Why “Soch” ?

Posted in Dance, Shows on March 17, 2014 by Mona Khan Company

ImageWhy organize a show with such limited seating, with no production, simple costuming and makeup, in a small venue? Why “Soch” ?

We love the scale & grandeur of our showcases. But it was time to do something different. Something raw and gritty. Something which was just about pure dance. Something where we wanted to say something. Something about strength and vulnerability, destructive relationships and rape, about love and loss, about beauty and pain.

An intimate setting where the audiences can hear the breath of the dancers, where there is no proscenium to divide the performers and those who watch them, where the audiences are almost part of the performance.

For those who have seen our shows in the past this will be something vastly different. Even the works that they have seen before will be transformed, just by existing in this space. For the performers, it is the challenge of performing in a small space, of having the audience so close that you can reach out and touch them, and of finding truth and honesty in their performance.

Photographer: Rob Kunkle

Photographer: Rob Kunkle

We are excited about “Soch.” We are nervous about “Soch.” It is something unlike anything we have ever done. It is an experiment. It is an attempt to break the barrier between art and entertainment. To present the dances as is, without any embellishments, any enhancements. There are no vibrant backdrops, no larger than life sets, no dramatic costumes. It is just about those few singular moments captured through dance. The emotions of the dancers, the visions of the choreographers, the intent of the dance works.

Photographer: Rob Fadtke

Photographer: Rob Fadtke

“Soch” is raw and vulnerable, it is an attempt to engage with reality, question certain ideas and dance not just with our bodies, but our very minds and souls.

A 320 Degree View of America’s Got Bollywood (Fall 2013)

Posted in Dance with tags , , , , on December 3, 2013 by phiroozeh

Everything I thought I would write for this blog piece fell out the window and scattered about the 880 freeway as I drove home from Technical Rehearsal the day before the Fall Showcase. I’d planned to write about the company dancers, had been shadowing them for months, but that day at Tech, it really hit me: the Mona Khan Company Showcase is, above all, a group effort.

More than that, it’s a family affair. We’re all part of the family, whether we’re dancers, instructors, choreographer, volunteers, or audience members. We all have a specific role, a role that is essential to the overall running of the show, but the thing is, we’re all so focused on this role, we have no time to see what the others in our family are up to. Dancers practice their steps up to the last minute, mumbling under their breath, “O Radha teri hmmm-hmmm, o Radha, tera hmmm-hmmm,” volunteers seat students and audience members, first time parents reluctantly release their children to us, craning their necks across the auditorium to see if their precious bundle is okay, hungry, thirsty, alive, then bawl their eyes out when they see their children onstage for the first time.

As a long-time volunteer, I’ve seen it all, set up, take down, audience seating, backstage affairs, pre-and post-production. It only makes me even more incredulous of the incredible complexity of this bi-annual Bollywood extravaganza and it was this, this 360 degree view, that I knew I had to capture.

Because MKC is as open-minded as they get (how else can you incorporate Afro-Jazz and Acro-Yoga into a Bollywood showcase? Who else would think to Flamenco to “Jaati Hoon Main”?), I was able to approach them – at 8 am on showcase morning- and after letting me babble on about my half-formed idea, they simply gave me their blessing and sent me on my way.

Note: When I say 360 degrees, its’ not exactly accurate. Below is a 320 degree view of showcase. It does not capture the months of costume, choreo, and logistical preparations, the weeks of five hour rehearsals the company dancers put in beforehand, the endless work Mona, Chitra, and Amrita do. What you see below, while in-depth, is the final product of months of hard work and preparation.

All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

8 am:

Women in the company troupe arrive at 7 am for hair and makeup. Men arrive at 10.

The dressing room is buzzing with activity and energy. The company women have been here since 7 for hair and makeup. Men will arrive at 10.

Even at 7 am, they can look this happy.

Even at 8 am, they can look this happy.

Top secret info: 8 am, somewhere in the back of the auditorium, hunched over in the green hoodie is Amrita, glue-gunning what appears to be a last minute inspiration to the disco number outfit we see near the end of the show. Mandatory? No. But it's just this sort of attention to detail that makes her the company's  creative director, and that allows us, the audience, a visual feast when the dancers take the stage.

Top secret info: 8:15 am, somewhere in the back of the auditorium, hunched over in the green hoodie is Amrita, with an assistant, glue-gunning what appears to be a last minute inspiration to be added to a costume. Mandatory? No. But it’s just this sort of attention to detail that makes her the company’s Creative Director and Co-Founder, and that allows us, the audience, a visual feast when the dancers take the stage.

Meanwhile, out in the auditorium, Mona, Chitra, and Shobhana check final details. Only they, true Bollywood insiders, know what the green screen means.

Meanwhile, out in the auditorium, Mona, Chitra, and Shobana check details of a laser light setup.

The only way to move 1000+ students in and out of one space three times in one day is by having the organization of a NASA engineer.

The only way to move 1000+ students in and out of one space three times in one day is by having the organization of a NASA engineer.

8 am: Jayesh Patel, the company's videographer extraordinaire, sets up.

Jayesh, the company’s videographer extraordinaire, sets up.

Because sub-Saharan Africa doesn't create itself...

Because sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t create itself…

Quick check in.

8:30 am: Quick huddle for company Founder and Artistic Director, Mona (R),  and Operations Director, Chitra (L), always conferring, always touching base. (Sadly, this picture comes so close but doesn’t quite answer to the question we asked before the show, “Who is Mona?”. She remains a mysterious genius.)

9 am: Chabot Theater and MKC staff have a final tech talk.

9 am: Chabot Theater and MKC staff have a final tech talk.

9 am: Volunteer lead Surya organizes his team

9 am: Volunteer Lead, Surya, organizes his team…

While his partner, Lipica, checks her notes before dispatching the 40 + volunteers.

While his co-lead, Lipica, checks her notes before dispatching the 45 volunteers.

The Chabot College Theater team, with us from the beginning, helps to keep things running smoothly.

The Chabot College theater team, with us from the beginning, helps to keep things running smoothly.

Because this mass of performers- children and adult- and audience members- family and friends- needs organizing,

As students aged 3-80 + arrive, so do their family and friends. Over the years, MKC has figured out how to get everyone where they need to be on time- because this Bollywood show is authentic in every way except that it does not run on IST.

Volunteers help get people where they need to go…

one way

or another.

or another.

When you’re a volunteer,

When you're a volunteer, there's so much to do,

there’s so much to do,

to organize,

to organize,

to smile about.

to smile about,

outside or backstage.

whether outside or backstage.

9:30: Outside the auditorium, the excitement builds

Outside the auditorium, the excitement builds,

as students, fully costumed, fully excited, find their friends.

From here on in, it’s nothing but smiles.

IMG_0859 IMG_0864

and maybe a quick student-teacher conference.

Students line up...

Students line up…

and check in.

and check in.

Move over Shah Rukh.

Move over Shah Rukh.

Never dance on an empty stomach.

Merchandise co-ordinator, Janani, usually sells out much of the company apparel by Technical Rehearsals and does her best on showcase day.  Still, for weeks afterwards, moans of disappointment ring in her ears, and a trail of obsessed fans follows her around asking, “Do you still have this one? Do you still have that one?”.

Top Secret Info #2:  this isn’t a casual-stroll-in-a-farmer’s-market-and-oh-maybe-I’ll- buy-this-hemp-bracelet style window shopping, this is a Black-Friday-level-strategize-in-advance-know-what-you-want-and-get-there-on-day-one style mission.

Ready,

Ready,

steady,

steady,

Po!

Po!

Inside the auditorium, classes are seated together…

IMG_1296 IMG_1297 IMG_1298

and the anticipation builds.

IMG_1299 IMG_1304 IMG_1305

Master Bombay Jam Trainer, Janani, entertains the crowd before the show.

The only time in history Janani fails at a dance-related task: trying to dance badly.

The only time in history Janani fails at a dance-related task: trying to dance badly.

As the show begins, classes are escorted one by one backstage to the green room, where any number of things take place:

Bacha Party, aged 3-5, come in a certain way (adult choo-choo train is optional).

Bacha Party, aged 3-5, come in safe and sound (for adults, choo-choo train is optional).

Last minute adjustments are made,

last minute adjustments are made,

tension is released,

instructors joke with their class to release tension.

IMG_1062

and succeed.

Encouragement is given,

Encouragement is given,

dance steps are revised,

dance steps are revised,

by one

by one

and all,

and all,

and very important details are secured.

and very important details are secured.

Can you tell how they feel about the loud music?

The music’s a little loud backstage.

Chinmay Express: proving one  man can do it all, company dancer, guest star in Montre's class, Shobhana's master men's class...all in a day's work.

Chinmay Express: proving one man can do it all. This guy was a company dancer, assistant instructor and guest star in Montre’s class, and danced in the Milpitas Adults Master Class.

If you’re an old pro at this dancing thing, you can spend your time in the green room chilling

like these Jeena parents.

like these Jeena parents,

or you could...

or you could…

and there's always...

and there’s always…

Before taking the stage, you must

But you must always

always

always

always

always stretch before performing.

always stretch.

Top Secret Info # 3: Look at these pretty payals peeking out from beneath a company dancer's outfit- Amrita and her love of details strikes again.

Top Secret Info # 3: Look at these pretty payal peeking out from beneath a company dancer’s outfit- Amrita and her love of details strikes again.

Before you know it, it’s time.

and curtain!

A lot happens in the wings:

IMG_1152 IMG_1175 IMG_1196

As one group performs, the next waits in the wings, just off stage. These students are anxious about their own upcoming performance, but are also eager to watch the show from a different angle…

IMG_1148 IMG_1259 IMG_0987

IMG_1176 IMG_1126 IMG_1022

MKC instructor, Rekha, watches her students from a monitor.

MKC instructor, Rekha, watches her students on a backstage monitor.

Company dancers, moments before going onstage.

Company dancers, moments before going onstage.

Company legend, ___, awaits his cue.

Dancing since birth (or so it seems), the ever-ready Akhil awaits his cue.

It takes a lot of people to get the Bacha Party ready to  perform (right before we all melt in our seats from the performance choreographed by instructor, Prapti, and assistant, Shivali).

IMG_0948

but it’s worth it.

IMG_0975 IMG_0955

MKC kids are too cute, especially in Heena's cavity-inducing costume choices.

Seriously? Student costume manager,Heena’s choices are always cavity-inducing.

Bacha Emerging Performers have a full day, with three shows in one day, filled with quick costume changes,

IMG_0964

and a little down time (parents, don’t worry, the iPad came out after the homework was completed).

IMG_1101 IMG_1106

Yeh dosti: you form strong ties at of MKC, making friends who will do anything for you.

Yeh dosti: you form strong ties at of MKC, making friends who will do anything for you.

___ helps out the Bacha Emerging Performers.

BEP parent, Brad, is happy to help.

The best part of any show is this moment: students come off the stage, adrenalin still pumping from the high of performing, applause ringing in their ears, and are greeted by their ecstatic instructor for a quick celebration before returning to their seats.

IMG_1203 IMG_1202 IMG_1199

Same goes for company performers, seen here analyzing their performance with hip hop choreographer, Shannon.

Before you know it, it’s all over, three shows in one day, and you’re taking your final bow.

IMG_1364

You’re still pumped from  performing,

IMG_1383IMG_1391

happy at a job well done 

IMG_1288 IMG_1289

and a little sad that it’s all over.

IMG_1388

IMG_1390

(psssst: it’s Mona, look quick before it’s too late, now shhhhh….top secret)

Flowers for all.

IMG_1419 IMG_1406IMG_1418

and just one more picture.

IMG_1411

10 pm and some of us are still working.

IMG_1412IMG_1426

IMG_1405

Anyone lose a monkey?

10:15 pm: We’re finally going home…

IMG_1417

10:30 pm: Most of us anyway. 

IMG_1397

It’s never too late to shop…

IMG_1421

or too dark.

10:45 pm: countdown to next showcase begins.

IMG_0928

Phiroozeh Romer is a writer, Bombay Jam instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at phiroozeh.blogspot.com

FB pic

Living and Loving Dance, the Mona Khan Company way!

Posted in Dance on November 7, 2013 by reemakakaday
The Mona Khan Company Principal Emerging Performers in "Divalicious." Photographer: Sanjeev Manucha

The Mona Khan Company Principal Emerging Performers in “Divalicious.”

As I emerged from the dark wings backstage into an abundance of bright light, I heard cheers from the sea of wide-eyed audience members in front of me. My adrenaline shot up higher than the sound of the music bouncing off the walls of the sold-out show. Around me, dancers swarmed into position and we finally let three months of our non-stop hard work pay off in a mind-blowing performance. It was then, during my very first show, that I realized that I had never felt anything more powerful. All of a sudden, I was someone new, portraying a confidence that I have never felt in my own skin. Yet, I couldn’t have felt more comfortable. I was surrounded by people who had a passion for the same thing I did, and who fueled me to become a better dancer and better person.

Although I have been dancing all my life, these past several years in Mona Khan Company have given me countless life lessons and skills that have helped me evolve both in and outside the studio.

I have had experiences in a couple of different dance studios in my life, and no where have I found a company so full ofP1020807 passionate people who not only care about dancing, but who insist on perfecting every aspect of technique and performance to truly further their talents. This quality is present in every single dancer in the company, and it is what makes us connect so easily. We are all avid fans of our art form; we can be seen rehearsing pieces in the middle of studying, replacing walking with dancing, and humming to the latest song we learned in rehearsal. Dance is a visceral part of us, and it is what motivates us to work together to make the company even more successful. Every rehearsal, no matter how long and tiring, is a joy for each dancer; it is a chance to express ourselves and develop our passion even more.

Behind the show-stopping performances and intricate choreography, there is a family that forms from the blood, sweat, and tears shared in every endless rehearsal.  We are a family that stems from all walks of life: students balancing school with various extra curricular activities, adults managing work and married lives, and kids in elementary school bouncing off the walls with energy.

418228_368028939935368_913130616_n

Junior Emerging Performer Rohit Sudhir in “Hip Hop Nation.”

We have committed people like Archana Ganesan, who has a full-time job and is married, but still comes back every showcase for the family-like bond she feels with her fellow dancers, and for the dedication she has to improving her technique. We are composed of passionate dancers like Rohit Sudhir, who has been performing for years just for the exhilaration of being on stage and expressing his inner happiness. We are a home to loyal individuals like Anya Mathur, who has been dancing with Mona Khan Company since she was five years old because of the inspiration she finds in other dancers, and for the unbreakable bond she has made with life-long friends in the Emerging Performers program.

The diversity in the company also brings to the table a wide set of talents. There are dancers I have met who have been Classically trained all their lives, and others who specialize in Hip Hop or Jazz. We are not just a Bollywood company. In fact, what makes us so unique is our fearlessness in approaching different styles of dance like Contemporary, Acro-yoga, Afro-jazz, Michael Jackson, and more. This variety of dance styles, combined with a team of passionate and dedicated individuals, is what truly makes the backbone of the company so resilient and revolutionary.

Principal Emerging Performers in "Tere Bin."

Principal Emerging Performers in “Tere Bin.”

That backbone pushes us to train harder, rehearse longer, and learn further, which propels the acts you see in the shows to new heights.

What keeps all of us coming back is not just the passion that connects us; it is support and enthusiasm we offer each other despite any circumstance. It’s the smile we give each other across the stage in the midst of a dance routine. It’s the dupattas we pin, the skirts we velcro, the hair we poof, and the classes we teach to shine on stage. In Mona Khan Company, we learn the importance of teamwork, understanding, communication, and reliance. Without each other’s help, we would not be able to pull off shows or make choreography look effortless. Every rehearsal, we are given something new for us to breathe life into, and it is our responsibility as a team to work together to make it as successful as possible.

415441_10150933807705522_603850521_11938642_373512643_oMona Khan Company is truly a home for those who are passionate not only about dance, but teamwork, fun, and dedication. This company provides for us a palette of talent that runs the gamut, and allows us to dip our brush into numerous forms of dance, culminating into an extraordinary experience for anyone who steps foot in the Mona Khan Company studio.

 

 

Written by Reema Kakaday.

 

The Art of Collaboration

Posted in Dance, Shows on October 15, 2013 by Mona Khan Company

Collaboration. It is beautiful, exciting and exhausting. There are already so many logistics to deal with within the company

Emeryville Taiko drummers featured in "America's got Bollywood," Spring Showcase 2013

Emeryville Taiko drummers featured in “America’s got Bollywood,” Spring Showcase 2013

so why encourage collaboration even though it requires tremendous coordination, more people who need to be on the same page, extra time and a lot more effort? Because there is something so very unique and extremely special that comes out of the interaction of several visions.

At Mona Khan Company, we are constantly working with guest instructors, guest choreographers, musicians and production artists, besides the people who consist of the company team. Each person brings his or her individual ideas. Whether it is Holly Johnston’s Contemporary Dance workshop that forces you to re-evaluate how you perceive dance and social behavior, or Shannon Hanly’s choreography that pushes you beyond your physical limits, you glean something new from these diverse perspectives.

"The Kingdom of Pop" choreographed by Shannon Hanly, "America's Got Bollywood", Spring Showcase 2013

“The Kingdom of Pop” choreographed by Shannon Hanly, “America’s Got Bollywood”, Spring Showcase 2013

From that moment where we, as part of the Mona Khan Company creative team, start brain-storming over endless cups of chai, to the end result where various artists re-interpret our original thoughts, something amazing happens, where the idea takes a life of its own. It transforms and flourishes. So from that initial germ of thought you have this piece of art, that has been shaped by so many creative minds.

Partner Yoga Workshop

Partner Yoga Workshop

The other aspect of collaboration that is truly wonderful is the fact that you can learn from one another, different ways of working and perceiving, of creating and problem-solving. Yes, there are conflicts of ideas, crazy schedules that refuse to match up and the stress of bringing together so many artists in one space. But in the end, it all makes sense! When we watch the show coming together, all we can say is “that’s why!”

This showcase the Mona Khan Company team is truly excited to work with guest choreographers Shannon Hanly & Jeanette Male, Partner Yoga teachers Vidya & Keoni, live musicians and new production artists to create magic on stage in “America’s Got Bollywood“, Fall Showcase 2013. Come experience the art of collaboration!

Bollywood Ka Safar: A Search for Satisfaction

Posted in Dance on July 31, 2013 by phiroozeh

Bollywood-Collage-1-bollywood-27256730-1066-846There was once a little girl named Phiroozeh who loved Hindi films. On weekends, she would snuggle close to her nani nana in their air-conditioned room and get lost in a world where Aamir sang to his college friends that his father always said he’d make it big one day, where Salman played the saxophone to convince Bhagyashree to say those three small words, where Sridevi sang Hawa Hawaii with big-big eyes to a roomful of sketchy goondas, wearing increasingly garish outfits (beginning with gold lamé and ending with sequined zebra print) which, one assumes, she hoped would kill Mogambo in case Mr. India couldn’t. One day, little Phiroozeh was taken to Canada where these movies were ridiculed by her new friends and so she put it away, this love, into the back of her heart.

Over the years, Bollywood came to the West; movie theaters began to show blockbusters and Phi, as she was now known, began listening to the music on her Walkman in secret, humming along under her breath. “Joote do paise lo,” she would sing, dancing in the car when she thought no one was looking because you can never listen to that music without wanting to dance.

And then suddenly, Bollywood was everywhere. Thus began Phi’s journey to find the perfect Bollywood dance class. In

Mona Khan Company Bollywood Dance class for Adults.

Mona Khan Company Bollywood Dance class for Adults.

Trinidad and Tobago, she immediately joined the University of the West Indies’ Indian dance class. They danced to Taal – it was beautiful, it was Classical, it was hard. In London, she found a good class but her work permit only lasted a year. In Vancouver, she searched high and low. This one was pure Bhangra, fun but not filmy. That one was called Bollywood but was all Jazz and Hip Hop, so modern-shodern, chee, not a jhumka or thumka in sight.

She watched “Kajra Re” on YouTube over and over and cried out in frustration, “This is what I’m talking about. This is Bollywood. A touch of Classical, a pinch of corny, a hip jhatka here, a head jhatka there, why is it so hard to choreograph a dance class like this?”

The next year, she met her own Salman Khan and moved to the Bay Area. Phi was in heaven – desi heaven. She immediately Googled dance classes and was overwhelmed by her options. She tried this one and that, until one day she discovered the Mona Khan Company.

At her first class, she stood at the back of the jam-packed studio. As the dancing began, Phi tried not to cry. Kya moves, kya style! There was the jhumka, there was the thumka. Hand through the hair now – the perfect touch of Bollywood cheesiness! Phi danced that first class smiling like an idiot. The choreography was perfection. The choreography would have made Amrish Puri tap his fingers and purr, “Mogambo khush hua.”

Mona Khan Company dancers & Emerging Performers in "Naach Nation Redefined" at "America's Got Bollywood"

Mona Khan Company dancers & Emerging Performers in “Naach Nation Redefined” at “America’s Got Bollywood”

A different instructor took the floor and began leading “Om Mangalam.” Energy burst from her every limb. Even when she did a small move, it was big. When she jumped she soared. Her moves were so charged, Phi wondered how so much energy could be stored into a body so petite. This was Mona Sampath Khan. Dancing with her is like being pulled into a gravity-defying roller coaster ride, one you’re not quite tall enough for, but with Mona’s guidance, you make it through feeling every bit the Aishwarya you always pictured yourself to be.

Today, Phi has exactly 15 songs on her iPod that aren’t Bollywood. She is a Bombay Jam® instructor which means smiling ear-to-ear while dancing is just part of the job. Her students insist on calling her by her full name and do so with gusto. Phiroozeh car-dances with pride, blasting Bollywood up and down the streets of the South Bay because really, everyone should turn off that Justin-Wustin racket and sing along to Dilliwali Girlfriend.

Junior Emerging Performer Anya Mathur at the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, 2012.

Junior Emerging Performer Anya Mathur at the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, 2012.

The Mona Khan Company works overtime (just ask any of the husbands) to keep Bollywood fresh, authentic and smile-inducing. It incorporates the modern but never forgets its roots. It feeds Phiroozeh’s soul and, judging by the sold-out bi-annual shows, the souls of 1000 plus people up and down the Bay.

As for Phiroozeh, after fifteen years and four countries, her safar-ing is over. She is home.

 

Phiroozeh Romer is a writer,  Bombay Jam® instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at phiroozeh.blogspot.com

Dancing Through Summer: Never Miss a Chance to Dance!

Posted in Dance on July 15, 2013 by Mona Khan Company

We all love dancing on stage; the lights and costumes, the glitz and glamor and an applauding audience! But the magic really begins in the studio. It is where ideas come to life, it is where we push ourselves to do something we have never done before, learn something new and exciting and constantly evolve.

Bollywood Dance Camp at the India Community Centre

Bollywood Dance Camp at the India Community Centre

The summer is the Bay Area is a great time to immerse ourselves in the joy of dance. From several shows being performed each weekend, to hundreds of workshops in different dance styles, it is a wonderful time to learn and grow. Whether one is interested in Contemporary, Hip Hop or World Dance, there are opportunities for everyone to learn and grow. The summer also sees an explosion of dance festivals. Our Bacha Emerging Performers were recently part of the Ethnic Dance Festival, hosted by Worlds Art West at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. An incredible platform where people from various cultures came together over several weekends in the summer, to share their knowledge and expertise and bring their unique vision to the stage. In addition, various schools offer dance camps and summer intensives to allow kids to immerse themselves in the joy that dance can bring.

Mona Khan Company Bacha Emerging Performers at the SF Ethnic Dance Festival. Photographer: RJ Muna

Mona Khan Company Bacha Emerging Performers at the SF Ethnic Dance Festival. Photographer: RJ Muna

So bring out your dancing shoes and try something new and exciting this summer! Dance is about learning, sharing and experiencing. Whether you want to try out a new style, or polish your technique, it is never too late.

This summer, fall in love with dance! As Martha Graham said, “Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.”

Photographer: Sapna Reddy

Follow Your Dreams…                                                                Mona Khan Company dancer: Amit Patel. Photographer: Sapna Reddy

Bollywooditis: A Volunteer’s Perspective

Posted in Dance, Shows on June 3, 2013 by phiroozeh

photo(3)On Sunday night at ten o’clock, I leave the Chabot Center for the Performing Arts and people stare. Because my shoulders are bouncing, my head is nodding, and I’m walking in time to music that is running in a constant loop in my head: Sada Dil Vitu/Fevicol/Kukkud. At home and famished after my twelve-hour day, my arm lifts elegantly for the cereal, my feet glide to the fridge for milk, with which I pirouette back to the counter as though I’m unfurling from above in a silky blue harness because in my head, I am Ishika Seth. I get into bed, assuming that after twelve hours on my feet, I will crash. But behind closed lids, I still hear it, still see it: purple chunris flapping overhead – o ho – green ghagras doing a thumka – a ha – and gold- sequined shoulders doing bhangra- balle balle balle. Under the covers, I am still dancing. Bollywooditis. I contract it every spring and fall, and the symptoms go away after about three days. Which is when I begin the countdown till the next Mona Khan Company showcase.

They used to ask me, “Are you a company dancer?” I wish. “Student?” Nope. “Parent?” Sorry. “Then why do you volunteer?” Simple. Look at the company merchandise for the answer: Love Bollywood.

I love Bollywood. Not in an “OMG, did you see the new Selena Gomez Bollywood-inspired video” way, or “Did you see the Bollywood routine they did on Dancing with the Stars/SYTYCD” way, or even a “Look at this awesome henna tattoo I got at the county fair” way. I loved Bollywood back when it was embarrassing to be caught watching people run around trees and come out in a whole new outfit as though the trunk housed a hidden closet, back when people covered their ears at your music and wondered who was killing that poor woman because why else as she wailing in such a high-pitched voice? I loved Bollywood before it was cool.

So why do I love Bollywood? Because it reminds me of childhood, of sitting in Nani-Nana’s air-conditioned living room watching Mithun take on eight goondas with one mutthi, or Aamir kick down a table, light it on fire and marry Madhu at his makeshift mandap while her bug-eyed father looked on. Like any displaced Desi, I cling to fillums no matter how many steroids Salman takes or how huge the age gap between Shah Rukh and his heroines because they are as close to Nani-Nana’s living room as I’ll ever get.

My first Mona Khan Company show, they put me on merchandise, where I watched people storm the tables buying everything in sight, tees, tanks, water bottles, for themselves, their daughters, nieces, friends who were inside right now and would kill them if they didn’t get that show’s hot item before it sold out. And sell out it did. Every time, the bulk of merchandise sells out at tech, long before show day even nears. I’m not the only one who loves Bollywood.

My second show, I was backstage. My job was to lead the students coming offstage around to the front of the theater where someone else guided them back to their seats. This was one of the most gratifying roles I had because I got to see their faces, especially first time performers, as they came off the stage, still high on the adrenalin of being in the spotlight, their five minutes of stardom. They were giddy, out of breath, hugging each other, lunging for their instructor, who was equally excited, and as they scrambled to put on their shoes and get back to their seats so they didn’t miss their friend/son/daughter in the upcoming act, they all wished they could go back and do it again then and there.

Most shows I help seat students. I watch the little ones come in nervously, in ridiculously adorable outfits, the adults excitedly checking each other’s outfits and hair pieces and even the teens peek out behind their iPhones and glance nervously at the stage awaiting their turn.

This last show, I was so busy running up and down the aisles, leading the next class to the green room, I barely got to watch any of the show. But I knew what was going on if my back was to the stage, based on audience reactions. Cries of “Aaaawww,” meant it was the Baccha Party. Moist eyes meant the Jeena kids were performing. Cheers that brought the house down meant Jollywood was onstage. If the audience was completely still, eyes glued to the stage, it was a company act. If they were hardly breathing, it was Ishika and Amit moving as one.

At the end of the show, you get to see just how many people it takes to put each showcase together. You see the instructors, choreographers, costume designers, merchandise coordinators, website managers are working behind the scenes. You get goose bumps as the Holy Trinity come onstage: Chitra, Amrita and finally, Mona herself. You look at these women who give more of their time and energy than any of us will ever know and you silently thank God for their presence in your life, their efforts in keeping your Bollywood cravings satiated, keeping you feeling close to your roots.

Each show, they acknowledge the volunteers, who, when all lined up, take up the entire width of the stage. That many people willingly devoting their Sunday all in the name of Bollywood, all in the name of Mona Khan’s vision of Bollywood.

That many people who, together, love Bollywood.

Phiroozeh Romer is a writer, Bombay Jam instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at phiroozeh.blogspot.com

FB pic

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.