My Naach. Bollywood Dance Choreographer.

My name is Shruti Patel and I’m a mental health clinician by day and a dancer by heart! I started my journey in dancing at the age of 5 but never had financial support to continue. Dancing, especially Bollywood dancing, helped me cope with trauma in my own childhood. Bollywood dancing took me away from reality, gave me hope, and painted the “happily ever after” portrait. Sounds like Disneyland, right? Through Bollywood movies alone, I started to speak and understand Hindi at an early age and before I knew it, I was singing songs and dancing. Dancing has given me the brightest smile and loudest laughter. I hope that I am able to share my journey with you and pass on the light and sound.

Growing up, watching Bollywood movies was my favorite hour (let’s be real-3 hours) of the day. I only cared about the different dances and music. I would try to copy every step and expression and try to learn all the lyrics. The music and dances made sitting through a 3 hour film worth it. My mother, siblings, and I would sit together and watch the biggest dance show in India: Dance India Dance (DID). A few years ago, DID held auditions for the first time in the West Coast. My sister and I jumped on this opportunity and auditioned. We didn’t get selected, but we performed an amazing and energetic choreography and received tremendous positive feedback. The praises were enough for both of us to continue living our passion for dancing.

For me, dancing is freedom and healing, and this process makes me feel stronger, happier, alive, and healthy. Choreographing and performing have always given me a special kind of happiness and I can honestly say, I can’t think of anything else that would bring me such joy every day.

Virtual Dance Classes

For me, dancing is freedom and healing, and the process makes me feel stronger, happier, alive, and healthy. 

Although music and art is vibrant in the Indian culture, I was not always allowed to perform, present my art, and participate in dance events outside of my small community, in Stockton, CA. Whether it was because of controlled parenting or financial reasons, I sat on the side lines and praised and cheered others who performed and danced. I was able to participate and perform in community dances held at the Gujarati Community Center during Diwali (The Festival of Lights) and Navratri (Hindu festival celebrated across 9 nights during the Fall) but nothing outside of the norm.

I learned my first Garba steps at the age of 5 and continued to try to convince my parents (specifically my father) to let me dance in more events. Community members recognized my passion and stepped in to help support my training, taught me Bollywood dances, and helped me learn lyrical movements. For that, I will always be grateful. Soon enough, I was able to choreograph my own dances and started performing solo and duets on stage with my younger sister.  

Growing up, I was a minority at every school I attended from K-12. I didn’t know how to accept my culture or bring attention to my culture, so I started participating in other cultural groups and practiced other cultural dances such as Folklorico and Reggaeton. I would participate in dance performances during Cinco de Mayo and celebrate a different culture while also reliving my passion for dancing. Then came 17 and I was ready to take on the world (right?). I started my journey at the University of California, Riverside, as a psychology major. In my heart, I still wanted to be a dance major, however, I knew my father would be disappointed, and culturally, pursuing the arts is difficult.

Building a Community

I was hopeful that one day I would be able to build a dance community, and here I am today, holding virtual and live classes and building a dance community for all ages.

For many children with an Indian background, it’s engraved that we must be in the engineering, law, or medical field. As a psychology major, I was already breaking the norm, challenging stereotypes, and moving mountains for individuals like myself and my siblings. Being the eldest of 3 and the first in my immediate family to attend a 4-year University, there were a lot of expectations placed on my back before I could even think about continuing my journey as a dancer.  

One day, a friend of mine and I heard about Garba/Raas tryouts at my university and my heart lit up and I felt like a child all over again; It was one of the best feelings: to hear that my college had a dance team that practiced one of the traditional Gujarati folk dances, which is performed during Navratri. I auditioned. I made the team! My father did not approve. I could hear the disappointment in his voice-but I was going to dance, travel, and compete. The training I received from the dance team made me feel stronger and more passionate about Garba. When I went back to Stockton during Navratri or Diwali, I felt proud to show the community new dance steps and new choreographies.

I moved back to Northern California and attended graduate school a couple months after completing undergrad. My campus did not have any clubs so I tried my best to advocate for a cultural association/group/club; however, my attempts failed. I was hopeful that one day I would be able to build a dance community, and here I am today, holding virtual and live classes and building a dance community for all ages and all bodies.

Whatever Happens, Remember to Keep Dancing!

If Bollywood dancing is something you would like to experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

For many years now, I have choreographed dances for pre-school and first grade students, engagements, receptions, graduation parties, high school talent shows, cultural events, and Diwali parties as well. I have had many opportunities to utilize my skills to teach individuals of all ages and abilities and I receive so much satisfaction from seeing how they grow and develop in their skills and performances. If Bollywood dancing is something you would like to experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You don’t need to have a specific body, special skills, or a professional degree in dance. You just need a body that is ready to move, a mind that’s willing to be challenged, and a spirit that is ready to fly. Whatever happens, remember to keep dancing! 

– Shruti Patel