Only until a couple of years ago, every ‘nukkad’ (street corner) in Mumbai had some form of dance class teaching people to match steps with the latest hit Hindi film song. From age six to 60, everyone wanted to emulate their favourite dancing star. Remember Hrithik Roshan’s signature step in ‘Kaho Naa Pyar Hai’ or Shah Rukh Khan’s Shaimak Davar choreographed moves in ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’? And who can ever forget the ‘thumkas’ of the female superstar Madhuri Dixit in ‘Hum Aapke Hai Kaun’ or beauty-queen-turned-actor Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan’s semi-classical dances in ‘Devdas’? Many women have spent hours practicing these steps to put up perfect performances during religious festivities and family functions.
But, believe it or not, ‘Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon’ is no longer the dream of your neighbourhood Mansi, at least where dance is concerned. Dancing is no longer just about the Bollywood ‘latka jhatkas’. Move over Kareena Kapoor with the groovy ‘Desi beats’, Mumbai girls and women are going folksy with a vengeance. They are choreographing their moves to ‘Madi taru kanku kharyu’, the popular Gujarati dandiya number, or ‘Tim, tim timbale’, a Marathi favourite. This festive season, they are even in the mood to pick up some rhythmic steps set to the groovy tunes of traditional Rajasthani, Naga or Bihu songs.
“Even if it is an impromptu group dance on festive occasions like Navaratri, Ganapati and Diwali or the sangeet ceremony at a wedding, women want to learn the dance and only then perform. They want to look professional and not ham around with some amateurish steps,” explains Radhika Phanse, a classical Kathak dance teacher, who has been running Navarasa Art Academy in Dadar, Mumbai for the last 15 years. Five years ago, she also began teaching folk dances.
The reason behind the increasing popularity of folk dances is that their steps are usually simple. Even those with two left feet can manage to look graceful! Of course, these dances can be performed on any occasion, and sometimes they only need the simple beat of clapping hands to set the right mood for celebrations of any kind. Added to this is fact that it is a group activity. Everyone can effortlessly join in and fun can be had by all.
Vinod Kumari of the Kala Mandir dance academy that holds folk and classical lessons for those living around the suburb of Andheri, is all in favour of this new-found craze for traditional Indian moves. “I believe that folk songs have some real heart-rending lyrics and simple words always manage to express every kind emotion to suit a given situation. Even feelings of love and longing can be expressed in a beautiful way without sounding vulgar or obnoxious. And dances set to these songs always exude grace, whether they are being performed by young girls or elderly women. It’s really sad to see small children gyrating to Bollywood numbers on reality shows on television these days,” she says.
In India, there are plenty of folk dances to choose from. Every state and region has its own form. Of course, some are more popular like the Ghoomar, Kalbeliya, Terathali and Kathputali from Rajasthan, or the Garba, Dandiya and Tippani of Gujarat. Maharastra has its Lavani, Koli and Dindi; Nagaland in the Northeast has war dances and dances to commemorate the harvest, with the dancers sporting traditional head gear, arm bands and the above-the-knee skirt which makes a great style statement. From Assam there is the graceful Bihu and from Orissa there’s the magnetic Chau. The southern states have Kummi, Karagaattam, Kolattam, the snake dance, and so on, while Punjab’s Bhangra, Gidda and Kikkli can set the stage on fire.
This year, Rashmi Chedda, an engineering student in Mumbai, learnt the ‘Dandiya’ from Gujarat. Says she, “Every year when my college held a Dandiya night during the Navaratri festival, my friends and I always remained on the sidelines as we didn’t know the actual dance and didn’t want to make a fool of ourselves. This year, we decided to train properly and so we went in for proper dance classes and thoroughly enjoyed them.”
That’s the whole point of dancing anyway – feeling energetic, graceful and good. And only a great teacher can help his/her students achieve this complete experience. According to Rooma Banerjee, who has been running her dance academy, Nritya Parikrama, at the ISKCON centre at Juhu for nearly 20 years now, “I think to train others, a teacher needs to know some form of Indian classical dance like Kathak, Bharatnatyam or Odissi. An experienced classical dancer can pick up any other form and can teach better.”
Banerjee, as well as Vinod Kumari and Phanse are trained Kathak dancers and had initially started their academies with the intention of teaching Kathak. But as time went by, they realised that people, especially in Mumbai, have little time and patience to go through the hours of rigorous practice needed to master a classical form. So they learnt folk dances from different master dancers and have started giving lessons in these forms as well.
Phanse says, “In our classical dance classes we have students from the age group of six to 25 years. But for folk dance forms we get people from 20 to 60 years! In this segment we have homemakers, professionals like doctors, lecturers, CEOs and BPO workers, and, of course, students.”
Kirti Gupta, a student of a South Mumbai college, is one such busy dance enthusiast. She says, “I love dancing but at present I don’t have the time to learn a classical form. And my parents definitely won’t let me dance to Hindi film music. So I started learning folk and now I don’t want to leave it. All Indian folk dances have such fluid and graceful movements and I want to learn as many as I can.”
Vinod Kumari adds that among her regular folk dance students are some known faces of the TV industry who are keen to learn folk dance as they feel it helps them emote better on screen, something that their expensive acting classes couldn’t teach them. “They pay Rs 2 to 5 lakhs to learn acting without really learning to express emotion. These girls come to me at night after they have finished shooting. I teach them simple folk dances, particularly the Rajsthani Radha Krishna dance form from which they learn to show ‘shringar ras’ (love), ‘hasya ras’ (laughter) and even ‘roudra ras’ (anger) with ease,” she explains.
Hourly sessions of these folk dance classes are anywhere between Rs 600 Rs 1,000 per month per dance form. And it’s an amount that Dr Sulochana Parekh, a gynaecologist, is more than willing to shell out. She says, “After spending gruelling hours at the hospital, sometimes facing difficult deliveries, I love to unwind. I find that dancing to the soul stirring verses from our folk songs is really pleasant and relaxing. The charming uncluttered easy movements of the dances make me – and some of my colleagues who join in – really happy!”