by Anjali Balakrishna
Photography by Sheetal Saini
India is rich in culture and tradition. From spices and foods, to music and Bollywood, the country has an abundance of character. Dance is another example; although it has changed over time, it still has firm roots in classical styles.
Classical dance styles reach into the history of India and Hinduism. Each dance tells a story through the dancer’s movements and postures. The traditional clothing, jewelry and makeup make the dancer’s appearance striking and majestic.
Kathak is a classical dance that spans several regions of India. It tells the story of the Hindu god Krishna. Anklets with bells emphasize the rhythmic movements of the feet. Bharatanatyam also tells a religious story. It originated in South India from the Tamil Nadu state. Bhangra, on the other hand, is a folk dance that comes from the state of Punjab. It is more energetic than the other and offers subtle classical dance forms.
Contemporary dance forms tend to combine different styles, from the East and West. Popular dancers, such as Poonam and Priyanka Shah, combine forms like Bharatanatyam or Bhangra with hip-hop. Naina Batra and Manpreet Toor perform modern Bollywood with a classical twist. Their beautifully choreographed performances have taken YouTube by storm.
At Boston University, there are plenty of Indian dance opportunities. From Bhangra to fusion, there are a variety of styles to choose from.
Parini Shah (COM ’20) started dancing at the age of seven. After her mother signed her up for a talent show and she overcame her nerves, she realized her passion for dance.
“Everyone said I was really good,” said Shah. “That’s when I discovered that I had a knack for dancing.”
Trained in classical, Bollywood, and some contemporary, Parini has gotten exposure to various Indian styles.
“Contemporary is very fluid and graceful. It’s about looking petite and flexible,” she said. “Bollywood is a whole song and dance vibe; it’s super cheesy and loud and extravagant. And classical is very graceful and traditional.”
After arriving at BU, Parini knew that she wanted to continue dancing. Now, she is on the all-girls fusion team Chaankar. They touch on all different styles and have themes for their performances.
“Our performances usually tell a story,” said Shah. “This year for example, our theme was Orange Is The New Black. We showed betrayal and life in jail.”
Vineeta Maddali (SAR ’19) began dancing when she was two, but was actually trained in ballet for 12 years until her sophomore year of high school. Then she changed her dance scheme a bit.
“I started dancing for the Arya Dance Academy in fifth grade where I learned Bollywood and hip-hop,” she said. “I competed for them until I graduated high school.”
Vineeta joined Jalwa, another fusion team that combines Bollywood, hip-hop, contemporary and Bhangra styles, her freshman year. She immediately knew it was the right decision.
“I would say Jalwa can be defined more as a family than a team,” said Maddali. “It’s really cool because you’re in a group of really different personalities, majors, and backgrounds, but one thing ties us all together and that’s our determination to make our set the absolute best it can be.”
The style of the team varies from year to year due to the different dance background new recruits come from, according to Maddali.
“We have a strong group of girls who are classically trained in Bharatanatyam,” said Maddali. “And we were able to incorporate them into both our hip-hop and contemporary segments which was really cool and different for us.”
Similar to Chankaar, Jalwa has an underlying storyline that their performances follow. This year their story was inspired by the Hindi movie Tamasha. The plot of the film encouraged them to blend styles beyond the spectrum of Indian dance.
“Part of our story takes place in Barcelona,” said Maddali. “So, we tried to incorporate very tango-esque steps into our Bollywood segment.”
Aside from the stylistic fusion, the format of their performances is quite unique. Presented as a play with a narrator, each act portrays the emotions and personal journey the protagonist in Tamasha experiences.
“What we really want the audience to take away is that no matter what society tells you, it is so important to stay true to yourself and what you believe in,” said Maddali.
While most dances tell a story, Indian dance styles take from the religious and historic backgrounds of the nation. Although dance has modernized over time, classical styles have upheld tradition. BU’s dance teams, like Chankaar and Jalwa, draw from all areas of dance; fusing together old and new, traditional and modern, enables them to explore all areas of India’s rich dance culture.