Bhangra, Bollywood, Bharatnatyam: When a love of dance took over

Ajaa Nach Le Sydney!

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When Amitoj Singh led his troupe Bhangra All Stars Sydney in to Nach Le, a Bollywood style dance competition, he felt a twinge of nervousness. This despite the fact that BASS has just returned from an international Bhangra contest in which they won the main prize.

“I was just a bit concerned that this time round we were contesting against a range of different styles, not just Bhangra,” he told Indian Link later.

He needn’t have worried. Their high-octane, heart thumping number was one of the stand-out performances of the night, four minutes of athleticism and aerobics and sheer joi de vivre that had the audience jumping out of their seats in the end.

Bollywood.Indian Link
Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

Of course their reputation preceded them. Juhi Bhavsar of Nrityam Performing Arts knew she had to put in that extra bit into her troupe’s performance just to stay up to par. “We choreographed new routines, added some floor features, and practised to perfection.” Their folk style presentation has begun to be seen with increasing frequency around the community, especially with their very traditional Rajasthani style costumes and the pots balanced on their heads. At Nach Le, they showed off some brilliant moves in their Ghoomar, pots and dupattas expertly in place throughout!

Bollywood1.Indian Link
Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

Both groups were winners on the night, BASS taking the Judges’ award and a $1000 cash prize, and Nrityam the Audience Appreciation award and gift hamper.

In the Duets’ round Sanjana Chandawarker and Meygha Shankar were clear winners, impressing with their fusion of classical-semi classical-hiphop-RnB-Bollywood. They took home both Judges’ and the Audience Appreciation awards, including a $750 cash prize and gift hamper. Trained in Bharatanatyam, the duo impressed not only with their moves but also their attitude to it all. “We’re here to enjoy the whole journey,” they told the MCs Kashif and Ekta at the end of their act.

Bollywood2.Indian Link
Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

“We were thrilled to win, but it was more than just a win for us,” Meygha told Indian Link. “As dance lovers, we were happy to meet so many other dance lovers on the night, to see what they brought to the stage, and to make new friends.”

Her partner Sanjana added, “One impromptu decision to compete, a couple of days putting together a routine and less than a week to drill earned me one beautiful partner in crime, rehearsal memories that I will cherish, and of course that first place at Nach Le Sydney!”

In the Solo category, it was diminutive Nepalese star Bijay Baniya that won hearts, taking home both Judges’ and Audience awards again ($500 cash prize and gift hamper). Quite the star already with some 45,000 followers on Instagram, the shy and softly spoken Bijay transforms himself into a dance sensation as soon as he ascends that stage, his K-Pop style hair, clothes and mannerisms adding to his star appeal.

“I was expecting to win one of the two titles, and so was delighted to win the first one,” he told Indian Link. “But hearing my name called out a second time was quite a surprise!”

Bollywood3.Indian Link
Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

Dance is a huge unifier in the Indian community, offering new migrants as well as those born here an avenue to express themselves culturally. It helps that there are a variety of genres to choose from including classical and folk and contemporary styles.

“There’s plenty of talent out there, and we thought it would be a wonderful way to give our many dance enthusiasts another platform to strut their stuff,” Shriti Sinha from the organising committee remarked. “We were able to attract a large number of contestants, aficionados who belong to dance schools and academies, as well as those who dance just for fun. We had people from all walks of life on stage – professional dancers, uni students, engineers, finance professionals, stay-at-home mums with bubs. Equally, we were happy to welcome on board our commercial partners as sponsors keen to reach out to the younger segment of our community.”

She added, “Thanks also to the full-house dance-aware audience, who did their bit by voting for each act.”

The judging panel was made up of Raphael Speyer (Bharatanatyam dancer with the Natanalaya Dance and Music Academy; flamenco, salsa, tango and hiphop dancer, and founder of the Sydney Uni Movement And Dance Society), Hamsa Venkat (dancer, teacher, founder of the Samskriti School of Dance, and dancer writer for Indian Link), and Mala Mehta OAM (well-known arts and culture personality in Sydney’s Indian community who has herself danced in Bharatanatyam and Kathak styles as well as waltz, polka and Latin American genres).

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The judges (L-R): Hamsa Venkat, Raphael Speyer, Mala Mehta. Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

The Audience Appreciation voting was conducted online via www.slido.com, a platform that not only allowed voting but also comments throughout, adding a whole new dimension to the night especially with regular banter between audience members and hosts backstage.

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Ekta Sharma and Kashif Harrison. Photo: Binu Naikaraparambil

Indian Link Radio presenters Ekta Sharma and Kashif Harrison coordinated the happenings on stage. New sensations DZYR Band and rapper Karan Luthra kept the audience engaged as judges conferred in between rounds.