Rabia Mir is a Bollywood dancer, teacher, and choreographer with experience in all aspects of this popular dance genre. Specializing in this one type of dance, Rabia has made a career out of teaching her art to others.
Spotlight on Rabia Mir
LoveToKnow (LTK): What is your dance experience and training, and what do you currently do in the dance world?
Rabia Mir (RM): "What is your training" is the most popular question I get after I perform, or after my students perform. Before I teach/perform, few people care what my background is. In their eyes, as long as I do a decent dance and their kids have fun, the audience is happy. I get the question the most after performances because people are always amazed by my grace. My answer never fails to shock the audience: "none."
I had no training in another dance genre! I didn't attend classical dance classes or train with gurus or attend dance camps like other instructors around me. I truly just have a love for dance. I started as a young girl dancing in my room and copying moves from Bollywood movies. I joined a dance team in high school and performed at almost every family event with friends. My friends taught me their moves and I taught them mine. I became famous in my community for my dancing skills.
I auditioned to teach at a Bollywood dancing school and was accepted. I taught there for 5 years, but even after I quit, many parents left the school and followed me and asked me to teach their kids privately. In college, I was accepted on one of George Washington University's South Asian dance teams and competed nationally, where I further refined my skills. I now only teach privately and have a regular stream of income through people interested in learning dances for functions. I do not advertise at all. I operate merely on word-of-mouth, as most in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area know of my name.
Bollywood Dance and Instruction
LTK: What are the elements of Bollywood dancing?
RM: Bollywood dancing involves a lot of hand moving and hip shaking. Footwork tends to be more basic. Because Bollywood dancing is usually acting out a story (the words of the song), more emphasis is put on the hands. Experienced dancers also make facial expressions and may even have some moves with their head and neck. Bollywood songs tend to have a chorus, which is usually when the same moves are repeated. Otherwise, most other moves are quite different throughout the song. Bollywood dancing can be done in a group or alone. There are traditional styles and more contemporary styles that incorporate hip hop, middle eastern, and other styles of dance moves. As Bollywood songs become more contemporary, so do the moves.
LTK: Where can you learn Bollywood dancing?
RM: You can YouTube it and practice alongside dancers online. This is a fun way to learn because not only do you learn the Bollywood style, but also the dance moves that you have seen and loved in movies from the genre. Excellent dance scenes like Dola Re Dola from the movie Devdas show close ups of fantastic dancing, both in style and in steps. If you watch scenes like this over and over again, you will pick up not only the moves, but also learn the rhythms that are common in Bollywood dancing. Select single moves from the video and break them down. Of course, this is easier for experienced dancers to do than complete beginners, but even for beginners this can work well if you take the time to watch carefully and repeat viewings. Try to learn a few basic steps, either online or in a class to help you decipher these famous dance scenes.
You can also search for local classes. There are many available on the East Coast, as well as in California. Look for classes not only at dance studios, but also at universities, cultural and artistic centers, and even at fitness establishments. Many gyms also have Bollywood Aerobics now, which is not strictly dancing, but incorporates elements that will be used in Bollywood dancing. Some gyms may have instructors that are more experienced with Bollywood dancing than others.
LTK: What kind of movements do you have to learn and perfect?
RM: Once you get one or two moves for footwork down, the hands are quite simple to learn. Most routines are quite repetitive, which has the result that the audience continues to watch in awe while the dancers are simply repeating moves they have already performed a few times. Bollywood is very graceful dancing so it's just a matter of looking smooth as opposed to sloppy. This genre is actually one that looks harder than it is! Once the moves are broken down, anyone can learn. Even my 3 year old students learn some routines within an hour.
LTK: What is the role of costuming and props in Bollywood dance?
RM: Costuming and props fit the story and the scene. If the song is in the rain, the props will be umbrellas and the clothes will be wet. This is part of the appeal of Bollywood: you get a sort of transparent simplicity that is joyful. In some ways it is like the earliest movie musicals from Hollywood because the singers and dancers burst into song at some surprising moments.
Color is also important. You'll see great amounts of bright colors in the beautiful costuming that usually goes with Bollywood dancing.
LTK: How is Bollywood different and alike for male and female dancers?
RM: There are different moves for males and females even though some of the steps are the same. The styling is different based on the gender of the dancer; for example males don't shake their hips as much female dancers do, and their hand gestures don't have to be as graceful.
LTK: What kinds of music are good for beginning learners?
RM: I would recommend starting off with a slow song. Or, some people prefer to learn classical Bollywood dance first, which is a bit harder than the more modern style that goes along with most of the recent pop Bollywood songs. Using free music downloads is a good way to find the right music without a big investment.
LTK: How authentic is the Bollywood dancing we see in movies?
RM: Everyone differs on what they see as authentic Bollywood dancing. There are many different styles and there is little agreement about what is the most authentic one. The key is to have high quality dancing that matches the moment and the music.
LTK: Why do you love Bollywood dancing?
RM: It's great exercise and an extremely elegant form of dancing! Different dance styles appeal to different people, but I've just had an immediate click with Bollywood since the very first time. Whenever I dance, I enjoy it - it's never work to me!
Whether you are a complete newcomer or an avid fan of Bollywood dancing, the best place to start is with a private lesson or a class, if you can find something in your local area. In the meantime, keep enjoying all of the fantastic Bollywood movies that feature rhythmic and stylized dance scenes to delight your senses.