Q&A: Mala Jani and Gayatri Mahadevan, Partners in the Nritya Masala Dance School

Partners in the Nritya Masala dance school, Mala Jani (pictured in back) and Gayatri Mahadevan (front) teach Bollywood dance classes for adults and kids at Broadway Academy of Performing Arts (Tuesdays) and Revolution Dance (Saturdays).

What do you mean by Bollywood dance?

Mahadevan: Bollywood dance is the equivalent of theater dancing. It is all about drama and emotions. Bollywood music can be of different genres varying from traditional Indian music and folk music to hip hop, pop, and jazz. So Bollywood dancing is a melting pot of all these different styles of dance.

Where did you learn to dance?

Mahadevan: I started off my dance journey when I learned Indian classical dance, called Bharatanatyam, in Chennai, India. I learned and performed as a part of the Abhinaya school of dance.

Jani: I started learning dance professionally when I was a kid, but with my dad being in a government job we got transferred quite often. At one point I could no longer continue to depend on classes. Then on it was all on my own—and of course Bollywood movies!

Are you a fan of Bollywood movies? Do you have favorites?

Mahadevan: Of course! We are always caught up with the latest movies and songs.

Jani: Yes. For me it’s a big stress reliever. My favorite actors are Anil Kapoor and Amitabh Bachaan, favorite actress is Anushka Sharma. Favorite musical: Devdas. And dancer, Evergreen Madhuri Dixit.

How did you two meet?

Mahadevan: We kept running into each other at different places in K-town, so we got to talking and realized we shared a common passion for dance, Bollywood style!

How did your family here react to the idea? Friends and family in India?

Mahadevan: Family and friends in India are really supportive and excited for us.

Jani: My husband has always been very supportive with all my ideas and passions especially when I am doing something I love. My parents back in India are extremely happy to see me follow my passion.

Is the music in English?

Mahadevan: The music is in Hindi, which is the most widely spoken language. But the interesting thing is that most Bollywood songs have some English words sprinkled in them because there is a lot of Western influence in the Bollywood culture. Whatever it is, we always explain the lyrics in the song!

Do you have any formal teaching or dance experience?

Mahadevan: Yes, I’m a certified Indian classical (Bharatanatyam) dancer. I started teaching back in 2002 in India and continued to do so after I moved to America. I’ve also learned and taught hip hop and salsa at the Swingers dance studio in Bangalore, India. And I’m a certified Zumba instructor.

Do you have kids who dance? Husbands?

Mahadevan: Our kids love dancing with us. They are part of our “little kids” class on Fridays.

Jani: My 5-year-old loves Bollywood dancing. While I cook, she and her dad have father-daughter Bollywood dance sessions.

Is there anything Knoxville-Americans find tough about Bollywood dance?

Mahadevan: I don’t think so. Since Bollywood dancing draws from different styles of dance, it is as hard or easy as picking up any new dance.

Does anything funny ever happen in class?

Mahadevan: We always have fun in our classes! We keep a casual vibe in our class. We laugh a lot!

Jani: We love to laugh, so yes while teaching Latkas, Jatakas, and Thumkas (Bollywood-specific hip and shoulder actions), we try to explain it in a fun way.

For more information, “Nritya Masala” can be found on Facebook; or e-mail Jani at mala_rajgor@yahoo.com or Mahadevan at gayatri.kartik@gmail.com.

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