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Bharatnatyam and Popping Fusion: Exclusive interview with dancers Poonam and Priyanka Shah

Dance has become a new religion among the youth and there are a plethora of reality shows cashing in on this new passion. With plenty of dance forms to choose from, the dancing enthusiasts are not shying away from their own experimentation. A recent endeavor of an experimental fusion between Bharatnatyam and Popping by two Chicago based identical twins, Poonam and Priyanka Shah left the viewers spell bound.

Poonam and Priyanka Shah, Bharatnatyam and Hip-hop fusion dancers - Mythical India

The exhilarating video is an unconventional fusion mix which hasn’t been tapped much. But, it requires extreme proficiency in this art to pull this off as the two dance forms are poles apart and physically demanding too. Thus, in our recent interview with the duo, we have talked about their inspiration behind pursuing dance and their idea of performing on an Indo-Western fusion mix.

1) What was the inspiration of taking up dance? Where have you taken your training from and for how long?

The inspiration to take up dance is a result of our mother, who always wanted to learn dance but never got a chance!  So she decided to enroll both of us in Bharatnatyam at age 10, and consistently took us to lessons and would even bribe us with donuts for the days we didn’t want to go.  After that, our passion grew for the ancient dance form.  We have taken training in the USA, for about 8 years, under the direction of our teacher and family friend, Mohana Swamy, as well as the Mudra Dance Academy.

2) How did the Idea of fusing Indian and western dance forms crop up in your mind? Did you face any challenges?

It was natural.  Having taken Bharatnatyam for so long, we always wanted to take other dance forms and hip-hop really inspired us.  Hip-hop is a very broad term for the many dance styles that it encompasses, but specifically were fascinated with popping and freestyle techniques.  We are currently learning these.  When we heard a mix by our DJ friend that blended the two types of music, we were inspired to create a dance to it!

3) What are the other dance forms you like performing?

We have not performed any other styles of dance other than Bharatnatyam, for which we’ve been in a few shows by our dance academies.  So far it’s been on Youtube, but we would love to perform our fusion style someday.

4) You have received a lot of coverage for your dance videos on various social media platforms. Some newspaper have also covered you. When you started posting videos, did you expect this much love and attention? How does it feel?

We never expected this much attention, it was very overwhelming at first.  When we uploaded that first 40-second Facebook clip, we had no intention of going viral! The internet works in unpredictable ways, but it has opened up many doors for us! Extremely grateful that it has reached so many people, it feels surreal!

5) What do you feel about Indian culture? Your visits to India would have helped you explore much more. Please share your experience.

Having grown up in the USA, learning Bharatnatyam really helped us retain our cultural ties.  We don’t believe there is such a thing as “Indian” culture, because there are so many different cultures, languages, religions, and types of people in India itself.

Poonam and Priyanka Shah, Bharatnatyam and Hip-hop fusion dancers - Mythical India

However, one thing that does unite India is a strong collectivist mindset on family and emphasis on education/hard work, which we are grateful to have learned from our parents, who moved from India to America more than 3 decades ago.  We also love celebrating holidays such as Diwali!

6) What’s next? How are the both of you planning to take this ahead? Any plans of an artistic venture or joining the Bollywood/Indian dance industry?

We are going to keep learning dance styles and creating fusion pieces, as this is what we love the most!  We are open to anything, but currently we are developing our talent and seeing where it takes us.

7)  Despite much development thematically and at the choreography level, Indian dance forms continue to be stereo typed as ornate, glittery and Bollywood style. The film ‘Moulin Rouge’ is an example. What’s your take on this and how is your pair contributing to the changing lens?

This is very true.  In our opinion, Bollywood, especially in Western light, is sometimes stereotyped and misrepresented as flashy costumes, high energy aerobics and a few hand gestures here and there.  We would like to change that stereotype in America, and introduce the beauty and subtleties of Indian dance and make it a little more artistic rather than flashy/cheesy.

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