A group of friends who decided to continue dancing after college now run a major professional touring production and more.

AATMA students perform in their 2014 recital, “Odyssey.”

“I never anticipated dancing as my career,” says Amit Shah, the founder and creative director of AATMA Performing Arts, named after the Sanskrit word for soul. Shah was a pre-med major at Rutgers University when he realized he wasn’t ready to let go of his creative side just yet. “I felt I had more to offer the world than a medical degree,” he says.

And he wasn’t alone. He recruited friends who all shared his passion for dance, without being on a professional track. What began as a small troupe in 2010 has now become a large-scale organization. The Bollywood and Indian dance company is based in New Jersey, with outposts in New York City and Los Angeles. They offer dance classes for kids and adults and produce a major touring show, Mystic India.

Assistant creative director Kruti Shah (no relation to Amit) majored in evolutionary anthropology in college. “I’d danced since I was 6, but in college, dance was more of a hobby,” she says. When Amit reached out to her, she jumped at the chance, and as the organization grew, so did her role within it. “Now I run the school. I teach, I choreograph for the company and I run rehearsals,” she says. “AATMA helped me realize I could make a living with dance and be successful. It changed my whole life.”

Despite the organization’s focus on Bollywood and Indian dance forms, staff and company members have diverse training histories. Some performers and teachers, like Amit, come from a purely Indian dance background. Others, like Kruti, grew up studying ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, hip hop and other styles. Classes offered reflect this diversity, incorporating Indian and Western styles into almost every session. “We want our students to get the best of both worlds,” Amit says.

AATMA company dancers

Many of the students are Indian-Americans who enjoy Bollywood movies and music and want a cultural experience. They start out taking Bollywood and then become interested in learning other dance styles. The junior and senior troupes perform in a recital showcase each June, as well as in community performances, and they participate in Indian dance competitions such as Naya Andaz and Dance Pe Chance.

The professional company currently has 65 members who perform in local shows and have the opportunity to tour with Mystic India. Pay for local shows is by performance. Since nearly a third of the company members also hold down outside employment, cast and choreography can vary, depending on which dancers are available. Performers in Mystic India commit to a yearlong contract and travel frequently in the U.S. and abroad for as many as 200 shows a year.

Amit Shah

AATMA recently launched Bollywood Beats Boot Camp, a one-hour cardio class that is available at select gyms in New Jersey, Manhattan and Los Angeles. And, with AATMA having had a company presence in Los Angeles for more than a year, plans are in the works to open a school on the West Coast.

“Seeing the progress the students make puts a smile on my face,” says Amit. “Plus, one of the biggest compliments I’ve received was having a parent say their child used to be ashamed to be an Indian-American, but through our program, they became more comfortable being themselves. It’s so rewarding to cultivate a new generation in the U.S. that isn’t afraid to share their Indian culture and music and art with other people.” DT

Kathryn Holmes is a writer and dancer based in Brooklyn, NY.

Mystic India: The World Tour ticket sales raise funds for Share and Care Foundation in New Jersey.

Bollywood Basics

You’ve seen it on “So You Think You Can Dance,” but do you really know what Bollywood’s all about? “As a technique, Bollywood is a mix of many different genres,” says Kruti Shah, AATMA’s assistant creative director and the head of the organization’s student programs. “Bollywood is a melting pot of Indian classical forms, hip hop, jazz—and anything else you can think of!”

Because Bollywood has its roots in Indian classical dance, AATMA encourages students to study Indian classical technique. “It’s just like taking ballet is important if you’re doing contemporary and modern,” Kruti explains.

There are eight officially recognized forms of Indian classical dance, each from a different geographical region of the country: bharata natyam, kathak, kathakali, kuchipudi, manipuri, mohiniyattam, sattriya and odissi. “Each style has different hallmarks, including specific hand positions, footwork, even facial expressions,” Kruti says. “All of that is incorporated into Bollywood choreography.” —KH

Photos courtesy of AATMA Performing Arts

Show Comments ()
Dance Teachers Trending
Jenaé Elizabeth, founder of Dance Dynamix, with students. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth

No doubt turning the dream of owning a dance company into a fully operational business is a tough feat. From finding studio space, marketing, securing funding and more, it can all be very daunting. The challenge of taking a dance-related business to new heights can be even greater if you are a person of color. However, it's not impossible. According to the 2012 census, there are 27.6 million businesses in the United States, and only 2.6 million are black-owned. In honor of Black History Month, DT spoke with several black-owned dance studios and companies and asked them to reflect on the significance race has had on their efforts to run the dance company of their dreams.

Keep reading... Show less

Alexandra Costumes' bold apparel has been making its way onto stages across the nation and people are noticing. Why do coaches love these costumes so much? With years of experience in the dance industry, the minds behind Alexandra Costumes know what works for dancers—comfort, performance and stage-worthy style.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Ski ballet champion Richard Chompsky

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago back in the 1980s, ski ballet was a sport. At the Olympics. Yes, it's hard to fathom, but there was, in fact, an event, (technically a demonstration sport) at the 1988 Calgary Games and the 1992 Albertville Games, that entailed performing to music on a ski slop, with full skis and poles. One athlete even sported gold lamé sleeves on his ski suit. Although it was called "ski ballet," it's more like an eclectic celebration of ice skating meets gymnastics, with a ski base, and a dash of baton twirling.

The only question to be asked: Why is this still not a thing? Do yourself a favor, stop everything and watch these amazing highlights from this forgotten, yet wildly fantastic hybrid sport.

P.S. You're welcome.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year, DT honors four outstanding dance educators. Past recipients of the Dance Teacher Awards have included studio owners, professors, program directors and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres. We need your help to find this year's best in the profession. Do you know a teacher who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model? (Of COURSE you do! Who first opened your eyes to dance? Who's mentored you in your own path to becoming a dance teacher? Who saw you hiding in the back row and sought you out after class to take an interest in your dance studies? Who introduced you to modern dance? Who helped you nail fouetté turns?) Nominate him or her for a 2018 Dance Teacher Award!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Misty Copeland. Photo by Jayme Thornton

Is anybody else confused about why dance isn't an Olympic sport, yet??? I mean, honestly. Dancers train like Olympians every day! They can stun you with their technical prowess, wow you with their uncanny athletic ability AND make you cry all at the same time. Dancers are freaking magicians, and it's time we let them into the Olympics!

Here's who we'd want to see on Team USA if dance were a part of the Olympics. This team is STACKED! Check it out!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of NYCDA

Competition and convention season can seem never-ending, but with access to the world's most popular teachers, the experience is invaluable and gives students the opportunity to learn from the best in the business.

Seth Robinson, who teaches contemporary and improv with STREETZ and REVEL dance conventions, has taught and judged thousands of dancers across the nation. Here, Robinson offers three tips to better prepare your students for dance's ever-popular, jam-packed events.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock
I'm a senior at a Performing Arts high school. I have been taking ballet for 2 years and started taking tumbling classes with a local gymnastics instructor. One of my jazz teachers advised me to stop as she said it would create bad habits. I enjoy the classes and think my dancing has improved. Thoughts?
Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored