In his Bollywood dance classes at AATMA Performing Arts, Amit Shah lets the music dictate which dance techniques the class will hone in on that day. "Bollywood dancing is really depicting a particular song," he says. "It's all about storytelling. So, we focus on the lyrics and emotions of the music first, and then establish the technique that will help tell that story." Because a lot of the music in Bollywood films fuses multiple genres, Shah does the same with the movement. For example, he might combine hip-hop steps with movements from the Indian folk dance bhangra.
"It's interesting because Bollywood dance, as much as people think of it as a dance form, it's really not," he says. "It's a series of dance forms put together." Shah, a longtime Bollywood dancer, teacher and artistic director of the New York– and New Jersey–based studio, says that if a dancer is competent in a variety of techniques—from ballet to Indian folk dance to jazz and hip hop—they have everything they need to be a Bollywood dancer. "They need to get both that Eastern and Western influence," he says. "Because that's what Bollywood is."
Shah lets music dictate style of movement in his Bollywood classes. Photo courtesy of Shah
Performance quality is a top priority, so Shah challenges students with a fun activity. "We take a piece of music, and I'll say, 'So if this piece is depicting loneliness, do eight counts of choreography, and I want you to show me loneliness,'" he says. "Then we'll take the same music and the same choreography, and I'll say, 'Now I want to see excitement, but the movement and the music is going to be exactly the same. How are you going to depict excitement through that?'"
Shah and his company, Andaz Costume Design, produce the costumes his dancers perform in. Photo courtesy of Shah