Bollywood dance studio shakes up fitness routines

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Isha Konda watches herself dance in a mirror at Bollywood Shake on Friday evening. Children’s classes are split up by age and last one hour each.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

In front of a wall of mirrors, about 15 people shake their hips and heads to the latest Bollywood songs, showing off the shoulder shake made popular by Bollywood/Hollywood fusion movies like “Bend It Like Beckham” and “Bride and Prejudice.” The dancers’ smiles sneak in after catching their breath in between dance moves that leave no limb behind. When the instructor laughs and calls out, “time to shake it,” it becomes clear that the Bollywood Shake dance studio’s workout class isn’t the average gym’s dance class.

Inspired by the popularity of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” UT alumna Ruchika Dias, 35, opened the Bollywood Shake studio in July of 2009. Dias, who started dancing when she was three years old, learned traditional Indian dance while growing up in India. In college, Dias joined Indian dance troupes, embracing more modern styles of dance like hip-hop and jazz, blurring the lines between dance genres.

In 2009, Dias held her first Bollywood dance workshop in Austin, which incorporated a mixture of dance moves that reflected traditional Indian, hip-hop and jazz dance genres.

“I was surprised when about 50 people signed up for the workshop and realized there was a demand for this style of dance class, so I started renting out dance studios by the hour to do two classes a week after that,” Dias said.

Graduating from two classes a week to 20-25 classes a week, Bollywood Shake has established itself in both the dance and fitness scenes in Austin. Located on Anderson Mill Road, Dias is proud to have a studio to call her own, where the studio’s five instructors can lead high-energy classes.

Dias recommends the beginner class to those looking to try out Bollywood dance for the first time and the workout class to those hoping to shake up their fitness routines with high-energy cardio and muscle conditioning. Class sizes range from six to 15, with one instructor per class leading the dance routines.

Siva Papineni, a workout class attendee, said she takes the class with friends. “The atmosphere is good motivation for working out, and when the music comes on, troubles go away for an hour,” Papineni said.

Kira Koppel, another class attendee, said the classes at Bollywood Shake are the first dance classes she’s taken.

“I love that Bollywood dance is completely involved, from your eyes to your feet. You learn to move every part of your body,” Koppel said.

Instructor-in-training Sereena John sees the Bollywood dance style as a good way to get into dance. “Bollywood dance is fun and new, but it teaches you things you see in other dance styles, too,” she said.

Dias and the studio’s instructors draw inspiration for class dance routines from Bollywood cult favorites to the latest soundtracks. Indian composer and singer-songwriter A.R. Rahman is a favorite at Bollywood Shake. Rahman, nicknamed the Mozart of Madras, composed “Slumdog Millionaire” and more than 100 other films. Dias also notes Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit, who has appeared in over 40 films, as another source of inspiration.

“I think the fascination with Bollywood is more than the clothes and music; it’s seen as an experience, a cultural phenomenon,” Dias said.

With its pulsating beats and emphasis on Indian drums like the tabla, a Bollywood film’s music is considered just as important as the plot. Like a flash mob, Bollywood films are bombarded with unexpected and grandiose dance numbers, from the tops of trains to the middle of streets. The highly percussive nature of Bollywood music lends itself well to the genre’s quintessential shaking and sauntering dance moves.

Dias is opening another Bollywood Shake studio in Houston this spring and leaving the Austin branch in the hands of her Austin-area business partner, Shruti Anand, who shares Dias’ love for Madhuri Dixit and background in traditional Indian dance.

“I like the mix of dance styles that Bollywood has to offer. I’m looking forward to running the Austin studio and continuing to grow the company,” Anand said.

Dias said she’s always looking for instructors to teach classes and encourages dancers of all backgrounds to apply and audition.

From hip bouncing to hair flipping, Bollywood Shake mixes Indian and American dance genres, creating a cultural melting pot that simmers as much as the dance moves do.