developed in–you guessed it–Banaras, and is characterized by different aspects in kathak dance, such as the gait and greater use of the floor space.

These are just three of the main schools, though every classical Indian dance form has at least several different schools within each form. The schools bear the hallmark of a particular guru or group of teachers that has been passed down from guru to student over time.

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This weekend I visited the NYC Bhangra Club as they were busily preparing for an upcoming performance. I had some time before the class began to speak to a few of the club members and find out what they were looking forward to when performing bhangra in front of an audience, many of them for the first time.

“I want to perform, but the choreography is kind of crazy right now so I’m up in the air about it,” Deborah Lugo admitted. Ms. Lugo joined the class as a way to stay fit after recently becoming a new mother. When asked about how she found out about bhangra, Ms. Lugo explained that she’d watched a lot of Bollywood on the Indian channels she receives on the television.

The class itself was interesting to watch. Typical classes begin with 15 minutes of stretching, followed by another 15 minutes of basic bhangra steps all done to fast bhangra music. The last half hour of the class is an intense workout of non-stop bhangra dance.

Sunday’s class, however, was all business. “Please don’t talk, we have very little time,” said instructor Megha Kalia. “That’s why we didn’t do warmup exercises today!”

The class was preparing for auditions for an upcoming June performance. In addition to telling the class to bend and smile, Ms. Kalia was also trying to get the class in the mindset of a performing group.

“You guys are all learning dance. You have to learn to adapt to new formations,” she said after a brief moment of confusion when the class, divided into two parts of the studio, began to tangle. “Presence of mind and body is what dance is all about!” said Ms. Kalia.

Fortunately, there’s still some time until the class auditions. Until then, the members can practice showing off their moves at NYC Bhangra Club’s new “Indian Summer” parties. The launch party is April 24th and will occur every 2nd and 4th Friday of every month. The first party looks to be a great one: only $10 cover charge the entire night, and ladies are free until midnight! Check out the flyer below. I know I’ll be there!

nycb_parties_flyer

In my previous post, I talked about the Bollywood-style laundromat dance scene filmed for “Arranged”, a graduate thesis film by NYU Tisch grad Suraj Das. Well, I had the opportunity to speak to Melissa Briggs, the choreographer of the dance scene!

When I asked Melissa (who is mostly experienced in Broadway choreography) about how much experience she had with choreographing Bollywood-style dances, her answer surprised me: “Not much at all,” she said. “It was a totally new thing for me.”

Melissa did do a lot of research to prepare for the scene. “I’d seen a lot of Bollywood movies,” she said, adding that she revisited footage from the film Bombay Dreams. She also said she borrowed elements from a Masala Bhangra cardio dance class.

“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” she said. “Usually I’m an actor/dancer so I was on the other side of the table this time. Bollywood is a very unique genre.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the laundromat dance sequence on YouTube. But our conversation reminded me that I have yet to upload the Bollywood compilation dance that my friends and I performed for the NYU Monsoon show! So here it is, see if you can spot yours truly.

For those interested, the song selection is as follows:

  • “Aye Hip Hopper” by IshQ Bector
  • “Pappu Can’t Dance” Film: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
  • “Muqabala Muqabla” by A.R. Rehman
  • “Dance Pe Chance” Film: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
  • “Baawre” Film: Luck By Chance
  • “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom” Film: Jhoom Barabar Jhoom
  • “Aai Paapi” Film: Kismat Konnection

Bollywood, not Ballet?

April 19, 2009

Today I had the chance to speak to Anni Weisband, a sophomore at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Anni participated in a Bollywood music video of sorts last year when she was hired as a backup dancer for a particular dance sequence that took place in a laundromat in Alphabet City. The film was “Arranged”, the thesis film of Suraj Das, a graduate of NYU Tisch.

I was interested in how Anni picked up Bollywood dance, having had no prior experience in the dance form. “I guess my training in jazz and ballet and modern dance made it easy to pick up on,” she said. “I just went in and learned the choreography and did it.”

Anni did pick up on various differences in Bollywood dance as compared to the dance styles she was used to. “It has a lot of arm movement isolation and it’s a lot about the hands, too,” she said. “There are specific ways to hold your hands. That’s something I found different as compared to ballet, where the fingers and hands stay still. So that was something different I had to get used to.”

Still, Anni said that the Bollywood music was so infectious that she couldn’t help but want to dance. “I wouldn’t say Bollywood dance is easy, but it helps when you become really excited about something and then it starts to come naturally.”

The conversation we had started me thinking on whether there were any other Bollywood dance studios in the New York area that could possibly make learning Bollywood dance easier for newcomers. I came across the Dhoonya Dance School, which has introduction to Bollywood dance workshops. The studio is located at 219 W 19th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.

And for those interested, I did manage to find the teaser trailer to the student film Anni danced in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the laundromat scene, but the trailer does seem to promise a lot of Bollywood talent!

Pandemonium!!

April 6, 2009

I found another video of NYU Pandemonium. This performance is from the Monsoon 2008 show. Enjoy!

The Rise of Bollywood

April 6, 2009

So I’ve noticed that recently, Bollywood has been garnering more attention in mainstream American media. Last summer, the American-Idol counterpart dance reality show  So You Think You Can Dance showcased its first Bollywood routines. For those who have grown up watching Bollywood films, I thought that the dance choreography was alright in comparison to some of the Bollywood routines I’ve seen at cultural festivals, but as far as the entertainment factor goes the audiences seemed to love it:

For me, some of the best choreography came from the movie Devdas. Although the film came out in 2002, I still think that it’s one of the best representatives of Hindi cinema. All the dance items in Devdas are excellent, but this one was the pinnacle of the movie. The year it came out I saw dozens of girls replicating the same dance moves for the same cultural shows for the next 5 months:

A more recent Bollywood film is Luck By Chance, a movie about Bollywood actors struggling to make a break in an industry where the lead roles are dominated by a handful of established actors, as well as the children of established directors and producers. Farhan Akhtar and Konkona Sen Sharma are fresh faces playing the lead roles of the movie, but the film’s marketing appeals by using star power:

Who wouldn’t rush to see Hrithik Roshan dance in a veritable Aladdin-costume replica while surrounded by a vibrant circus? The man is the best dancer in Bollywood! (Sharukh Khan fangirls, please don’t kill me.)

If you are  interested in learning Bollywood dance, the Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School and BAX, or Bollywood Axion, are a couple places in New York where you can take lessons. For those who are more economically-minded, just pick up the moves by renting a few Bollywood films! Either way, you’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun.

Bhangra Blowout 16

April 5, 2009

Bhangra Blowout 16 will be in Washington D.C. next weekend on April 11th, so if you can make it, go and support your favorite collegiate bhangra team!

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.com and doors open at 6  in the D.A.R. Constitutional Hall. For more information, go to http://www.bhangrablowout.com.

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Monsoon 2009

April 5, 2009

Last night was Monsoon 2009, an annual show NYU Shruti (the umbrella Indian student organization at NYU) puts on that features all the Indian dance teams at NYU, as well as dances put on by the freshmen through senior classes. I was counting on some of my friends to record all the dances on their cameras, but unfortunately they took the wrong train and ended up only arriving in time for the last performance of the evening. So until I can get the videos off of several different Facebook profiles and pictures from everybody else, I thought I’d find some YouTube videos and still share a couple of the highlight performances of the evening.

One of the first performances was the Raas Malai team. Raas–and garba–are folk Indian dances that are usually danced during the Hindu festival of Navratri, a celebration that lasts for nine nights and ten days, each of which is dedicated in worship to a different Hindu goddess. In competitions, raas and garba teams generally mix traditional steps with strong drum beats, and toss in a few stunts for show:

My favorite part of the evening was watching NYU Pandemonium, the all-male hip-hop and bhangra fusion dance team. This video is from the Phillyfest 2009 competition, where the group took 1st place.

I’ll try to get a video of my sophomore class dance up once I can figure out how to steal videos from Facebook, or just find someone who can send me the video file.

In the meantime, here’s a teaser picture of our sophomore class!

monsoon-group

Brruuaah!

April 5, 2009

Bhangra is one of my favorite folk dances. It’s incredibly energetic and fast-paced, and so much fun to dance at Indian events. But crazy parties aside, bhangra is taken seriously at dance competitions, usually at college campuses.

Here’s the NYU bhangra team’s 2008 performance in Pittsburgh.

Bhangra music and dance originated in Punjab as a dance by farmers celebrating the coming of spring. Bhangra became popular when Punjabis migrated to the UK around the 1980s, and today many of the celebrated bhangra music artists such as Punjabi MC and Punjabi Hit Squad  infuse the traditional bhangra sound with modern hip-hop beats:

Let’s Dance by Miss Scandalous

If you’re interested in learning how to dance bhangra, the NYC Bhangra Club offers classes that are $10/lesson. There is no registration and membership is free. Performances are on a volunteer basis, so if you’re confident and eager to dance in public, you’ll have many opportunities to do so.

I find it only fitting that I begin this blog with a very brief overview of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance form I’ve studied from the day my mother first pushed me onto a stage. Bharatanatyam is a South Indian dance style that is among the principal classical dance forms of India, as it’s a very spiritual dance form that is in essence a devout prayer between the dancer and God. It was originally a dance performed in Hindu temples and has since evolved into one of the most recognizable classical dance forms of India.

There are three major aspects to Bharatanatyam: Abhinaya, or dramatic story-telling; Nritta, or pure dance rhythm; and Nritya, a combination of both story-telling and movement. In addition to these techniques, Bharatanatyam also involves adavus, which are combinations of a series of steps, and hastas, hand gestures that symbolize various parts of Hindu mythology.

I found this nifty compilation of several different hastas from the blog Online Bharathanatyam Academy, which has much more information about the movements involved in Bharatanatyam:

Given its rich cultural roots, I was ecstatic to discover that Bharatanatyam was among the dances presented on the recent NBC’s Superstars of Dance, a televised dance competition that was advertised as the “Dance Olympics.” While the show had a dubious platform as a competition, the showcasing of different cultural dances was something that I couldn’t miss. Among the more talented performers that caught my eye, Mythili Prakash stood out as an exceptionally qualified Bharatanatyam dancer:

There weren’t many renowned Indian-American dancers around when I was studying this dance form as a young girl, so I think that Mythili Prakash is well on her way to establishing a greater presence in the world of Indian dance.

You can find out more about Mythili Prakash at her website here.