Dance has been an integral part of my life. I was dancing since I was a bumbling 4 year old, still drooling on my dress. I trained in Indian classical (Bharatnatyam) for 14 years. Anybody well-versed in the traditional arts will know that classical dance forms follow a strict adherence to the traditional structure of dance forms. And it kind of grows on you. Having immersed myself in classical dance forms for so long, I found it hard not to be dismissive of fusion dance forms. After my training was complete, I did have the liberty to experiment with different dance styles. But somehow I could never bring myself to incorporate non-classical moves. I felt that mixing up dance styles diluted the integrity of each dance component. I was that rigid!
It took some learning ( and unlearning!) on my part. However, I gradually taught myself that mixing dance forms actually helped me learn more about other cultures. It also provided me with an avenue to create new art forms. Once I started adapting my own ideas into the dance form, it was like rebirth! I visualized possibilities of recreating some of my oldest compositions with a dash of western instruments. But this isn’t a monologue from my dance journal! While on my quest to improvise, I came across several atypical artists. Artists who are breaking barriers and ebbing cultural differences in the most fantastic ways. These are the artists I want to talk about today.
Run by choreographer Meher Malik from India, the Banjara dance school calls itself an artistic shelter. Banjara embraces the wandering restless nature of the human mind through their dances. They have several compositions to their credit. I’m going to pick the two closest to my heart.
Express Yourself: Banjara performed this number at a TEDx event. This dance is a brilliant fusion of Arabic belly dancing, Indian classical and folk dances forms, with a hint of Bollywood. But the cherry on cake? They performed it to Eagles’ Hotel California: my absolute favorite song! I never in my life imagined that Hotel California could be rendered so beautifully.
Rangeela: A reason why I loved learning Bharatnatyam more than any other Indian classical dance form was because of its gender neutrality. I could very well choose to dance like a man if I wanted to. And that’s why I love this number from Banjara. I truly appreciate how their dance compositions embrace gender fluidity and body positivity like its no big deal.
Indian American musician, composer, producer and singer. Also No.1 on my play-list lately! This guy comfortably shifts between the tabla and drums like they are one and the same thing! And he has such an uber-cool way of vocalizing Hindustani music it almost sounds like a beat-box routine. Not a dance number so to speak, but I can totally imagine dancing to his beats!
DELILAH BUITRON – MEGNA MURALI
Delilah and Megna have collaborated together on more than one occasion to showcase a beautiful tapestry of Flamenco and Kathak. I find their dance fusions exceptionally challenging because of the two very contrasting components. While Kathak is essentially sharp, crisp gestures, the Flemenco is more fluid and sinuous. Despite this fundamental difference, the two dancers seem to be portraying the same story! They performed the following dance at a TEDx event. Very aptly it is termed Unity Of Cultures.
A classical fusion list is incomplete without mentioning ballet. Hiplet is CMDC‘s artistic director Homer Hans Bryant‘s brain-child. Hiplet – a play on words with HipHop & Ballet – is inspired from the 90’s rap ballet style. CMDC stands out for striving to provide equal opportunities in the performing arts to women of colour. Furthermore, they also promote a healthy mix of classical ballet, hip hop styles and African folk dances. The founders strongly believe in composing fresh dance routines that are relevant to today’s youth. The following routine is a reflection of their beliefs and deep cultural roots, as well as love for contemporary style. I dare you to watch these ladies and not want to groove!
POONAM & PRIYANKA – BHARATNATYAM FUSION
Of course I have to end the list with a Bharatnatyam fusion! Poonam and Priyanka Shah are two Indian American twins who have been dancing together since a young age. These two kids are my idols right now! I absolutely admire how they have assimilated popping and hip-hop with an Indian classical dance form. This composition is a direct conflict to what I used to believe in earlier. And an absolute future goal for me!
I can decidedly say we all need some unlearning to do and take the initiative to build collaborative art and music. There are many artists out there who are trying to bridge gaps across cultures and create a universal collage with their unique perspective. In the words of Bryant: “If we are not here to pass on our talents and ideas, why are we here?”