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PAKISTAN: In More Ways Than One, Bollywood Dancing Creates Waves

Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Pakistan, Mar 16 2010 (IPS) - Saleha Firdaus, a mother of two teenage children, has been moving to the Bollywood beat at a dance studio for over a year now and “loves every moment” of this personal time. For her part, 22-year-old Maheen Jafri was a “bedroom dancer” until she discovered a Bollywood and hip-hop dance studio and “shed my inhibitions totally.”

Instructor Hasan Rizvi (right) says Bollywood dancing has opened new doors for Pakistani women. Credit: BBRC

Instructor Hasan Rizvi (right) says Bollywood dancing has opened new doors for Pakistani women. Credit: BBRC

These pursuits by these women would have been accepted as another new fad that the rich and the bored indulge in anywhere else in the world. But in an Islamic country like Pakistan, where all performing arts, and specially dance, is looked upon disparagingly, the Bollywood dancing trend has astounded many.

Bollywood refers to the Hindi-language movie industry based in India’s film industry hub Mumbai and its story lines include rich dance numbers.

“You’re on a different planet altogether! This is my time away from my family,” says the 39-year-old Firdaus, who has been going to one-hour dance classes twice a week at Joshinder Chagger’s class in one of city’s posh localities. I think after all these years of minding the home, the kids and a husband, I deserve to give myself these two hours, every week!”

However, no one is privy to Firdaus’ secret except her husband and children – and especially not her in-laws. “They won’t understand.” She has told everyone that she goes to a gym and that is acceptable.

“I think I was never a bad dancer, but was reserved and conservative,” says a diminutive Jafri, a student of economics and finance who goes to BodyBeat Recreational Centre. Her instructor, Hazan Rizvi, “has helped break all barriers,” she says.

Many diehard gym goers, yoga and aerobic aficionados aged between 16 to 60 have been turning to Rizvi’s “fat-torching” classes or Chagger’s promise of “getting fit with Bollywood dance classes”.

Even more surprising is the fact there are many who not only shed off their ‘hijab’ (veil) to reveal figure-hugging track pants and T-shirts, but all inhibitions once they step into their dancing shoes.

“Bollywood dancing sums up everything that Pakistani women want today. Bollywood dance classes are an extension of the ‘feel good’ factor” is how Tarannum Ahmed, a doctor, explains the fad. “While in that one-hour class, these women relive tinseltown fantasies. Their self-esteem increases; they feel beautiful.”

Chagger, who began learning Bharatnatyam, a genre of eastern classical dance form, from the age of five, later took up contemporary dance. Defining dance as a form of “dialogue, a communication, an expression through the body,” she says most women come to her to “lose weight, to exercise, feel good….”

To that list the 25-year-old Rizvi adds, “to socialise, make new friends and because it is the hip new thing in town.”

The age group of those turning to Bollywood dancing varies as do their reasons for taking it up. Some women in their late 40s and early 50s want to learn the latest steps to be able to dance at their children’s weddings or to dance reasonably well at charity balls and such events.

“Women come to me and tell me there is a wedding in their family and they have never danced before, or they say they move ‘funny’ when they dance at balls,” says 42-year-old Fehmida Masktiya, an instructor who has only recently opened dance classes in her home that are exclusively for women.

Maskatiya, who herself belongs to a very conservative family that frowns on this art form, said: “I love dancing, have always loved it.” However, she could only show off her moves in all-women wedding gatherings. “I was dying to teach others what I know, but was scared of my family’s reaction.”

In the end, she got her husband’s full support for what she does, and the number of women joining her is growing day by day.

Zahid Hussain, a 25-year-old self-taught instructor, has been giving private Bollywood dance lessons within the confines of socialites’ homes for over five years. His clients include “showbiz celebrities, top businesswomen and even politicians”, but he refuses to divulge their names.

But there are many more women who join dance classes for no other reason than to have fun. The changes they bring about in these women never cease to amaze him, Hussain says. “They develop an inner confidence, are more self-assured, more graceful and look happier.”

“I got the best compliment of my life when a man walked up to me at a party and told me that in the two months that his wife joined my classes, she had been transformed. He said she had become more communicative, more willing to go out and socialise more often, is happier and more confident,” relates Rizvi. “I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this forever if I can bring such radical changes in people’s lives!’ ”

Jafri may not have lost all the ‘extra layers’ of fat she wanted to get rid of when she first joined Rizvi’s class, but cherishes the friends she has made along the way. “The group ranges anywhere from 16 to 30, but it’s so much fun hanging out with them.”

Even Chagger, the instructor, treasures the moments. “Everyone, including me, has the biggest smile on their face throughout the class. The class is buzzing with positive energy. I, for one, feel really ‘alive’ during this class,” she says. “We need more of this positive energy in this city!” referring to the wave of violent attacks that hit the city two months back.

But not everyone is being carried away by the Bollywood wave.

“I feel sad at the rapid and disgusting deterioration of our society,” says Sheema Kermani, a renowned classical dance maestro who finds the Bollywood dance craze a “meaningless” activity “devoid of creativity and intellect”.

A rights activist who founded the non-government organisation Tehrik-e- Niswan (Woman’s Movement), Kermani says: “It is not food for the mind and I believe where there is no thought, no politics, then there is no art.”

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