It was our annual D&D (dinner and dance) party in Singapore. All colleagues had let their hair down and dance floor was jam packed. All skilled and unskilled dancers were trying to show off their existent and non-existent dancing skills. Most of the dance moves were inspired by Hollywood movies and pop albums. Suddenly, they realised that some of our Indian colleagues were not dancing. A volunteer group lead them to the dance floor. They confessed that they couldn’t dance but volunteer group won’t budge. They caught the beat of the next song and began with their usual Indian moves inspired by Bollywood music and dance. In past dance parties they were stars with those moves. But here, 2-3 minutes into the dance, people around had bursted into laughter and others had left the dance floor. Soon the dance floor was empty and onlookers were in awe at their dance moves.
The world calls it Bollywood dance. Indians just call it dancing. They don’t have any other name for it.
What is the deal with this Bollywood dance? Every Indian seems to know it but Where do they learn it from?
India has a great tradition in dancing. There are over 100 classical dance types in India. All of them have there own rules, rhythm and moves. Classical dancers dedicate major part of their life to learn, master, perform and pass it on to the next generation. But Bollywood dance is miles away from it.
The only rule in this type of dance is “there is no rule”. You just catch the beat and express yourself. Any rhythm is fine as long as you catch it and go with it. On the same number, same rhythm if you feel like dancing differently go ahead! No issues. So called Bollywood dance is not a traditional, classical Indian dance type at all. This is an ever evolving type of dance fuelled by Indian movies. The choreographers use their creativity and come up with new dance moves for virtually every new song. In doing so, they borrow dance moves from every conceivable dance type. They started with Indian dance types but as the stories in movies went global, locations went global and so did the dance moves. They crossed the borders and now borrow dance moves and rhythms from virtually every dance type across the globe.
Dancing is also culturally linked to masses. In Punjab, no celebration is complete without Bhangra. In Mumbai, Ganesha is never immersed without hearty dance. Barat (procession in which groom arrives for wedding) is never complete without dance in Northern India. Bollywood dance has permeated all these cultural dance occasions silently in last few decades.
An Untrained but enthusiastic corporate Indian dancers, don’t really enjoy dancing to western tunes. Apart from the fact that the rhythm is “foreign”, the dance moves just don’t flow. The secret lies in lyrics of Bollywood songs. The dance actions are based on song lyrics or even the on-screen actor actresses. You don’t need to learn the dance, listen to the lyrics, catch the rhythm and you become a dancer. Dancing is all fun, spontaneity and creativity. If you don’t find the actions interesting enough, no issues. Reinvent yourself, become your own choreographer. If you are bright enough you might find followers then and there.
Only flip side is if you have such dancers on the dance floor, it soon turns into a hustling, bustling chaos. But who cares? Others may find it difficult to perform in such chaos but most Indians love it, that’s where they thrive.
It was October 2005 in Sydney, I was about to leave for office when a news captured my attention. An Australian school had organised a Bollywood dance competition. Kids were wearing colourful Indian costumes and looked cute. Teachers, none of whom were Indians, were sweating to get the actions right. I was quite amused. I know for sure Bollywood dance is not going to compete with salsa, but I was glad somewhere miles away from India, someone had noticed this dancing style and were trying to mimic. “kajarare” was the song they selected and I mimicked the whistling action in the rhythm as I left for the office!
Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? – The Book