BEIRUT: The drag of evening traffic pushed its way homeward six floors below the glass-walled dance studio. Inside, the twang of an Indian sitar bounced off the walls of the L-shaped room overlooking Verdun’s shopping hub.
While most of the surrounding neighborhood prepared to break their daylong fast, Devaki Erande and her class hopped, spun and clapped to one of the most beloved songs in modern Indian film.
Erande was teaching the steps to “Kajra Re” – a high-energy song that featured in a popular Indian film – at her weekly Bollywood dance class. Hers was one of several ongoing Bollywood and Bollywood-inspired classes taught around the city, which have gained a following for their liveliness and aerobic benefits.
“This refers to the kohl women put under their eyes,” Devaste said, wiggling her pinky finger under her eye while swaying to the music.
Like most Bollywood numbers, Kajra Re is a fusion of Indian folk music with modern, Western beats like jazz or hip hop. A highly dramatized dance is performed in the 2005 film “Bunty Aur Babli” in a crowded bar, where a love triangle plays out among green-eyed sweetheart actress Aishwarya Rai and actors Abhishek and Amitabh Bachchan.
Once Rai’s seductive cameo wraps up, the movie returns to its plot line. In the studio, the song was played on repeat for 40 minutes as four young women attempted to learn shuffles, stylized hand movements, turns and shoulder shimmies.
One of the class members, Nohade Kassab, compared the style of dance to belly dance. Some of the common elements of Bollywood dance include midriff-bearing, spangly outfits and lots of hip movements.
“It’s similar to belly dancing, it’s not like learning Latino dance,” Kassab said. “The most important thing is to have fun.”
At many points class members could not keep up with the steps, but that didn’t stop them from joining in with improvised movements of their own. In the last 10 minutes, the class spiraled into a Bollywood free-for-all.
“It doesn’t bind you to any rules. All these songs take place at festivals,” Erande said. “People of all ages dance to them.”
Erande grew up in Pune, a city outside of Mumbai, learning classical Indian dance and watching Bollywood movies. She moved to Beirut just over six months ago to work for an international organization. After four years of living outside of India in France, Erande said she wanted to create a little piece of home by bringing Bollywood dance and music to Beirutis.
Another Bollywood teacher in Beirut will kick things up a notch from Erande’s laid-back classes with a structured, three-week workshop starting Monday. Rozina Gilani, an American of Indian descent, devoted her life to dance, specifically classical and folk Indian dance. Gilani is now freelancing in Beirut, teaching dance, and working in choreography with another dancer in the city.
Gilani taught the workshop last year and said she planned to focus on the dance in all its forms, including classical fusion – based on the ancient Indian art form – and the more boisterous, folk-inspired dance.
Some of Gilani’s Lebanese students seek out her classes to learn more about Indian culture, she said. “The yogis come with a cultural interest,” she said, referring to the large number of yoga enthusiasts taking her classes.
Others come with an interest in the aerobic benefits of Bollywood dance. At Contours fitness gym, Gilani teaches Bollywood workout classes akin to Zumba.
“The wonderful thing about Bollywood is that it has so much storytelling [that] it can really look intimidating. But the students who have tried it for the first time have really enjoyed it.
Erande teaches at Soul Spa in Verdun every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. For more info, contact Soul Spa at 01–353-286. Gilani’s workshop starts Monday. For more info, visit her Facebook page at facebook.com/NatyaBeirut. For Bollywood fitness classes, contact Contours at 01-361-520.