Dancing Bollywood in Nablus

When I told my students that next week I would be teaching them a Bollywood dance, a squeal of excitement went through the room—from the girls, but also surprisingly from my college-age volunteers!  Last Thursday, I  taught a dance to the song “Kajra re” from the Bollywood hit Bunty aur Babli. At the front of the class, I suddenly realized I had never taught a dance before!  I hoped that I would be able to explain what I was doing, given that I was giving instructions through a translator.  I demonstrated the dance to my students, and they were obviously excited.  But first, I told them about the basics:  “Did I look sad, or happy?  Have you ever seen a Bollywood actress look sad while she was dancing?”  “NO!” they said emphatically.  “Right, so the most important thing to remember is to smile!  Even if you make a mistake, make it with a smile on your face and no one will notice,” I reassured them.  Then I asked, “Did I look scared, or did I look brave?”  They unanimously agreed that I looked brave and confident dancing.  I stressed that Bollywood dancers are not shy, and that they should move with confidence, even if they are unsure of what they are doing.  Finally, I asked, “What is the most important part of your body in Bollywood dancing?  Your hips!”  A whole lot of hip-shaking commenced, practicing for what was to come.

With the basics down, I started teaching them the steps.  I broke down moves into smaller pieces—first, just the arms, then adding the legs.  We learned short sections, put them together with other sections, practiced without the music and then added the music, and utilized many other strategies for learning dance.  I quickly found that it is much easier to count beats in English than in Arabic—the multi-syllabled Arabic numbers (“wahad, ithnen, thalatha!”) are a mouthful and even my students chose to count in English.

Through sheer determination, we got through the entire minute and a half of choreography, and had enough time at the end of class to do the dance together as a group several times with the music.  After I heard the bell ring and dismissed class, there was a hum of excitement and activity in the room that seemed to defy the Thursday afternoon exhaustion that usually sets in.  My students wanted to know where they could find the “Kajra re” song, and my volunteers, normally in a hurry to get home before dark, stayed late to take photos and tell me how much they enjoyed learning the dance.  It was a great way to finish the course—with only one week left, we have built the level of trust, comfort, and self-confidence needed to jump into a hip-shaking Bollywood routine and for everyone in the room to commit to learning it 100%.  As I put the chairs and tables back after everyone left, I thought about how it would have been nearly impossible to get my students to dance in front of each other in one of our first class sessions—and today they eagerly undertook it with such a lack of self-consciousness that it made me proud to see how far we have come.  And now that I have seen how much Nabulsis love Bollywood, I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should have a full-term Bollywood dance course for TYO youth!  Hmm…

- Ashwini

Ashwini is an intern at TYO Nablus.