Tuesday, July 2, 2024

BollyBE: Uniting Communities and Overcoming Barriers through Dance

There are so many excellent resources, events, and free classes offered by San Jose libraries. I'm starting to take advantage of them myself with a toddler running around. 

Below we have a guest post from Anusha Upadhyayula. The library played a crucial role in shaping her identity as an Indian American. Inspired by all of the great multicultural events local libraries host, the author founded BollyBE, a community-driven initiative that uses Bollywood dance to promote cultural understanding and inclusivity. BollyBE workshops at the Morgan Hill Library have been well-received, with attendees praising the multicultural environment and the fun, easy-to-follow dance routines. Anusha's goal is to spread the joy of Bollywood dance and create a welcoming space for all to learn and celebrate South Asian culture, aiming to break down cultural barriers and promote inclusivity.

You can sign up your kids for free classes hosted by BollyBE over here. Even if you are not interested in dance, it's a great story that showcases one of the many benefits of living in a diverse city.

BollyBE: Uniting Communities and Overcoming Barriers through Dance

The cozy book-lined walls of the library and the memories of the time I spent there attending “Family Time” story sessions and “Mommy & Me” dances are forever etched in my mind. The library helped expand my boundaries as I participated in Lunar New Year and other cultural events and learnt about cultures of the world. Slowly, as I grew older, my sense of identity became increasingly complex. As an Indian American, I struggled with which part of that word I resonated with more closely. Should I embrace my Indian heritage? Or should I be just American? The lack of representation of my South Asian heritage in my community made me feel that it was an insignificant part of who I was. That’s when I fell in love with Bollywood music and dance.

When we listen to a song, regardless of the language, the human body naturally responds, whether it’s tapping feet or swaying to the rhythm. Rhythm, music, and dance transcend language barriers and cultural divides. They possess a unique power to convey entire stories without the need to understand the words themselves. Through Bollywood dance and music, with its soulful melodies and energetic beats, I discovered a way to connect with my heritage. Bollywood movies played a significant role in this discovery, as they seamlessly intertwined dance and music with cultural storytelling. Attending Indian weddings and community events further deepened my love for Bollywood dance, as I witnessed how dance and music were not only integral to the culture of South Asia but also to the community. 

Inspired by the key role dance and music play within a culture and a community and eager to share my own South Asian culture with the rest of the world, I founded BollyBE. From there, it only felt fitting to give back to the library community and share a piece of my own identity in the place that played such a key role in developing it throughout the years. BollyBE is not just about teaching dance steps; it’s about creating a welcoming space where people of all backgrounds can come together, learn, and celebrate South Asian culture.

When I first taught a beginners’ garba routine (a dance style from the state of Gujarat in India), many attendees were eager to delve into the complexities and historical roots of the dance, highlighting the appreciation people have for South Asian art forms and cultural representation. The overwhelming love and enthusiasm for our workshops, especially at the Morgan Hill Library, is a testament to the inclusive and welcoming atmosphere we strive to create at BollyBE. Durdana, who attended one of our Bollywood dance classes, shared her experience, highlighting the unique and multicultural nature of our events: “I attended Anusha’s Bollywood dance class in Morgan Hill, CA. My friends and I had decided to go because we thought it might be fun. We are Pakistani, so we are very familiar with Bollywood music and dance. It was very interesting to see a very diverse group of people turn up for the dance class - not just Indian/Pakistanis. Everyone had a lot of fun, and I think it was great as a multicultural immersion event.”

BollyBE not only provides a platform for cultural immersion but also offers a free and enjoyable way to incorporate physical exercise into people’s routines. Dance experience doesn’t matter at BollyBE; it’s easy for beginners, and participants are encouraged to have fun while dancing. This inclusive approach was highlighted by Kiran R., who attended a BollyBE workshop at the Morgan Hill library with three friends. Kiran shared, “We had a blast. It was fun, great music, easy steps (for women with not so great hearing and body coordination). Anusha broke down the steps and made them easy to follow and didn’t mind the giggles we dissolved into while laughing at ourselves. She is a fantastic teacher, can’t wait to take another class with her.”

As I continue teaching in different library branches across Santa Clara County, my goal is to spread the joy of Bollywood dance and create a welcoming space for all to learn and celebrate South Asian culture together. Through BollyBE, I aim to break down cultural barriers and promote inclusivity. I believe that by sharing the beauty of Bollywood dance, we can inspire people to embrace and celebrate their own cultural identities while appreciating the richness of other cultures. In this way, BollyBE is not just a dance initiative; it’s a cultural movement, bringing people together through the universal language of dance.

-Anusha Upadhyayula

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