Dancing comes naturally to Divya Maiya, who was trained in classical Indian dance as a young girl. Though she stopped taking classes in Bharatanatyam after four or five years to pursue sports, dance was very much a part of her culture as she was growing up in India. Between weddings, festivals and annual school celebrations, “every event in India has dancing in it,” Maiya says. Usually, these occasions include a mixture of classical and folk-dance forms, along with Bollywood dancing.
Bollywood dance, Maiya says, is set to music from Bollywood movies, which is the name for Hindi films that are often characterized by their song-and-dance numbers.
“It’s kind of a mixture of a lot of traditional Indian dancing – classical and folk dance forms and also has a lot of influence from the Western dance forms like belly dancing, hip hop, jazz, contemporary and modern,” Maiya says. “It’s like a fusion dance form.”
When Maiya graduated from college and was living as a young adult in India, she began to take dance classes again, this time not the classical Indian dance in which she had trained as a girl, but a wide variety of Western styles and belly dancing. When she moved to the United States for graduate school, she joined the University of Wisconsin dance team, as well as a Southeast Asian dance club that focused on Bollywood dancing and other fusion dance forms.
Founding a dance group
When she moved to the Twin Cities with her husband a few years ago, she taught at Zenon Dance Company, Four Seasons Dance Studio and the Tapestry Folkdance Center. In 2012, she joined with two friends, Jinal Vakil and Rashi Mangalick, to found the Bollywood Dance Scene Twin Cities.
The classes they taught at Bollywood Dance Scene grew quickly, sometimes drawing as many as 80 people, of all ages and backgrounds.
Some of the participants came from India, including a number of women who were living in the United States on dependent visas – meaning they were here with a spouse and couldn’t work.
“I have met so many people that have no way to meet anyone outside,” Maiya says. “They can’t work and they don’t have a way to go out and interact with people. So this is a great opportunity to come and meet new people and find common interests.”
When Maiya first started teaching, she heard from people that the classes helped bolster their sense of self. This got her thinking more about what dance could do for the participants as individuals. So they created a performance group that could appear at events and festivals in the Twin Cities. “Now we are a really big group, so we want people to take up leadership roles,” she says.
For a production at the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, they had a huge leadership committee, with four or five different wings that worked on different projects.
From Ordway to Fringe
Bollywood Dance Scene Twin Cities has performed at the Festival of Nations, the Ordway International Children’s Festival, and the Minnesota Historical Society’s Nine Nights of Music, and it works with nonprofits. In 2013, the group worked with Out in the Backyard, an organization that seeks to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning) and non-LGBTQ communities “to bring about awareness and also acceptance through various activities,” Maiya says.
Through collaboration with Out in the Backyard, Bollywood Dance Scene participated in a One Billion Rising event with a focus on standing up against domestic violence. The dancers performed outside in the middle of a cold Minnesota winter day to bring about awareness of the issue.
They also participated in an event called Where the Brahmaputra Meets Mississippi, a fundraiser for women’s empowerment organizations in Assam, a state in India, and they participate in various other fundraisers for local nonprofits. They’ve done workshops in public schools and with Girl Scouts troops, and have done flash mobs for community festivals.
In her day job, Maiya works as a computer engineer for Dell Compellant. “I love my day job,” she says. “It triggers a different part of your brain. Dance is a way to explore my creative side. I can’t live without doing both.”