Bollywood dance, born in India, is one of country’s most well-known dance forms. It has been featured in countless Bollywood films and gained international attention when it was featured on TV shows, like So You Think You Can Dance and Britain’s Got Talent – and sitcoms such as New Girl and Rules of Engagement.

Our online dance club members voted to learn this fun dance style, so we invited Ayesha Khanna of Bollywood Funk NYC to lead a class and teach us about the cultural dance.

women sitting on the floor in an Indian dance class
Students are seated, but dancing, at this Bollywood Funk NYC class.

Ayesha Khanna & Bollywood Funk NYC

Bollywood dancer and choreographer Ayesha Khanna began dancing at the age of four in India’s capital city, where she grew up. Here, she studied classical Kathak dance under the tutelage of Pundit Birju Maharaj and Smt. Shovana Narayan – and studied acting under Amal Allana, the Chairperson of the National School of Drama in New Delhi.

Ayesha moved to the USA as an adult and founded Bollywood Funk NYC in 2007. The school offers both classes and performance opportunities, ‘bringing the vibes of modern Bollywood dance numbers in fusion with other styles to create truly unique dance sessions.’ The performance troupe received an invitation to audition for America’s Best Dance Crew by MTV and was invited to return with a ‘challenge call-back’. They have also performed at Madison Square Garden, Google NYC’s Diwali Gala and the New York International Film Festival.

Bollywood dancers from Bollywood Funk NYC perform on Madison Square Garden jumbotron
The Bollywood Funk NYC dance troupe can be seen on a jumbotron, where they’re performing at Madison Square Garden.

Bollywood Funk NYC Online Class

Introduction to Bollywood Dance

Before we started the choreography, Ayesha explained that Bollywood dancing comes from “Bollywood” – the Hindi film industry that is based in Mumbai, India. Bollywood studios produce family-friendly romance, drama and action movies that feature music paired with Bollywood dance.

Bollywood dance originated in India in the 20th century and continues to be a very popular dance genre. It even draws upon other dance styles. You can often find elements of classical Indian dances (such as Kathak and Bharatanatyam) and/or other Indian folk dances (like Bhangra and Garba).

However, Bollywood dance is not static – and it continues to evolve. It really began to diversify in the 1980s incorporating influences from other kinds of dance, too. For instance, Ayesha, uses her knowledge of contemporary dance to inform her choreography with Bollywood Funk NYC.

Other dances that regularly get thrown into the Bollywood dance fusion mix are popping, locking, jazz and belly dance. (However, there are plenty of other dance combinations, too.) This blossoming dance diversity could be one reason that Bollywood is becoming more common around the world.

Ayesha Khanna poses in downtown New York with her Bollywood Funk NYC dance troupe.
Bollywood Funk NYC founder, Ayesha Khanna, strikes a fun pose with her dance group in New York City.

3 Bollywood Dance Principles

Dance instructor Ayesha Khanna believes Bollywood dance is comprised of three main elements, all beginning with the letter ‘E’:

  1. Energy
  2. Expression
  3. Entertainment

And we examined the importance of each of principle throughout her beginning Bollywood workshop for the Dance Dispatches Social Club.

Learn more about Bollywood dance and representations in American media in our interview with Joya Kazi, who choreographed a Bollywood number in Mindy Kaling’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ series.

Bollywood Song & Story

We danced to the fabulously upbeat ‘Sadi Gali’ song by Lehmber Hussainpuri from the movie, ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ (which Ayesha enthusiastically envisions as a dance routine at the Oscars). To match the intensity of the music, we had to bring the first ‘E’: energy. The counts flew by quite quickly, and we had to stay on top of the choreography.

Ayesha also filled us in on the backstory because we needed to know and understand the character’s motivations to properly perform the movement. When you dance to a Bollywood song, you should embody the character, channeling and projecting his/ her personality and emotions. This sums up the second ‘E’: expression.

In this case, we assumed the triumphant role of the movie’s confident male hero, who is courting his love interest. To present ourselves as grounded and self-assured, we practiced moving with strong, direct qualities. Ayesha provided the perfect example of an inviting hombre – as well as fantastically funny examples of what not to do: shiftily creeping around and bashfully looking down at the ground.

She advised that we must first convince ourselves that we are the character – and once we accomplish that, others will believe it, too.

Bollywood dancers perform on a basketball court
The Bollywood Funk NYC dancers share an energetic performance with the audience at a basketball game.

Bollywood Choreography

Ayesha brought a super simple Bollywood dance combination to accommodate dancers of all levels (since new dancers are welcome to participate in our ladies’ dance club, too). It included the characteristic shoulder movements of Punjabi Bhangra, as well as a few jazzier moves. We repeated some sections and performed some phrases on both sides.

If you’d like to learn a bit of Bhangra – for free, join the Dance Passport Challenge, which will bring you on a global dance journey.

But we remained engaged with the fun choreography, dashing along to the up-tempo music – and following Ayesha’s suggestions to improve our physical dancing and artistic performance. We added to the basic steps, which she referred to as ‘exercise’, and dug deeper to entertain (the third and final Bollywood ‘E’ element).

We sought to connect – with the music, the story and potential audience members – and to reveal a slice of our best, genuine selves… even while dancing a fictional role.

Immersing ourselves in a modern fairy tale, accompanied by a little glam and glitz, was such a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Have you been curious about the BollyX online Bollywood dance workouts? Read our BollyX On Demand review.

Bollywood dancers in bright orange tops and gold pants pose in front of an outdoor stage
The ladies of Bollywood Funk NYC are all smiles at the Governors Ball Music Festival.

Bollywood Funk NYC Online Dance Class Summary

Physical intensity: 3 / 5 – We sure worked out our shoulders – and got our heart rate up at the end of class.

Most challenging moment: I can’t think of a specific moment or movement… However, remaining present during each moment of class was tricky – since I sometimes got lost in my thoughts, trying to recall the choreography.

Best moment: After my brain had a decent grasp on the movement, I loved repeatedly running through the combo – so invigorating!

Three words to describe class: Energetic, exciting, inviting.

Although Ayesha ran an exclusive class, just for our Dance Dispatches Social Club members, you can learn from her and other Bollywood Funk instructors via their #BFunkNYCDigital hub.

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