1, 2, 3, 4 – that’s all you the time you have before your hips are swinging, wrists are flicking and you are caught up in the joyful dance known as Bollywood Funk.
Professional dancer and teacher Ayesha Khanna blows the roof off the Grassroots Community Space in Jersey City when she turns on the music and her students take to the dance floor for her one-hour Bollywood Funk dance class. Bollywood Funk encompasses a mix of jazz, hip-hop and fusion dance moves choreographed to the beats of Bollywood movie soundtracks with an added sexiness that takes Bollywood dance to a whole new and exciting form of expression.
“Bollywood is not a dance form, it’s a Hindi film industry,” Khanna says. “Bollywood films can have any type of plot, but in every Bollywood film there are 4-5 songs and each character is introduced through their song.”
And in Bollywood, every song is a concept – love, anger, revenge, patriotism – and has its own dance number. It may be a patriotic song, but when Khanna choreographs it Bollywood Funk-style, it’s a new and energetic presentation. The 12 dancers at a recent Saturday class were learning steps to a routine to the Bollywood song “Indiawale” (the electronic version) by composer Vishal Shekhar – and seemed to be having a blast.
Khanna, who is a classically trained dancer and studied Kathak in India, was a member of Ashley Lobo’s Danceworx dance troupe and on the verge of a Bollywood career when she landed a role in the 2004 film “Dhoom”. Instead of staying in India, in 2005 Khanna decided to move to New York and marry her fiancé. She started Bollywood Funk NYC in 2007 and teaches in Manhattan and Jersey City.
“I had the privilege of learning from the best,” Khanna says. “It’s important to learn technique, discipline and the respect the dance floor demands – and respect for your guru. In India, they are second to your parents.”
The Bollywood Funk NYC dancers have performed Flash Mobs at the Grove Street Plaza in Jersey City; and in Times Square, New York City, the New York Governor’s Ball, and just recently at Madison Square Garden where they performed at the opening ceremony for the NBA’s Liberty basketball team. In October, they perform at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan.
“Dance needs to come from your soul,” Khanna says. “Every movement needs to mean something.”
A student at Bollywood Funk for 1-1/2 years – and a member of the troupe – Abhishek Shivkumar says he enjoys learning from Khanna and that dancing has helped him in his work as an IT Consultant.
“It’s so enjoyable to dance with Ayesha,” Shivkumar, 29, says. “The creativity that goes into the dancing is so great. We go from jazz into hip-hop – it’s so many forms of dance and even after two hours, she gives the same energy. I loved Bollywood dancing as a kid, and now dance has driven me better into my IT world. It helps me in my work. Ayesha teaches me a step that challenges me. I go to work and there are challenges.”
Zenobia Dotiwala, who works as a project manager for a research consulting company is one of Khanna’s Bollywood Funk instructors and also takes class with Khanna.
“I feel like I’m most myself when I come to class,” Dotiwala says. “It gives me the chance to express myself. I like Bollywood Funk because it has a Western influence on Bollywood music which I love so much.”
Each class is a progression of a choreographed dance that the students perform for friends and family at the student performance night. Fees are 5 classes for $89; 10 classes for $160 and 20 classes for $260.
“We exist, hence we express,” Khanna says. “Give dance a chance. Whatever you’re feeling, instead of bottling it up, use dance as therapy.”
Bollywood dancing delivers a special message, too. Khanna says: “The message is whoever you are, you can dance with us. That’s why Bollywood is so popular in America.”
After class, Grassroots Community Space director Chelo Mercado swept up and got the space ready for the next group. At Grassroots, there are weekly classes in Zumba, Pilates, Egyptian Dance, Martial Arts, Yoga and even a Cute Ukes ukulele class for kids. And every 3rd Friday of the month, Mercado hosts a Drum Circle. Founded by artists and supporters of the arts to enrich the community’s quality of life, the venue provides a meeting place for people who want to convene, share ideas and explore different aspects of the human experience.
“This is an arts incubator,” Mercado says. “You bring your art, your energy and your love, and we’ll support you.
Bollywood Funk NYC in Jersey City
Tues: 6-7 pm, 8-9 pm
Thurs: 6-7 pm, 7-8 pm
Sat: 12-1 pm
Grassroots Community Art Space
54 Coles Street
(Downtown) Jersey City