FROM CREATION TO INNOVATION BOLLYWOOD FUNK NYC
Interview By. Megan Curet
Bollywood Funk NYC Dance School and Company is the creative vision of Artistic Director Ayesha Khanna. Her journey as a dancer began at the ripe age of 4.Born and raised in India she learned the classical dance form of Kathak under the guidance of Pundit Birju Maharaj and Smt Shovana Narayan. A natural performer, she also studied acting under Amal Allana, chairperson of the National School of Drama in New Delhi.
An alumni of the prestigious Dance Performing Arts Academy in New Delhi, she performed in a variety of shows and Bollywood Films, across india. Over the past 18 years, Ayesha has choreographed and performed in over 100 productions, most notably Bollywood mega hit films “Dhoom" and "Socha Na tha”. Jazz, Hip Hop,Ballet and Contemporary, quickly became a part of her dance repertoire and soon Ayesha harnessed these vibrant energies, with her classical training and inspiration from the exotic world of Bollywood to create her own unique style “ Bollywood Funk”.
In 2005, Ayesha moved to the Big Apple, to realize her big city dreams.Within a year of her arrival she was training at the Broadway Dance Center and performing on the Alvin Ailey Stage.
Very quickly she established herself as a desired choreographer and trainer, collaborating on a variety of projects including “ SYTYCD” (as a trainer for contestant Caitlin Kinney), American Academy of Ballet, Madison Square Garden Half time shows, Governors Ball, The Meadows Music Festival , Kings of Leon “ Around the World” Music video and Dance USA Dance with Master Saroj Khan. Ayesha has had the fortune to work with established achievers in different areas with a remarkable roster consisting of stunning songstress Tina Sugandh, Olympic gold medalists, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov as well as Miss India USA contestants. Her choreographies have been presented as the esteemed Fred Astaire Awards, NYIFF, Engendered Film Festival, America’s Best Dance Crew, Vishal Shekhar Concert and the Dream Team USA Tour with the luminaries of the Broadway and Bollywood world in attendance.
Ayesha and the Bollywood Funk NYC Dance Company have also been featured on various media networks/newspapers including The View ,MTV, CW11, CNN IBN, Star TV, ZEE TV, PopSugar Media, Delhi Times, NY Times and Time Out New York to name a few.
TiLLT: Where in India are you originally from?
I grew up in New Delhi, India.
TiLLT: Where did you begin your dance training in India?
My dance training began in New Delhi, India at the age of 4. I started training in the classical Indian dance form Kathak with my guru Smt Shovna Naraya.
TiLLT: How would you describe dance in India now versus when you were growing up?
I have seen a huge change in the past decade both in terms of the acceptance of Dance as a professional career choice as well as the various platforms that dancers now have access to in the form of reality dance shows, national and international level dance competitions and more. Dance in India has gone through a revolution!
When i was growing up, classical dances (Kathak, Bharatanatyam etc) were still considered to be the only forms of dance that most parents would want their children to train in. There were no professional dance schools providing education in western dance styles such as jazz and ballet up until the late 90’s. Dance was considered mostly a hobby and NOT a full time, lucrative career option. Thanks to some amazing choreographers like Ashley Lobo (my mentor) Terence Lewis and Shiamak Davar, who made it possible for youngsters to get trained in western dance techniques such as jazz, ballet and contemporary dance. Students now have access to classes in almost every dance style and the option to train at a professional level. Dancers can pursue their passion, train, teach and choreograph because of the increasing demand over the last decade. The level of talent and technique amongst the youth is phenomenal. I am extremely happy to see this change come about. It was long overdue!
TiLLT: What was your major form of creative inspiration?
Growing up in India, I watched a lot of Bollywood movies. I would mimic the dances and the actors and create my own movement. It was something that came to me very naturally. As I started training in Kathak very early on, I was able to understand the importance of emoting and connecting to the movement through your expressions (“Abhinay”). Being versatile as a dancer/choreographer has always been at the heart of my creativity and for that reason I was inspired to train in more styles than one. Bollywood has hugely inspired me as it is constantly embracing different dance techniques. I love creating fusion dance pieces and Bollywood music with it’s mix of Bhangra, Garba, hip hop and more is always giving me more reasons to push my creativity as a choreographer.
TiLLT: What do you wish for or envision for the coming future of dance in India?
Dance in India is already on the way to becoming a mainstream career. I wish that the growth India has seen would continue to multiply. Some of the talent that is being discovered on these competitive shows come from very humble backgrounds where the families have no financial means of supporting and encouraging their passion for dance. I hope that established Dance institutions, Artists the Indian Govt and the public at large, come together to give these kids opportunities to train themselves for FREE.
TiLLT: How were you able to begin taking your dance practice on an international level?
I joined The Danceworx Performing Arts Academy in New Delhi in 1998 where I had the opportunity to train in styles such as Jazz, Ballet and Contemporary. We had the fortune of working with Choreographers from around the world as a part of our intensive training program at The Danceworx . Once I moved to New York in 2005, I continued to train and explore styles such as Street Jazz, Hip Hop etc at Broadway Dance Center and the Alvin Ailey Extension program.
TiLLT: What was your big break?
My big break was dancing in a "Yash Raj” movie called “Dhoom” with Bollywood Stars, Esha Deol and Uday Chopra. The title song “ Dhoom Machale” was a huge hit and is one of the most popular songs in Bollywood to date. Being a part of this production was an unforgettable experience and a big boost for my career as a professional dancer and choreographer.
TiLLT: What inspires your work and practice?
The desire to create something unique both in movement and in style, I love challenging my dancers on a daily basis. There has been a perception that Bollywood dancing is easy and that one can learn it by watching a bunch of songs or just dancing at a friends wedding! I want people to recognize and respect the amount of hard work and effort that goes into creating a Bollywood dance piece. It requires the same amount of love and discipline and commitment like any other dance style. Changing this perception is the driving force behind my work.