If you haven’t heard of the Bollywood dance initiative at Wheaton, this may be because it hasn’t yet been established as a club on campus. As of now, the initiative is a personal one for Anoushka Agrawal ’20 and Gyana Srivastava ’21, who are currently trying to “generate energy and enthusiasm” by increasing community awareness in addition to holding a two-month workshop through which Agrawal teaches self-choreographed Bollywood dances.
Part of the reason the project is starting with a kind of trial period is because it has faced some challenges thus far. “It’s not as popular as commonly viewed by the Wheaton campus audience in general,” said Agrawal. Even so, she added that she “hope[s] to see more people from all cultures.”
Agrawal’s background in Indian classical dance and music illustrates that she is very culturally rooted and oriented. We can certainly learn about many aspects of a culture through its music and dance, as these tend to reflect traditions, beliefs and values. “If you truly want to know about [a] culture, you engage in its arts and its festivals to see what it’s like,” Agrawal stated. Therefore, Agrawal believes that “Wheaton’s campus can benefit from [the Bollywood project] because it’s a cultural initiative [that] provides students another culture to be engaged in, which is always a plus.”
But what exactly is Bollywood dance? For Agrawal, there may not be a clear, fixed definition. “I don’t know if I’d define it in a certain way,” said Agrawal. “I just think Bollywood dance is a very strong representation of something that brings together the Indian culture. It’s very popular in India and across the globe, and it’s like a common ground for many people to come together. That’s what it means to me.”
Agrawal added: “It’s easy to express yourself through dance, but Bollywood dance leaves you more energized…because everyone around you is giving in that much energy. You’re allowed to be free with your movements; there’s no rigidity. So you’re allowed to just let loose and enjoy.”
The sense of togetherness that Bollywood dance fosters, along with the flexibility and freedom it offers, is the reason why Agrawal has chosen the style. To participate, people do not need to have prior skills, experience or knowledge; everyone is welcome. “I just want it to be a space where people can come enjoy the music, engage in the culture, meet people you might not [otherwise meet] and possibly develop an interest in a field that you might not have any knowledge about,” Agrawal said.
Body positivity is another important aspect that the Bollywood dance initiative promotes. According to Agrawal, “dance is one of the most important mediums that allows you to be confident in moving your body around. Or if you’re not very confident about your body image, then it allows you to become [confident] because…the main objective is just to have fun and be comfortable with it.”
With the response that Agrawal has received so far, starting an official Bollywood dance club at Wheaton next year is definitely possible. But instead of establishing a traditional organization, Agrawal hopes to create “a more open space, an open platform for anyone interested in dancing and…having some fun with the music.”
The Bollywood dance initiative is busy preparing for a performance at the International Bazaar in the near future. This will give the campus an opportunity to see a Bollywood dance choreographed by Agrawal. Still, Agrawal stressed the importance of community and mutual contribution: “[The project] starts out as a personal initiative, but I don’t think I’m the only one who’s in charge of it. I can’t teach without [the group] being there or them coming with their energy.”