The Kalaakriti series aims to highlight the stories of different artists with South Asian backgrounds. In today’s installation, check out the story behind BollyHeelsTO!
BollyHeelsTO aims to bring training in Indian and Western styles of fusion dance to the diverse Toronto community. With the added technique and skills of dancing in heels, BollyHeelsTO draws on the roots of classical and folk Indian dance with a modern flavour. The vision is to expose the Toronto community to the rich history and foundations of Bollywood fusion dancing.
How were you introduced to your work?
Both Anushya and Indiana were introduced to South Asian styles of dance at a very young age from sheer interest of their own and influences from parents. They continued to expand their knowledge of dance from their own interest and wanted to create something unique from their dance experiences to share with the world.
What would you like the world to know about your work and the realm that you're working in?
BollyHeelsTO is Canada’s first Bollywood fusion in heels dance company. We strive to tell stories of South Asians through our work, and fuse elements of the Western culture in our dance. Our dance realm consists of a diverse group of artists that we choose to collaborate with to share one another’s cultures, dance styles, and experiences.
In the South Asian community, there’s quite a stigma against people choosing careers that are “non-traditional.” When choosing to follow your passion here , what are or were some challenges you’ve had to face? How did you get through them and what helped you through the process? If you’re still going through it, what has been helping you so far?
There are most definitely stigmas against people choosing careers that are non-traditional. We are taught from a very young age that certain careers such as pursing a career in medicine, law, and engineering are thought to be the most respectable positions to have and that anything other than that, you’re looked at not being successful. Having to balance this life, if you do choose it, with your art form can be quite challenging as you’re put in a position to prioritize your art form in a different way. I think having a partner, mentor, or friend that is in the arts to help guide and challenge you can help a lot. Someone that makes you accountable for continuing your passions and pursuing it, regardless if it is part-time, has definitely helped.
What are your opinions on maintaining a traditional art form vs modernization?
We think that it's utterly important to know your roots, respect your tradition and values. As long as you can keep that goin there is no harm in some modernization.
Are (or were) there any individuals that you have looked up to or directly had a mentor-mentee relationship with that helped you find your footing in this world?
For Indiana it's her British Ballet teacher in India - Yana Lewis (Artistic Director of The Lewis Foundation of Classical. Yana has made a significant impact on her in both her personal and professional life.
How is your identity affected by the work you do in this field?
We both train and perform in styles outside of South Asian dances. But every time we choose to dance and represent our music and culture, it's a whole different level of euphoria. Living in Toronto, collaborating with artists from all sorts of cultural backgrounds has made them aware of Indian Culture and it is a good feeling when you can spread awareness of your roots in a positive way.
What’s something you’d tell your younger self? What’s some key advice that you wish you had or wish you had heard? What’s something you wish you didn’t do?
When you grow up, don't stop taking risks and don't box yourself to what your parents expect from you.
What advice would you give to someone who's struggling to follow their passions due to various external pressures and/or personal pressures? How would you guide them if they came to you for advice?
We live in a world where we are constantly judged by other this can be family, friends, social media audience and literally anyone and everyone. We've got to understand our value, our potential and most importantly not compare ourselves with someone who's famous on social media. If it comes to financial struggles, there's always ways to put your talent out there with means that do not require monetary investment.
What changes would you like to see when it comes to how your art form/work is perceived in the mainstream media? What would you like to see representation-wise?
We want to see dancers that meet the South Asian dance training requirements and not getting hired based on their height, body type and skin color ! We've seen and heard of South Asian projects choreographed by western choreographers who don't have any training, knowledge or assistance from a trained South Asian Artist.
What are some misconceptions about the type of work that you do that you feel the world should know about?
They group it all into BOLLYWOOD ! There are various South Asian dance forms ranging from Classical to Folk to a fusion of styles. Bollywood is a term derived from the Indian Film Industry. Bollywood dancing is a part of the film industry and is inspired from all the above styles as well as western dance styles but is not particularly a style in itself.
Can you list accounts/people that you think are worth knowing about in your field?